Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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January 19, 2009
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D. Froomkin tossed off a great line last week:
Bush has been plenty willing to assert his view of history's verdict on his presidency, even while saying it's too early for others to do so.


Victor Hugo once wrote about the verdict of history, in a different context, as follows:

Don't worry; History has him in her clutches.

Still, if Monseiur Bonaparte's ego is flattered by the fact that he's in the grip of history, if he happens to have any illusions about his stature as a political villain (and it really does look as though he has), he should abandon them.

He mustn't think that he'll be able to reach the level of history's greatest bandits just because he has piled horror on horror. . . . No; he's committed great crimes, but he himself remains petty. He'll never be anything more than the man who throttled liberty in the dark. . . . He'll never be anything more than the pygmy tyrant of a great nation [le tyran pygmée d'un grand peuple]. From top to toe, the fellow isn't cut out for greatness -- not even in vice. . . . That'll be the finish of him. The human race will just shrug their shoulders at him; that'll be his fate.

Does this mean that the won't suffer any serious punishment? Not at all. Scorn doesn't mitigate anger; he'll be hideous, and he'll still be ludicrous. That's all. History can laugh and blast at the same time.

The above is from Hugo's Napoléon le Petit.

An 1852 translation into English of the pamphlet is here. The French original is here. Another translation of the above-quoted passage is here.

TiR found the above bit last summer, in this volume, after a moment of chastizing ourselves for our vast ignorance of Hugo's vast amount of verse. We drafted a blog post but never bothered to post it. TiR instead moved onto chastizing itself over its ignorance of everything else. It wasn't the first time in the past few years that TiR stopped to wonder about "the little Napoléon."


Michael W. Jennings' succinct summary (herein) of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's reign:
His reign combined authoritarianism and economic liberalism; it ended with France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

Is Hugo's way of looking at the situation beyond criticism? TiR guesses that it depends on whom you ask.

Let's ask this guy:
Victor Hugo confines himself to bitter and witty invective against the responsible producer of the coup d’etat. The event itself appears in his work like a bolt from the blue. He sees in it only the violent act of a single individual. He does not notice that he makes this individual great instead of little by ascribing to him a personal power of initiative unparalleled in world history. . . . I, on the contrary, demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.

Who really knows?


After the newspapers reported Louis-Napoléon's derisive dismissal of Hugo's pamphlet, Hugo replied with "The Man Has Laughed."

It read in part:
While, at the stake, Punishment nails you through,
With iron fetters straightening your chin,
History beside me strips you to the skin,
Tears off your jacket, bares your shoulderblade.
"I feel nothing!" you smirk, you wretched jade;
You mock my name, you have your little joke;
And yet my red-hot brand is making your flesh smoke.

The French original is here.

Wow. Shrill!

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