Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, July 11, 2009

KARL MARX, LOUIS NAPOLEON, AND ME

For those of us who find, in the writings of Karl Marx, an endless source of inspiration and enlightenment, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, despite its now somewhat antiquarian interest, holds a special place in our hearts. It is hard, after all, to resist a book that begins, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Marx, who was thirty-three when the great Napoleon’s grandson, Louis Napoleon, seized control of France and proclaimed himself Napoleon III, wrote with all the bitterness of a disappointed lover, for the failure of the uprising of 1848 put paid to his hopes for an imminent proletarian revolution.

If the truth be told, I have never given a great deal of thought to that mid-nineteenth century upheaval, beyond what I could gather from Marx’s densely written analysis of the events, but I did take away from the text the general sense that Louis Napoleon was an egregious clown. Was this a fair and balanced assessment of the man? Frankly, it never seemed to matter very much to me. I was content to leave it to French revisionist historians to produce reassessments of the man and his regime.

Well, the day before yesterday, Susie went to a lecture at a pricey assisted living community that is part of the larger Chapel Hill development in which we live, and came home with the name of a book about the rebuilding of Paris. Since we have a small apartment in the 5th arrondisement, and love Paris more than anywhere else either of us has ever lived, we both thought it would be fun to read it. Amazon.com very quickly told me that the book is out of print, with second hand copies selling for $70 and up, so off I went to the UNC Chapel Hill library to get one of their copies. [North Carolina has the rather charming rule that any certifiable resident can, for $25, get a card and use all of the services of the university library. Classy.]

I started yesterday evening to read David H. Pinkney’s 1958 monograph, Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris. To my chagrin, I discovered that the man I had for so long dismissed as the farcical second coming of the tragic Napoleon Bonaparte was in fact the author of the vast transformation of Paris that made it the magical city it is today. With Georges Haussmann [later Baron Haussmann], Napoleon III conceived and implemented the creation of the boulevards, parks, places, streets, and bois that I delight in each time I return to Paris.

I do not for a moment doubt that Marx’s estimation of the man as the protector of bourgeois France is spot on. But I am afraid that I shall never again be able to dismiss Louis Napoleon as merely a buffoon. If that be apostasy, make the most of it!

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