Monday, June 27, 2011

In Defense of Bonapartism

A recent Foreign Policy article by Leon Aron is illustrative of the sorry state of modern conservatism. Aron generally supports the legacy of Boris Yeltsin and the devastating neoliberal "shock therapy" that ushered in an era of gangster capitalism, complete with dramatic increases in suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, and a whole host of other catastrophes, including a demographic disaster. Aron's ideology is a good example of the radical neoliberalism that is usually called “conservatism” in the United States.

Predictably, Aron takes shots at Vladmir Putin, warning of the dangers of “neo-authoritarian Putinism.” I suppose that for today’s Jacobins, Putin is the new Bonaparte. Of course, from a populist perspective, better Bonapartists than neoliberal/neoconservative radicals. At least under Bonapartist political theory, the emperor is supposed to stand above all classes and rule justly in the name of the people, not just for the benefit of a few plutocratic oligarchs.

Indeed, is it just a coincidence that both Trotskyists and neoconservatives have spilled so much ink writing against Bonapartism, and Left Bonapartism in particular? Even though the neocons don’t often use terms like “Bonapartism,” terms such as “neo-authoritarian” and even “fascist” are often used by neoconservatives to describe populist figures who refuse to bow down to the neoliberal consensus on economics and culture. Yes, they might very well be authoritarians (which, emphatically, is not the same thing as being a fascist!), but can we blame people for preferring authoritarian leaders who give them domestic peace and some measure of economic security and justice versus anarchy and gangsterism?


  1. The Slavs in general, and Russia in particular, are the age-old gatekeepers of our Biblical-Classical civilisation, whether against Islam, against Far Eastern domination, or now also against the pseudo-West of the neocons. Something similar is true of la France éternelle, the land of Charles Martel, in which his heirs are valiantly engaged in a demographic war, not only against the rise of a semi-feral underclass which is in any case nothing on that in the “Anglo-Saxon” countries that have ceased to will the means to a properly functioning bourgeoisie and proletariat, but also against the Islamic expansionism that dismembered France as recently as 1962, when she was mutilated by the loss, not of three colonies, but of three départements, integral parts of the French state and nation.

    That was the perspective from which, in and through the person of a decorated veteran of the Algerian War, she opposed the greatest catastrophe since 1962 for what was originally Christendom on three continents, covering every inch of the Mediterranean’s shores. For what remained of that, 1962 was the greatest catastrophe since 1948 (itself the greatest since 1923), and 2003 seems set to have been the greatest until a similar intervention in Syria. That will doubtless also be resisted, even if not by Sarkozy, then certainly by of la France éternelle, the conscious, literal rebirth of which will have tremendous consequences in, for example, the United Nations Security Council, where they can expect the support of Russia and will also deserve that of the United Kingdom and the United States.

    A post on Friday led to some discussion of René Rémond’s theory of the three French right wings. And of course I quite concur that Orléanism as bourgeois and economically liberal is the Franco-Whiggery against which stand both the populist traditionalism of the Legitimists and the populist authoritarianism of the Bonapartists. But I would not agree that the only continuation of Legitimism is in the more-or-less Lefebvrist wing of the FN and its electorate. Although Gaullism does have obvious Bonapartist roots, just as Boulangism did, yet it strikes me that the popular followings for either and both were and are at least as much Legitimist, especially deep in the countryside.

    Especially there, I do not think that the anti-Gaullist Right is entirely Orléanist, either; not for nothing did it most recently rally to a man whose name was not merely Giscard, but Giscard d'Estaing. Not for nothing did Philippe de Villers withdraw from the UDF over Maastricht as surely as Charles Pasqua withdrew first internally and then externally from the RPR. And where does anyone think that the popular constituency for an anti-Marxist Socialist Party first came from, or very largely still does come from? Mitterrand could never decide whether he wanted to be Louis XIV or Napoleon, but he certainly wanted to be one or the other. And deep down, at least, one or the other was what huge numbers of his voters wanted him to be, too. Otherwise, he would never have won.

  2. One more thing: when Mitterrand did win, he gave a job to Poujade, in whom the Legitimist and Bonapartist populisms of the Right met, who had endorsed him and who did so again.

  3. Great comments, Mr. Lindsay. Thank you very much.

  4. Good post. Any royal dynasty that starts with a self-proclaimed monarch actually make me nervous, but from a view of populism Bonapartism really is the better choice than the neoliberal plutocrat oligarchies. When American neoconservatives and economic neoliberals criticize a political style as authoritarian, it is important to look into why they would make such criticism; are they really concerned about human rights, or are they only concerned about the economic and political power of the plutocracy?

    One more thing, I really appreciate how you pointed out that authoritarian regimes are not the same as fascist dictatorships! Thank you very much! It's understandable how many would make such a connection between the two, but the two never really went together until more recent times. It is just like how republics aren't necessarily democratic, nor how democracies are necessarily free. All it takes to understand is to look past superficial political labels, something you clearly do well.

  5. Hi CA,

    Thank you for the kind words. I agree with you about self-proclaimed monarchs. The actual historical record of the Bonaparte dynasty is itself pretty mixed. However, I think that under Napoleon III, Bonapartism developed a more populist and humane ideology.

    My understanding is that Napoleon III’s reign produced many reforms for workers and the poor, including the right to unionize and strike. In some ways, Napoleon III was probably further to the Left than many modern American Republicans!

    The term “fascism” gets bandied around a lot, but my understanding is that fascism is a pretty distinct ideology that has at its core an extreme nationalism mixed with violent, aggressive foreign policy and a curious modernism.

    Trying to define fascism in economic terms (as most Marxists and libertarians do) or by its authoritarianism (which is overly broad since there were so many authoritarian-style regimes throughout human history) is probably incorrect, at least in my view.

  6. Good post; I think the Russia issue has actually damaged us Brits more than the USA. We've made a laughing stock of ourselves for hosting criminal scum and treating them like the heirs to Solzhenitsyn. The irony of course being that Solzhenitsyn was a patriot who condemned the USSR, not an uncle Tom who betrayed his country. He eagerly embraced Vladimir Putin whilst samizdat have-beens flocked to London to get rich on Berezovsky's ill-gotten gains and bray western cliches.

    Incidentally, I thought this was an interesting article by one of Russia's most prominent defenders:

    The subject is apparently unrelated: it's about the neo-liberal right's contempt for Southern whites. But it really does go to show the kind of people who would have been influencing McCain and why his populism was utterly phoney. Whilst I myself would criticise aspects of Southern culture from a left wing perspective, I think it is sad that they are taken in by pseudo-populist right wingers to feel hatred for populists abroad, when they are treated with thinly disguised contempt at home. Hatred for Chavez and Putin is not about American supremacy per se but the plutocracy in one country using their working class to disenfranchise a foreign working class in favour of plutocracy abroad.

  7. Great post John, I know that Mr. Clark is quite fond of de Gaulle. Maybe he would fit into that category as well, not just because he is French, but because he rejected Anglo-American hegemony, and kept high levels of social insurance in France. Too bad Sarkozy has gone the other way.

  8. Hello Gregor,

    Excellent comment. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis. It is too bad that the Left doesn’t really talk to the parts of the Right that are more populist at heart. Too many left-wingers dismiss right-wing populists as unreachable yokels. In fact, the contemporary Left, outside of a few exceptions, does not seem very comfortable with populism anymore, unless it looks exactly as they would want it to look.

    For example, just look at the different treatment given to protesting Iranian students and striking Romanian miners. One group was hailed as a great, progressive wave (even though Mousavi was arguably more pro-neoliberal and anti-poor than Ahmadinejad) while the Romanian miners were seen as throwbacks to communism.

    Hello Mr. Gagic,

    I think you are correct about Charles de Gaulle. David Lindsay has also written quite a bit about the different strains of French populism, including Gaullism, so I think you are on to something