Napoleon, Metternich, Carlyle, Nietzsche and the “Dionysian Conspiracy”.
1: Nietzsche’s Problem.
2: The “Betrayer” of the Revolution.
3: The Destroyer of Democracy.
4: Aristocratic Radicalism.
5: Nietzsche V Carlyle on Napoleon.
7: Summary and Conclusion.
Parliaments having failed, there remained nothing but the way of Despotism. Military Dictators, each with his district, to coerce the Royalist and other gainsayers, to govern them, if not by act of Parliament, then by the sword. Formula shall not carry it, while the Reality is here! I will go on, protecting oppressed Protestants abroad, appointing just judges, wise managers, at home, cherishing true Gospel ministers; doing the best I can to make England a Christian England, greater than old Rome, the Queen of Protestant Christianity; I, since you will not help me; I while God leaves me life!—Why did he not give it up; retire into obscurity again, since the Law would not acknowledge him? cry several. That is where they mistake. For him there was no giving of it up! Prime ministers have governed countries, Pitt, Pombal, Choiseul; and their word was a law while it held: but this Prime Minister was one that could not get resigned. Let him once resign, Charles Stuart and the Cavaliers waited to kill him; to kill the Cause and him. Once embarked, there is no retreat, no return. This Prime Minister could retire no-whither except into his tomb.
On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in Human History. Thomas Carlyle.
Napoleon Bonaparte was Europe’s greatest reactionary. Napoleon: enemy of anarchy, revolution, democracy and equality. Despite his defeat, the France he delivered was, to quote Metternich, not the France of the Revolution but of the “counter-revolution.”
Napoleon was a reactionary but what type of reactionary was he? Napoleon won praise and criticism from three of the 19th century’s three towering figures of reaction: Prince Metternich, Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Neoreactionaries make reference to GNON – God or Nature’s God – which not only asserts that reality is real but that the source of that reality may be either God or Nature; thus, given this axiom, the real work of clearing out the augean stables can begin. Napoleon had an unshakeable sense of reality, he never denied God, but he was not a Christian; Napoleon, moreover, consistently believed that religion was necessary for social order – Catholicism for France and Islam for Egypt; yet, Nietzsche saw him as man who stood for classical pagan virtù against the “slave morality” of Christianity; Metternich, meanwhile, saw him as restoring religion to a badly mauled France.
Last week, we looked at Napoleon’s practical accomplishments; this week, we will look at how Metternich, Carlyle and Nietzsche understood him. All three men agreed with Napoleon on many points, but the real “disagreement” is between Carlyle and Nietzsche.
The nature of disagreement, between Carlyle and Nietzsche, is over “truth” or “sincerity”; a tension that still vexes many contemporary neoreactionaries.
Here, we will make use of the following three sources. The majority of what follows is drawn from the Nietzschean scholar, Don Dombosky and his excellent book Nietzsche and Napoleon: a Dionysian Conspiracy (N).
Dombosky argues, contrary to other scholars and the received opinion in philosophy, that Nietzsche did have a coherent political philosophy and that Napoleon stood at the centre of it.
Nietzsche’s political vision was one of “Aristocratic Radicalism”.
The following consists of five sections. Firstly, I set out what Dombosky calls “Nietzsche’s Problem”. Secondly, we learn that Nietzsche considered Napoleon to have “betrayed” the revolution; thirdly, we see how Napoleon was considered to be the destroyer of democracy -how he used democracy to defeat democracy; fourthly, we come to the core of Nietzsche’s political thought where Napoleon is the model ruler of the model regime: “Aristocratic Radicalism.” Finally, we look at the “argument” between Nietzsche and Carlyle over Napoleon’s “sincerity” and his use of “deception.”
1: Nietzsche’s Problem.
Dombosky sets out Nietzsche’s “problem” with the following passage:
Nietzsche’s ‘problem’ regarding Napoleon as a ‘synthesis of the inhuman (Unmensch) and superhuman (Übermensch)’ is not, however, simply a problem inviting an explanation of Napoleon’s personality – that ‘Napoleon was different, the heir of a stronger, longer, older civilization’ (TI Expeditions ), nor is it simply a problem which uncovers the demonic Goethean insight ‘that the higher and the terrible man necessarily belong together’, rather his problem is also about how to summon, regenerate and intensify a structural moment in the history of European culture – how to finish the war between Judea and Rome, already ‘engaged in a fearful struggle on earth for thousands of years’, embodied in the war between the Renaissance and the Reformation, and in the war between Napoleon and the French Revolution that had defeated ‘the last political noblesse in Europe’, crushing it ‘beneath the popular instincts of ressentiment’. (N)
Meta von Salis-Marschlins summarizes Nietzsche’s reception of Taine on Napoleon as follows:
As an opponent and detester of the French Revolution and all the falsifications of concepts and of history that followed in its wake, Nietzsche greeted Taine’s great work on that event with a light and joyous heart. He was most powerfully moved by the volume on Napoleon. He told me that he had written to Taine summing up the overall impression in the formula: Napoleon is the synthesis of superman and monster; but it seemed to him that the French historian had found the term too strong. Like Taine, Nietzsche saw Napoleon as the last great man whom history has presented, a wielder of power without a conscience, like the Italian condottieri of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries intrinsically an immoralist . . .
Nietzsche was clearly aware of the significance of Goethe’s remark that ‘Napoleon . . . was one of the most productive men who ever lived [in terms of a] productivity of deeds’ (N)
Carlyle agreed with Nietzsche, that Napoleon was Europe’s “last Great Man!”
Metternich, meanwhile, serenely claims, which eerily presages Nietzsche, that Napoleon was “Beyond Good and Evil”, when he writes that:
The question has often been asked, Whether Napoleon was radically good or bad? It has always seemed to me that these epithets, as they are generally understood, are not applicable to a character such as his. Constantly occupied with one sole object, given up day and night to the task of holding the helm of an empire which, by progressive encroachments, had finished by including the interests of a great part of Europe, he never recoiled from fear of the wounds he might cause, nor even from the immense amount of individual suffering inseparable from the execution of his projects.(M).
Metternich, moreover, questions Napoleon’s “greatness” in the sense that the age itself was not a great one:
The opinion of the world is still divided, and perhaps will always be, on the question, Whether Napoleon did in fact deserve to be called a great man? It would be impossible to dispute the great qualities of one who, rising from obscurity, has become in a few years the strongest and most powerful of his contemporaries. But strength, power, and superiority are more or less relative terms. To appreciate properly the degree of genius which has been required for a man to dominate his age, it is necessary to have the measure of that age.
Now, as in our opinion, this was really the state of things, we are in no danger of exaggerating the idea of Napoleon’s grandeur, though acknowledging that there was something extraordinary and imposing in his career. If the era of the revolution was, as its admirers think, the most brilliant, the most glorious epoch of modern history, Napoleon, who has been able to take the first place in it, and to keep it for fifteen years, was, certainly, one of the greatest men who have ever appeared. If, on the contrary, he has only had to move like a meteor above the mists of a general dissolution; if he has found nothing around him but the debris of a social condition ruined by the excess of false civilisation; if he has only had to combat a resistance weakened by universal lassitude, feeble rivalries, ignoble passions, in fact, adversaries everywhere disunited .and paralysed by their disagreements, the splendour of his success diminishes with the facility with which he obtained it. Now, as in our opinion, this was really the state of things, we are in no danger of exaggerating the idea of Napoleon’s grandeur, though acknowledging that there was something extraordinary and imposing in his career.(M).
Nietzsche viewed Napoleon’s defeat as a defeat for a new kind of Western Civilisation. For Metternich, however, Napoleon was, well, a giant among pygmies; a an extraordinary man in a time of civilizational collapse. Metternich judged the period following the restoration of the house of Bourbon as the return to right order but for Nietzsche, it meant a return to “Judean” or Christian values, which is to say a return to a “slave morality” that characterised the French Revolution.
Yet, as we shall see, all three men were in agreement over Napoleon’s crushing of the Revolution.
2: The “Betrayer” of the Revolution.
Dombosky claims that for Nietzsche, Napoleon was the antithesis of the “humanitarian” philosophy that inspired the Revolution:
As Nietzsche rightly interprets, Napoleon was antithetical to the ‘humanitarian’ philosopher Rousseau1and the egalitarian morality of the French Revolution. (N).
The following passage from Metternich’s memoirs confirms this interpretation:
The turn of his mind always led him towards the positive; he disliked vague ideas, and hated equally the dreams of visionaries and the abstraction of idealists, and treated as mere nonsense everything that was not clearly and practically presented to him. He valued only those sciences which can be controlled and verified by the senses or which rest on observation and experience. He had the greatest contempt for the false philosophy and the false philanthropy of the eighteenth century. Among the chief teachers of these doctrines, Voltaire was the special object of his aversion, and he even went SO far as to attack, whenever he had the opportunity, the general opinion as to his literary power. (M).
Dombosky, citing French historian Jules Michelet, claims that Napoleon betrayed the Revolution:
Rather, they would agree with the French historian Jules Michelet, that man who peered into coffins, that Napoleon was a ‘betrayer of the Revolution’, which Nietzsche recognizes also, though no friend of Michelet, that ‘superficial humanitarian’ (BGE 205). And, equally, Benjamin Constant, Germaine de Staël, Alexis de Tocqueville and Karl Marx may be added, since all of them criticized Bonapartism, respectively, as usurpation, as military despotism, as the ‘illegitimate perversion of democracy’ and as the negation of parliamentary democracy.(N).
Once again, we find that Metternich agrees for he considers Napoleon to have been a counter- revolutionary:
There was but one single man in France who understood how to master the Revolution, and that man was Bonaparte. The King’s Government inherited from him, not the Revolution, but the counter-Revolution…. (M).
All three reactionaries: Metternich, Carlyle and Nietzsche agree that Napoleon was against the Revolution and democracy – as we shall see in the next part.
3: The Destroyer of Democracy.
Carlyle writes that Napoleon, given his “military trade”, and in his “heart”, understood that “Democracy” could not be nothing but an “anarchy.” Carlyle:
And accordingly was there not what we can call a faith in him, genuine so far as it went? That this new enormous Democracy asserting itself here in the French Revolution is an unsuppressible Fact, which the whole world, with its old forces and institutions, cannot put down; this was a true insight of his, and took his conscience and enthusiasm along with it,—a faith. And did he not interpret the dim purport of it well? “La carriere ouverte aux talens, The implements to him who can handle them:” this actually is the truth, and even the whole truth; it includes whatever the French Revolution or any Revolution, could mean. Napoleon, in his first period, was a true Democrat. And yet by the nature of him, fostered too by his military trade, he knew that Democracy, if it were a true thing at all, could not be an anarchy: the man had a heart-hatred for anarchy. On that Twentieth of June (1792), Bourrienne and he sat in a coffee-house, as the mob rolled by: Napoleon expresses the deepest contempt for persons in authority that they do not restrain this rabble. On the Tenth of August he wonders why there is no man to command these poor Swiss; they would conquer if there were. Such a faith in Democracy, yet hatred of anarchy, it is that carries Napoleon through all his great work. Through his brilliant Italian Campaigns, onwards to the Peace of Leoben, one would say, his inspiration is: “Triumph to the French Revolution; assertion of it against these Austrian Simulacra that pretend to call it a Simulacrum!” Withal, however, he feels, and has a right to feel, how necessary a strong Authority is; how the Revolution cannot prosper or last without such. (H).
Napoleon’s ‘democracy’ was Machiavellian (or dissimulative) in nature, and that within the Bonapartist regime political rights were not extended to all (GM I 16). Furthermore, Nietzsche will declare that the ‘will to power’ of people such as Napoleon is at odds with the psychology of democratic ages.(N)
Indeed, as we saw in the last week, Napoleon’s legal reforms severely curtailed the “rights” of women and restored authority to fathers and husbands; furthermore, Napoleon’s creation of a new honour system (which was initially for military men) and a new Aristocratic, military elite was utterly contrary to the principles of the Revolution.
Dombosky cites Gustave Le Bon’s judgement that Napoleon saw through “democratic illusions” though he made use of them:
Gustave Le Bon, the famous innovator of crowd psychology, comments that Napoleon was ‘suspicious of large and incompetent assemblies of popular origin’……he was ‘not bewildered by democratic illusions’ and felt ‘disgust for the [French] revolution and the sovereignty of the populace’ (anti-democratic), that he made ‘playthings of ideas, people, religions, and governments’, (that he was like Nietzsche’s higher man) ‘managing mankind with incomparable dexterity and brutality . . . a superior artist’. (N).
Democracy was but a stepping stone – a theatrical display on the way to monarchy:
Yet Bonapartism’s underlying dogmas of legitimacy are not merely personal and democratic, but also dynastic and religious. Bonapartism is also synonymous with ‘the formation of an hereditary empire’ which is consequently consecrated by religion when Napoleon wins the support of the Roman Catholic Church for his imperial reign. The forces of monarchy and religion notably combine when Napoleon is crowned emperor by Pope Pius VII on 2 December 1804 in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; as Gregorovius narrates it, ‘taking the imperial crown from the hands of the pope, and placing it on his head with his own hands’. Thus it can be said that Bonapartism is an illegally constituted, militaristic, autocratic power that legitimates itself through democratic (or plebiscitary) consent and the monarchical (hereditary, dynastic), religious ‘ritual exercise of sovereignty’.(N)
Carlyle, however, found fault with Napoleon for these games:
He apostatized from his old faith in Facts, took to believing in Semblances; strove to connect himself with Austrian Dynasties, Popedoms, with the old false Feudalities which he once saw clearly to be false;—considered that he would found “his Dynasty” and so forth; that the enormous French Revolution meant only that! (H)
Metternich, of a more practical turn of mind, recounts that Napoleon always “regretted” that:
he could not invoke the principle of Legitimacy as the basis of his power. Few men have been so profoundly conscious as he was that authority deprived of this foundation is precarious and fragile, and open to attack. (M).
The “fragility” of his authority would have gnawed at Napoleon because he understood that without secure authority, France would slide back into anarchy once more. Napoleon further believes, as recounted by Metternich, that political authority has no firmer foundation than authority derived from God because the marriage of God and political authority move it “beyond the attacks of men.”
He was also much impressed with the idea of deriving the origin of supreme authority from the Divinity. He said to me one day at Compiegne, shortly after his marriage with the Archduchess, ‘ I see that the Empress, in writing to her father, addresses her letter to His Sacred and Imperial Majesty. Is this title customary with you?’ I told him that it was, from the tradition of the old German Empire, which bore the title of the Holy Empire, and because it was also attached to the Apostolic crown of Hungary. Napoleon then replied, in a grave tone :—’ It is a fine custom, and a good expression. Power comes from God, and it is that alone which places it beyond the attacks of men. Hence I shall adopt the title some day.(M)
As we saw last week, religion for Napoleon was “strategic”, “useful” and thus necessary.
This conflict between political utility and a personal and ethical commitment to the truth is what separates Carlyle and Nietzsche, as we will explore in the final section.
4: Aristocratic Radicalism.
Don Dombosky’s core claim is that for Nietzsche, Napoleon embodied a political order whose ethos was one of “Aristocratic Radicalism.”
Here is Dombosky quoting Nietzsche directly:
We owe it to Napoleon (and not by any means to the French Revolution, which aimed at the ‘brotherhood’ of nations and a . . . universal exchange of hearts) that we now confront a succession of a few warlike centuries that have no parallel in history . . . that we have entered the classical age of war, of scientific and at the same time popular war on the largest scale (in weapons, talents, and discipline) . . . For the national movement out of which this war glory is growing is only the counter-shock against Napoleon and would not exist except for Napoleon. He should receive credit some day for the fact that in Europe the man has again become master over the businessman and the philistine – and perhaps even over ‘woman’ who has been pampered by Christianity and the enthusiastic spirit of the eighteenth century, and even more by ‘modern ideas’. Napoleon, who considered modern ideas and civilization itself almost as a personal enemy, proved himself through this enmity as one of the greatest continuators of the Renaissance… (N).
Dombosky points to Napoleon’s and Nietzsche’s shared ethos:
……Napoleon’s and Nietzsche’s shared anti-egalitarianism (the pathos of distance); their intimately shared military ethos against European decadence…… (N).
For Nietzsche, Napoleon’s personality, his “type” (commander) became the legitimacy of the political order:
It demonstrates Nietzsche’s structural understanding of Bonapartism that he rightly recognizes that Napoleon legitimated his power through his own virtù and genius (a ‘first-rank organising power’ in governing and military strategy); through criminal illegality (conspiracy and coup d’état); through religious dissimulation and simulation of the symbolic power of the monarchy; and through plebiscitary affirmation or, more precisely, plebiscitary belief or faith which is not denigrated by Nietzsche and should be distinguished from ‘the public’ or ‘public opinion’ in Nietzsche’s consistently pejorative sense in the use of those terms. Nietzsche’s recognition of these strategies of legitimation is not simply structurally descriptive but also celebratory and reverential in the face of ‘the two grave crimes committed against Europe: the formation of the new German Empire and the ruin of Napoleonic thought’…. (N).
For Nietzsche, Napoleon was he who “decided the exception” and who attempted to create a new “hierarchy” of military nobles:
Napoleon revived the ‘old idea that the will of the prince was the law’; secondly, he undermined the principle of equality when he established the Legion of Honour in 1802, imperial titles, such as ‘Prince’, ‘Count’ and ‘Knight’, in 1804 and a ‘new nobility’ between 1804 and 1808, an expression Nietzsche mobilizes for his own purposes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The new nobility constituted a ‘project for a hierarchical reorganization of the nation’. Its members came primarily from the military, demonstrating Napoleon’s preference for a society organized along martial lines, but it was open to members of all social classes as it was an order based on merit or talent which associated ‘the idea of nobility with that of public service… (N).
Napoleon, Nietzsche’s Commander:
…..The Bonapartist ‘commander’ is wistfully invoked in Beyond Good and Evil:
…the appearance of one who commands unconditionally strikes these herd animal Europeans as an immense comfort and salvation from a gradually intolerable pressure, as was last attested in a major way by the effect of Napoleon’s appearance. The history of Napoleon’s reception is almost the history of the higher happiness attained by this whole century in its most valuable human beings and moments….Nietzsche refers to Napoleon as a commander type – ‘made for command and conquest’ and a higher human being. Napoleon represents ‘the most powerful instinct, that of life itself, the lust to rule, affirmed’. (N).
For Nietzsche, unlike Carlyle and in total opposition to Metternich, Napoleon was a symbol of the struggle between “Rome and Judea”; Napoleon represented renaissance virtù and “Roman values.”
Dombosky comes to central conflict:
Nietzsche did not believe that Napoleon made any concessions to the democratic movement as is clearly indicated in On the Genealogy of Morals, in a passage in which Nietzsche’s recognition of ‘Napoleon’s subversion of the egalitarian energies of the French Revolution’ is most apparent:
two opposing values . . . have been engaged in a fearful struggle on earth for thousands of years . . . The symbol of this struggle . . . is ‘Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome’: – there has hitherto been no greater event than this struggle, this question, this deadly contradiction. Rome felt the Jew to be something like anti-nature itself . . . in Rome the Jew stood ‘convicted of hatred for the whole human race’; and rightly, provided one has a right to link the salvation and future of the human race with the unconditional dominance of aristocratic values, Roman values . . . For the Romans were the strong and noble, and nobody stronger and nobler has yet existed on earth or even been dreamed of . . . There was, to be sure, in the Renaissance an uncanny and glittering reawakening of the classical ideal, of the noble mode of evaluating all things . . . With the French Revolution, Judea once again triumphed over the classical ideal . . . To be sure, in the midst of it there occurred the most tremendous . . . unexpected thing: the ideal of antiquity itself stepped incarnate . . . before the eyes and conscience of mankind – and once again, in opposition to the mendacious slogan of ressentiment, ‘supreme rights of the majority’, in opposition to the will to the lowering . . . the leveling and the decline . . . of mankind, there sounded stronger . . . the . . . rapturous counter- slogan ‘supreme rights of the few’! Like a last signpost to the other path, Napoleon appeared, the most isolated and late-born man there has even been, and in him the problem of the noble ideal as such made flesh – one might well ponder what kind of problem it is: Napoleon, this synthesis of the inhuman and superhuman. (N).
Napoleon was an artist of power:
I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it.
For Nietzsche, Napoleon was an “artist of government”:
Nietzsche admires the ‘artist of government’ Napoleon, and thus Napoleonic Caesarism, not only for his force of will and personality but also for his political policies and tactics or political techniques. Strictly speaking, it is an error to interpret Nietzsche, even though he contributes to its historiography, as a continuator of the Napoleonic cult of personality or genius, for there is concrete political meaning in Nietzsche’s attachment to Napoleon as well. Bonaparte is the model for the Nietzschean commander; not only his Machiavellian virtù, his ethics of martial valour (his martial asceticism or ‘military stoicism’), but also his political institutions and spectacular techniques of power. (N).
Nietzsche saw that Napoleon was the “red-pill” incarnate:
Nietzsche admires and elevates Napoleon’s character as an example against modern moral softening, against the Christian ‘evil eye’ for our ‘natural inclinations’ (N).
Dombosky sets out the heart of Nietzsche’s political vision with Bonaparte at the centre:
Nietzsche’s political philosophy, his Aristocratic Radicalism, is neither fascist nor liberal democratic but is rather a type or species of Bonapartism…..
To say that Nietzsche’s political philosophy is Bonapartist is to say that Nietzsche has fundamentally no objection to a government founded on a coup d’état or usurpation as Napoleon’s was on 9 November 1799 (18 Brumaire on the French Republican Calendar); that he has no objection to autocratic rule, to the individualization and centralization of power in executive authority; to military dictatorship (the consulate established by the Constitution of the Year VIII, 13 December 1799) and, consequently, no objection to the ‘underlying military structures . . . [which] formed the hard base of Napoleon’s power’; that he must subscribe to the ‘essential ethic . . . propagated during the Empire’, the ethos of ‘martial valour’, and to the ‘total mobilisation’ of the French nation which made every citizen a soldier, as the Napoleonic regime, as Benjamin Constant fittingly described it, was a regime of perpetual warfare…..
The imperial government of Napoleon Bonaparte has been described as a military dictatorship. Nietzsche recognizes that ‘militarism’ is a defining structural feature of Bonapartism as a political movement or ideology, ennobling this feature as a ‘cure’ for ‘decadence’. In its origins the Bonapartist state was anti- parliamentarian. It was an autocracy supported by popular consent through a plebiscite backed by universal male suffrage, which spoke for order and social equality against the ‘chaos’ and ‘anarchy’ wrought by the French Revolution. The doctrine of a centralized executive authority legitimated by a plebiscite was ‘the pillar of Bonapartism’. In such a political arrangement parliament operated as a mere facade with ‘no power to change the constitution or to interfere with the executive’ as the regime mutated from republic to empire.
Instead of describing Bonapartism as a ‘military dictatorship’, Frédéric Bluche considers it more accurate to define Bonapartism as ‘democratic absolutism’,which is to say, as ‘Caesarism’ (a term coined during the rule of Napoleon III which denotes a combination of democracy and absolutism). Bonapartism has also been defined as a doctrine in which political power is viewed as a quality necessarily achieved through a coup d’état or usurpation as Benjamin Constant was to observe; that it is ‘synonymous with the seizure of power in a coup d’état’….
As a vision of political and social order, it is hard to imagine one that is completely contrary to the values of equality, peace, social justice and rule by civil servant than the above.
3: Nietzsche V Carlyle on Napoleon. (GNON)
Now, we come to the great “disagreement” between Nietzsche and Carlyle who disagree over the role of truth and truth telling in politics.
Nietzsche’s dispute with Carlyle is both overt and subtle. In contrast to Carlyle’s conviction that the hero must be morally upright, Nietzsche says, in his preferential vocabulary, that the ‘genius’ or the ‘great man’ (and a person like Napoleon) in his works, in his deeds, in his body, is necessarily a prodigal. His greatness lies in the fact that he expends himself. The instinct of self-preservation is within him suspended; the overwhelming pressure of the energies which emanate from him forbids him any . . . prudence. One calls this ‘sacrifice’; one praises his ‘heroism’ . . . his devotion to an idea, a great cause, a fatherland: all misunderstandings . . . He flows out, he overflows, he uses himself up, he does not spare himself – with inevitability, fatefully, involuntarily, as a river’s bursting its banks is involuntary. (TI Expeditions).
Carlyle views the hero religiously and thus cannot accept, as Nietzsche does, that the hero is necessarily a ‘criminal type’ (a conspirator and destroyer) just as Napoleon was.
Carlyle could not accept that Napoleon was less than ‘divine’ (D 298), which is precisely the ‘peril’ Nietzsche identifies in the ‘cult of genius’ – the belief that ‘superior spirits’, such as Napoleon, ‘are of suprahuman origin’ (HH 164). Carlyle castigated the later Napoleon because he lacked ‘sincerity’, because he was willing to lie:
…the fatal charlatan-element got the upper hand. He apostatised from his old faith in Facts, took to believing in Semblances; strove to connect himself with Austrian Dynasties, Popedoms . . . Self and false ambition had now become his god: self-deception . . . His hollow Pope’s-Concordat, pretending to be a re-establishment of Catholicism . . . his ceremonial Coronations [a sham].(N)
Carlyle, earlier in Heroes, wrote:
False as a bulletin” became a proverb in Napoleon’s time. He makes what excuse he could for it: that it was necessary to mislead the enemy, to keep up his own men’s courage, and so forth. On the whole, there are no excuses. A man in no case has liberty to tell lies. It had been, in the long-run, better for Napoleon too if he had not told any. In fact, if a man have any purpose reaching beyond the hour and day, meant to be found extant next day, what good can it ever be to promulgate lies? The lies are found out; ruinous penalty is exacted for them. No man will believe the liar next time even when he speaks truth, when it is of the last importance that he be believed. The old cry of wolf!—A Lie is no-thing; you cannot of nothing make something; you make nothing at last, and lose your labor into the bargain. (H).
According to Prince Metternich, Napoleon’s reason for deception was that Paris was an “opera”. Metternich:
He had, above all, studied the national character of the French, and the history of his…. proved that he had understood it rightly. He privately regarded the Parisians as children, and often compared Paris to the opera. Having reproached him one day with the palpable falsehoods which formed the chief part of his bulletins, he said to me with a smile, ‘ They are not written for “you ; the Parisians believe everything, and I might tell them a great deal more which they would not refuse to accept. (M).
Dombosky writes that Carlyle was pained by Napoleon’s deceptions however:
Carlyle was in profound pain when he wrote: ‘poor Napoleon: a great implement too soon wasted, till it was useless: our last Great Man!’
When Nietzsche criticizes Carlyle in Daybreak 298 – in the ‘The hero-cult and its fanatics’ – he is criticizing a specific, religious ‘kind of prostration [before ‘genius’ and the ‘hero’] invented by . . . Carlyle’ which views the hero as a demigod and is pained when it discovers that its ‘hero’ is human. For Nietzsche, Napoleon was not a demigod but a ‘return to nature’, an ascent ‘into a high, free, even frightful nature and naturalness’; someone who played with ‘great tasks’ (TI Expeditions ). Goethe, too, represents, for Nietzsche, a ‘return to nature’, ‘a going-up to the naturalness of the Renaissance’ and thus ‘a grand attempt to overcome the eighteenth century’, the century of Rousseau, its ‘sentimentality’ and revolutionary aspirations. What Goethe ‘aspired to was totality’, the Dionysian. Nothing was forbidden to him. He ‘disciplined himself to a whole, he created himself . . . a convinced realist: he affirmed everything which was related to him . . . [and] he had no greater experience than that ens realissimum called Napoleon’ (TI Expeditions ), that concentrated crystallization of soldier, politician and artist. Goethe’s ‘heart opened up at the phenomenon of Napoleon’. It ‘closed up’ to the German Wars of Liberation (TI Germans 4), an event about which Goethe was deeply sceptical .(N).
For Nietzsche, Napoleon was Dionysian:
Goethe later ‘seems to have surmounted the narrow non-political view which he had defended to Pückler-Muskau, [when] he declared: “What is culture if not a higher conception of military and political conditions?”’ It is a viewpoint that resonates with Nietzsche and informs his debate with Carlyle who does not realize that ‘an increase in the terribleness of man is an accompaniment of every increase in culture; [and in not grasping this] is still subject to the Christian ideal and takes its side against paganism, and against the Renaissance concept of virtù’. For Nietzsche, virtù signifies: ‘Not contentment . . . but more power; not peace at all, but war; not virtue, but proficiency . . . virtù . . . free of moralic acid’ (AC 2). In this concept Nietzsche encrypts the ‘struggle against the eighteenth century’ and ‘its supreme over- coming by Goethe and Napoleon’, because these two masks of Dionysus possessed it in high doses. Napoleon represents for Nietzsche the ‘insight that the higher and the terrible man necessarily belong together . . . the grand style in action rediscovered; the most powerful instinct, that of life itself, the lust to rule affirmed’.
Carlyle could not accept that Napoleon manipulated appearances, bathed in the realm of semblances, but Nietzsche says:
Increase in ‘dissimulation’ [Verstellung] [is] proportionate to the rising order of rank of creatures . . . cunning [die List] begins in the organic world . . . [in the] highest human beings, such as Caesar, Napoleon . . . (Odysseus); a thousandfold craftiness belongs to the essence of the enhancement of man.(N).
By contrast, Carlyle considered Napoleon’s lies and self-deception to be the cause of his downfall:
The man was “given up to strong delusion, that he should believe a lie;” a fearful but most sure thing. He did not know true from false now when he looked at them,—the fearfulest penalty a man pays for yielding to untruth of heart. Self and false ambition had now become his god: self-deception once yielded to, all other deceptions follow naturally more and more. (H).
Dombosky then comments on Nietzsche’s argument against Carlyle:
This is the more subtle argument against Carlyle, because Carlyle believed Napoleon lacked ‘sincerity’, pointing to the pomp of his coronation and the mendacity of his Concordat with the Roman Catholic Church. But the fact that Nietzsche refers to Napoleon as a ‘return to nature’ in ‘rebus tacticis’ – in respect of tactics (TI Expeditions 48) – indicates an approval of Napoleon’s tactics and ‘semblances’, even if immoral or dissimulative; and dissimulation is an aspect of the Renaissance virtù that Nietzsche places at the centre of his moral revaluation – his spiritual warfare prosecuted by his ‘New Party of Life’, a party of order and power, which seeks to regenerate an affirmative ‘Dionysian state’ through ‘the ruthless extermination (Vernichtung) of everything degenerate and parasitical’ (EH BT 4). As a party or movement it takes the ‘offspring’ (Nachwuchs) of the ‘Napoleonic movement’ as its precursor, Goethe, Las Cases, Stendhal and Heine, just as it methodically defames its adversaries, Michelet, Sand, Mill, Renan, the radical republican Hugo who despised the Second Empire of Napoleon III, the German historiographers, Treitschke, von Sybel, the anti-Semitic and anti-French Wagner, and the pessimistic Schopenhauer. Nietzsche’s revaluation of all values is a mind-war (a war of representation, of values, of images, virtual warfare – something similar to encoding forms and images of the Napoleonic Empire on sweets so that the empire could be put in your mouth) but it is also a mind-body war, not merely an ‘intellectual struggle’, not ‘a spiritual rather than a physical struggle’, since the mind alone is not sufficient to destroy, for example, the House of Hohenzollern and their ‘tool, Prince Bismarck’, or Christianity, not sufficient to breed or transfigure, or to form a new physiology. Asceticism and even banking transactions are required, as Jewish finance is summoned by Nietzsche to assist the project of revaluation, as is the formation of ‘rigorous’ polytechnical schools that will train military officers (a Napoleonic idea). Nietzsche’s spiritual warfare or ‘war of spirits’ (Geisterkrieg) does not imply the mere ‘overcoming’ or passive ‘dying out’ of ‘degenerate’ or ‘decadent’ forms of life, for while it may not imply ‘massacres’, it does imply, for example, ‘a break with the English principle of representation of the people’, ‘an unconditional association with Russia’, no ‘American future’, as well as incarceration, ostracism and destruction as Nietzsche’s ‘Law’ or ‘Decree against Christianity’ (Gesetz wider das Christenthum) proposes with respect to priests and churches. While at times the Nietzschean agon counsels the preservation of enemies, while remaining master over them, at other times it counsels their annihilation, a ‘war to the death’ (Todkrieg). Nietzsche and Napoleon: template for a future war. There is no revaluation without terror and trauma, bodies and office buildings reduced to dust.
Carlyle on Napoleon’s downfall:
But this poor Napoleon mistook: he believed too much in the Dupability of men; saw no fact deeper in man than Hunger and this! He was mistaken. Like a man that should build upon cloud; his house and he fall down in confused wreck, and depart out of the world. (H).
Nietzsche, however, disagrees:
Generally, Nietzsche’s criticisms of Napoleon’s personal ‘failings’ are more akin to Stendhal’s who explains that it was ‘prosperity’ that had ‘vitiated [Napoleon’s] character’. ‘He could no longer stand contradiction . . . Men of genuine ability drew away from him’, to be replaced by sycophants, and he began to prefer those who were mediocre. Napoleon was ‘corrupted by tyranny’ or despotism. It was ‘unhindered arrogance and crownomania’, a sense of infallibility, that debilitated Napoleon’s genius. ‘Napoleon saw a crown before his eyes and let himself be dazzled by the splendour of that out of date bauble.’ He had simply magnified ‘his self-esteem to an unhealthy extent’.In the same vein, Nietzsche writes that Napoleon lacked the noble characteristic of ‘magnanimity’and faults him for his ‘monarchic fetishism’.(N)
Carlyle then makes the important point that the more Napoleon “trampled on the world” the more it would “recoil” against him” which, of course, is self-defeating – as we argued last week. Carlyle:
The Duke of Weimar told his friends always, To be of courage; this Napoleonism was unjust, a falsehood, and could not last. It is true doctrine. The heavier this Napoleon trampled on the world, holding it tyrannously down, the fiercer would the world’s recoil against him be, one day. (H).
Carlyle, again, concludes that it was his separation from reality that brought him down:
…having once parted with Reality, he tumbles helpless in Vacuity; no rescue for him. He had to sink there, mournfully as man seldom did; and break his great heart, and die,—this poor Napoleon: a great implement too soon wasted, till it was useless: our last Great Man! (H).
Metternich, meanwhile, concludes:
The vast edifice which he had constructed was exclusively the work of his hands, and he was himself the keystone of the arch. But this gigantic construction was essentially wanting in its foundation; the materials of which it was composed were nothing but the ruins of other buildings; some were rotten from decay, others had never possessed any consistency from their very beginning. The keystone of the arch has been withdrawn, and the whole edifice has fallen in.
Such is, in a few words, the history of the French Empire. Conceived and created by Napoleon, it only existed in him; and with him it was extinguished. (M).
Summary and Conclusion.
Nietzsche stands alone as the most threatening, challenging and difficult Western philosopher for Western Civilisation.
Compared to the other two reactionaries – Metternich and Carlyle – Nietzsche saw the deeper meaning and significance of what Napoleon symbolised.
Indeed, Nietzsche’s view is the most crisp and consistent of the three. Nietzsche’s rejection of equality, democracy, pacifism and the blandishments of bureaucrats and “shop-keepers” is not only free of an inner tension in Carlyle’s understanding – due to Carlyle’s residual Christianity – but also displays a confident and compelling ethical and political vision.
It is, however, much more unstable; its Dionysian qualities when brought to full bloom would likely stand as an enemy of the kind of order that Metternich and Carlyle valued.
Of course, one must talk about the 20th Century and Nietzsche’s influence.
Here, the Grand Master’s quip that Germany was Carlyle done by “swine” appears to be correct – as we will see in part 4.
Napoleon, however, was not a “swine”, or a “parvenu” to use Metternich’s term (though, as Metternich claimed, there was a little bit of it in him – at least compared to a Prince such as himself).
(One interesting and not unimportant point that should be noted is that when Napoleon faced utter defeat both times he abdicated rather than order a levée en masse, like one ordered in the early days of the Revolution. Napoleon replied to the suggestion of forcing all of France into the fight that he would not deliver the country into the “hands of the “Jacobins.” Thus, his militarism, and the ethos that went with it, was confined to the elite and the army.
Napoleon, like Nietzsche and Carlyle, understood that the ethos of the elite – the “masters” – is and should be distinct from the rest; democracy, meanwhile, with its innate equalitarianism and embrace of the masses – as was the case in Germany – applied a necessarily vulgarised ethos upon the masses.
The other great issue, between the two, is the relationship between politics and truth. Does truth matter for politics? Does truth matter for statecraft? Does it matter for ethics and morality?
Carlyle, as we have seen, commits himself to the truth as a matter of principle; Grand Master Mencius also agrees with this. Nietzsche, on the other hand, affirms the opposite.
Nietzsche’s argument is not that deception is necessary but that deception is a trait of a higher sort of person – a master moralist. We will look at that argument in a moment; first, however, the let’s look at the tension, even incoherence, in Carlyle’s and the Grand Master’s thought.
The basic problem is that if political and social order necessarily requires deception and dissimulation, then the contradiction contained in Carlyle’s thought is decisive. Truth – as an ethical and strategic principle – must be sacrificed for the moral and political value of order.
The problem is especially acute for the Grand Master because he has described himself as a “Machiavellian” and showed at length that “nonsense is a better organising principle than truth.”
The use of the “Machiavellian” label, however, is better understood to refer to someone who rejects “formal” arguments or statements made by political actors but pays attention, instead, to actions and consequences. What people do and not what they say is where political reality can be discovered.
The use of the “Machiavellian” label then means someone who assumes that political actors and institutions practice “systematic public deception.” In other words, “Machiavellian” is a descriptive term for a particular kind of political science – it does not necessarily imply any prescriptive meaning.
However, the contradiction is not resolved because both Carlyle and the Grand Master are not merely describing but also prescribing.
The contradiction becomes sharper when one combines and considers the Clausewitzian dictum that “War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means” with Sun Tzu’s claim that “all warfare is based on deception”.
Given, as the Grand Master himself affirms, that politics and war are inseparable, the project of truth-telling then has collapsed under the weight of its own theoretical incoherence.
Nietzsche, like his model Napoleon, has not only theoretical clarity, but a clear conscience when it comes to the matter – unlike Carlyle and possibly the Grand Master himself.
Nietzsche and Napoleon, furthermore, would rebuke Carlyle for his “Christian” sentimentality (despite his atheism) and idealistic romanticism – he failed to be man of metal who grasped the nettle.
Napoleon’s justification for deception is unimpeachable in his role as both a warlord and a man who had to master the fires of political anarchy and terror. In this sense then, Carlyle is mistaken. Can the Grand Master mount a defence, however?
Firstly, the Grand Master could reply that deception is perfectly acceptable in a war between states; what he objects to, both ethically and pragmatically, is the use of propaganda and deceit in controlling the public as a general principle in war and in peace. The Grand Master’s neocameralism is a system of government that removes the need for any manipulation of public opinion.
Formalism’s formula, therefore, is that it does not have any “formula”. This is not quite accurate, however. The formula of formalism is that if a state is designed and managed according to the Grand Master’s principles, then lies are unnecessary.
The Grand Master’s case is strengthened by the claim that neocameralism rejects any idealistic value structure: the formal conception of “government as a charity” which is “government as a criminal enterprise” in reality; the Master’s formula, by contrast, is that government is a business.
For sure, businesses can use deception, even nonsense, but accounting is a more exact means of measuring than moral philosophy. The materialistic profit motive is, therefore, a proxy for “good government” because good government is profitable government and profitable government is orderly, secure, competent government.
Nevertheless, and the following is a conjecture, the Grand Master may mean – in the real or Machiavellian sense – that neoreactionaries should first tell the truth against the Modern Structure but then endorse some “noble lie” for the New Structure.
Yet, since the Grand Master is quite clear that those who will implement and run the New Structure will not be its theorists, the possibility exists for someone to create a “formula” in the way that Napoleon constructed a reactionary formula in the deluge of the Revolution. Such a formula may or may not correspond to the wishes and designs of the people who helped bring about a transition or restoration, however.
Another problem, this one more philosophical and practical, is the possibility that the majority of humanity cannot but live with myths.
A reactionary, such as Nietzsche, is therefore condemned to both tell the truth about metaphysical and moral nihilism (along with other dark truths) and at the same time affirm its impossibility as a way of life for either an individual or a culture.
Nietzsche, again, unlike Carlyle, sees the matter more clearly. Nietzsche’s ethos, his belief that men with “master morality” will be, in our modern terms, more intelligent, creative and suitable for both ruling and fighting seems essentially correct.
For example, in sex and dating, the “blue pill” advises meekness, honesty, supplication, feeling and romance; the “red pill”, however, prescribes aggression, deception, mastery, coldness, and manipulation as the royal road to sexual success.
Carlyle, when faced with the destination that his Victorian society was travelling, stopped, shouted and looked to the past; Nietzsche, however, saw everything that Carlyle saw but rather than only looking back, set off in an entirely new direction.
As such, Nietzsche, like the Grand Master, but only more so, reasoned himself entirely outside of the bounds of historic Christian Civilisation into a grand “festival of cruelty”; Nietzsche’s ethos is arguably not even Roman but barbarian; not even a civilised order, but a criminal one.
As such, a good formalist cannot but reject Nietzsche’s “master morality” – or at least dilute it; yet, there is much in neoreaction (and STEEL-cameralism) that is not only consistent with Nietzsche’s ethos but exists in harmony with it.
With Grand Master Mencius, it is the tensions, the creative combinations, the heroic – even insane – aspiration to be an entirely new node in Western thought which explicitly aims to serve as the foundation for a re-vitalised America – and Western Civilisation more generally – which make it a work of genius: a mixture of art and science; ruler and rules; intuition and procedure; engineering and literature; principle and polemic; personal and impersonal, abstract system and concrete human feeling.
Yet, in the end, it is the cold, sober scientist – the engineer, the genius of systems, rules and structures – that wins over the bombastic, high artist – the poet, the genius of imagination, intuition and impudent trashing of Anglo-American social and moral hypocrisy – in Grand Master, Mencius Moldbug.
He is, like the country he comes from, a multitude; for only an American, an “atheist Jew”, a Silicon Valley Californian, a computer scientist, historian, philosopher and poet could create something so daringly original and dangerous compelling.
The Restoration requires a Receiver; here, the Grand Master agrees with Carlyle, that it will require a “Great Man”, a King – a Carlyean “Commander”.
Napoleon stands, with the exception of Octavian/Augustus and Lee Kuan Yew, as the greatest of practical reactionary role-models. These men are to be held up as models because they did not work in a time of stability or established tradition, but of upheaval, uncertainty and conflict; these men confronted the great problems of their day and they overcame them with systematic intelligence, ambition, energy, ruthlessness, practical realism and grim, uncompromising, determination to succeed.
Whoever this receiver, and the sovereign who follows him, is and from wherever he comes from, the man will probably have and will need to have the following characteristics which I draw from James Burnham’s Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. In the section entitled Composition and Character of the Ruling Class (page 95 -) Burnham describes a number of traits that rulers tend to have. (Interestingly, and not unexpectedly, the same traits that make for ruling, also make for getting good pussy as this PUA king makes clear see, see and see. Someone else has the idea here too.)
Firstly, Burnham writes that: ” Deep wisdom, altruism, readiness at self-sacrifice, are not among these qualities(of the Ruling Elite), but, on the contrary, are usually hindrances.”
…prime requisite, beyond question, is a capacity for hard work; but the requisite next in importance is ambition, a firm re-solve to get on in the world, to outstrip one’s fellows. Now those traits hardly go with extreme sensitiveness or, to be quite frank, with “goodness” either. For “goodness” cannot remain indifferent to the hurts of those who must be thrust behind if one is to step ahead of them….. If one is to govern men, more useful than a sense of justice – and much more useful than altruism, or even than extent of knowledge or broadness of view – are perspicacity, a ready intuition of individual and mass psychology, strength of will and, especially confidence in oneself……… states are not ruled with prayer-books.
This ruler already exists, or someday soon will be.
It is likely that he will be a native-born American; though, as in the case of Napoleon, Wellington, Sun Yat Sen, Lee Kuan Yew (and Hitler alas), he may be a recent arrival, an “outsider” – a Mexican, Canadian, an Englishman or even an Eastern European. He will not be a “female” or an Asian, but he may even be an African-American.
Neoreactionaries, meanwhile, have given much thought with many aspects of the Problem but they have paid little to no attention to the President of the Plinth, the Receiver and the eventual Sovereign: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How will he be found? How will he find us?
My presentation of Napoleon Bonaparte is but the first of many studies in Great Men that will need to be undertaken – we have, after all, only started to think.
Next week, is part 3: The Age of Crisis.