Napoleon: Hot or Not? (1.)

Recently, there has a been two contrasting articles on Napoleon (here and here).

Fritz Pendleton has written an elegant and useful essay on a long, neglected figure that reactionaries should pay attention to:

Napoleon Bonaparte.

Fritz claims that Napoleon was:

“Europe’s reactionary par excellence.”

Why?

Because Napoleon believed in “natural hierarchies, the kind of hierarchies where the most capable men rise to the top and the dross is thrown out.”

Fritz claims that Napoleon has four  overall lessons for reactionaries.

1:Don’t be the wrecking-ball, be the builder.

2: Say one thing, do another.

3: Women lead homes, men lead nations.

4: Elites make states, but the masses sustain them.

The import for American reactionaries:

In a similar vein, I feel that if we were to pull off a reactionary movement in America, it would have to look and sound curiously like Napoleonic France. Liberty would be extolled and cherished in our rhetoric while power would be consolidated into an authoritarian state that guarded those liberties.

We agree with all of these things and have said so here, here and here.

It should be said, however, that we think that Napoleon offers both a warning and a lesson; his failings and failure is every bit as instructive as his success.

The second essay, on the other hand, by Nulle Terre Sans Seigneur or Carl (as in Carlsbad1819) takes a diametrically opposite view of Napoleon.

Carl is astonishingly well read and witty writer who had earlier penned a remarkable retrospective of Moldbug. When it comes to old primary sources, there is no one reading or writing in reactionary circles today better than him with these sources.

His bombardment of Pendleton’s essay , with all his usual panache, is worthy of some counter-fire.

Our problem is not with his reading but with his reasoning – his assumptions, his conclusions and what he fails to think about.

In short, Carl does not have an imperial mindset.

To put it another way, he is confused about the essence of politics and statecraft.

In the first part we will define the questions, discuss sources and compare and contrast our background assumptions with Carl’s.

In part 2, we will address some arguments pro and con concerning Napoleon.

In part 3, we will provide, again, examples of Napoleon as a reactionary. From many examples that could be chosen (we earlier provided ten major categories) we will look at three in particular:

1: Anarchy and Order.

2: Women and family.

3: Religion and Philosophy. 

Why Napoleon?

Q: Why Should neoreactionaries Study Napoleon?

A: Two reasons:

1: Neoreactionaries should study Napoleon for historical and philosophical reasons.

2: Neoreactionaries should study Napoleon for practical reasons.

 

1:Historical and Philosophical Reasons to Study Napoleon.

The form of the question here is the following:

Is X an instance or Y or Z?

That is, was Napoleon’s regime reactionary or liberal? (Or something else entirely?) Was Napoleon the culmination of the Revolution, as Carl thinks, or rejection of it?

Carl never defines or sets out the necessary and sufficient conditions for X to be a Y (reactionary Napoleon v liberal Napoleon). However, below, we set out what seems to be Carl’s assumptions.

 

2: Practical Reasons to Study Napoleon.

There are three practical reasons to study Napoleon:

A: Napoleon was a “Great Man”.

B: Napoleon offers neoreactionaries a “case study” in reactionary political engineering.

C: A study in how a ruler confronts a divided, post-revolutionary society that is also confronted with external enemies.

 

The Question of Sources.

Carl claims that two sources are essential for forming a judgment concerning Napoleon (Historical judgment). Carl:

Interpretations of Napoleon still largely converge on one of two axes: Adolphe Thiers’ and Hippolyte Taine’s. A republican admiration for Napoleon the liberator juxtaposed to contempt for Napoleon the egoist, leveller and adventurist.

Firstly, this is a false dichotomy over the character of Napoleon, as argue later.

Secondly, we disagree with his use of these sources because the question as to what Napoleon was belongs to philosophical history. After all, we are trying to determine if Napoleon should be classified as either a reactionary or a liberal, thus we need theory to interpret the facts.

The sources, in contrast to Carl’s, we relied upon for our judgement were the three great reactionaries of the 19th century:

1: Prince Metternich (a diplomat, a theorist, a Catholic and a man who dealt with Napoleon personally. In our view, Metternich provides, via his memoirs, the most rounded and honest assessment of Napoleon’s character.)

2: Thomas Carlyle (a philosopher, historian, author and a roaring reactionary. Carlyle, while critical, sees Napoleon as having innate and acquired reactionary qualities.)

2: Friedrich Nietzsche (a philosopher and the hardest reactionary philosopher in European history. Nietzsche’s assessment of Napoleon as a reactionary differs from Carlyle on the question of “sincerity”. For Nietzsche’s assessment we made use of Nietzsche scholar, Don Dombosky.)

Other sources we used, are the following:

1: The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

2: Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

3: Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

 

Claims.

1: Carl’s claim, in short, was that Napoleon was not a reactionary and is not worthy of study – a “dead end” he claims.

2: Imperial Energy’s claim is that Napoleon was a reactionary and is worth studying.

 

Assumptions.

Let’s set out Carl’s assumptions v Imperial Energy’s assumptions.

All arguments, and all systems, have assumptions; before going into the claims and evidence it is important to make our assumptions clear.

A: Theistic V Naturalistic Worldviews.

Carl is working within a theistic, Christian and pre-……. pre-Revolution and, presumably, pre-Reformation European framework.

We are not.

B: Supernatural V Natural.

It is not clear if Carl believes in the existence of the supernatural (God and Ghosts etc) and if he does what significance this has for his entire system.

If Carl does believe in the existence of the supernatural, then what does his ethical and political values come to if the metaphysical foundations that they are built on turn out to be built on sand? On the other hand, if he does not believe in the supernatural, then his beliefs, values etc., can only have a pragmatic rationale.

We do not pre-suppose any background metaphysic because the purpose of the state need not pre-suppose any background metaphysic; indeed, doing so is, usually, a mistake. However, if we did require the use of a metaphysic, then philosophical naturalism is the background metaphysic we would adopt (for Elites), because not only is it the most consistent with reality it would also be the most useful for the modern, reactionary state.

C: Three Types of Government and Three Types of Ruling Elite.

One of Carl’s key assumptions is that he views, in our terminology, government as a “charity” and administered, ideally, by “priests”. He apparently assumes that the business of the state is and ought to be conducted in accord with natural and divine law.

We do not assume either divine or natural law; furthermore, from our point of view, we view informal government as, essentially, a criminal enterprise. At best, a government can be a formalized, corporation whose chief business is security. The proposed Ruling Elite of the STEEL-cameralist state is the “soldier” type, as opposed to either the “priest” or “merchant” type.

D: Machiavellian Assumptions, Methods and Means.

One of Carl’s background assumptions, made clear here, is his rejection of Machiavellian methods.

We are Machiavellian – in our assumptions, our methods of political analysis and in our prescriptive policies.

In short, what troubles Carl, does not – politically speaking – trouble us. This is because we view politics and statecraft differently from Carl.

 

A reactionary, contrary to Carl, is always a Machiavellian because politics –by its very nature is Machiavellian. As the Grand Master said:

The reactionary is always a Machiavellian. She devotes her attention to reality, not form.

The reality of politics is that politics is division – by definition. Politics is the struggle for power and prestige, both within a structure (a state) and between structures (between states and non-state actors).

Furthermore, Carl’s complaint about Moldbug’s pre-occupation with “reasons of state” equivocates between two possible meanings. The first – uncharitable reading – is that a neo-cam ruler is the kind of ruler who can do any and all kinds of violence to persons and property if they like. It leaves the impression that a ruler would rule cruelly and capriciously. However, Moldbug always makes it clear the reasons – both from the point of view of a state, and from the point of view of a peaceful subjects within the state – as to why certain actions are necessary for peace, security, law and liberty.

The second – nuanced reading – is that while a state can, in theory and practice, do whatever it wants, and at times it may have to, the point of political engineering is to structure the “web of incentives” so that a state and the ruler is constrained – by their own self-interest – to not treat its subjects badly.

Idealists claim to believe that if everyone believes some metaphysical proposition  X, a miracle happens.

Machiavellians, meanwhile, have realistic ends and search for realistic means to realize them.

Thus, begins the project of political engineering.

The Grand Master:

Political engineering is rocket science, too. It demands no less cogency and care. In particular, romantic illusions are as misplaced in the political engineer’s cubicle as a topless calendar in the gynecologist’s office. The reactionary takes the biped as she is. Reality alone – bleak, elegant, mindless reality – is the null device on her black flag. 

The essence of any 21st-century reaction is the unity of these two forces: the modern engineering mentality, the great historical legacy of antique, classical and Victorian pre-democratic thought.

We emphasize, in particular, the “bleak, elegant, mindless” quality of reality.

Political engineering, moreover, is an amoral enterprise:

“The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable.”

Machiavellian political science is honest and up front about the problem of politics and it is realistic about the necessary means of solving it.

This is in contrast with practically every other school of thought which advertises itself as some kind of idealism (even the schools that advertise themselves as “realist”). The idealists first begin with some principle based on Reason or God and then attempt to re-create reality in order to fit their idealistic vision.

The irony – or not – is that it is the idealists who end up practicing the most vicious politics and inflicting the most chaotic consequences in order realize what cannot be realized.

Nevertheless, to a Machiavellian, the real reality is that idealists use religious or ideological props as a cover for their own personal pursuit of power – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Napoleon, by contrast, was a wolf in wolf’s clothing.

E: Formal V Real Reasons.

Carl follows on from his rejection of the Machiavelli with his assumption that what X says or what Y writes is an accurate statement and not a statement made for a “Machiavellian” political purpose (i.e. to persuade and confuse enemies, neutrals and supporters). For instance, Carl’s use of Louis-Napoleon’s interpretation of his uncle’s “liberal” accomplishments and Napoleon’s statements during the 100 days should, at least, be read with a Machiavellian lens.

E: Davos Men v Holy Men.

Carl, further assumes, that the only rival to his system of government is, as he calls it “Davos men” or government as a “business” administered by merchants, businessmen or “mangers” or technocrats.

We challenged his assumption here, but he did not respond. Curiously, Nick Land holds the same mistaken assumption – but from the opposite side – which we dealt with here. Land, in short, assumes that Tech-Comm is the only form of government consistent with reality and that any other system, such as Carl’s, would be an instance of political romanticism or “government as a charity.”

Both are guilty of promoting a false dichotomy – never mind their mutual conceptual confusion over the nature and purpose of the state.

The rival of both Tech-Comm and religious reaction, beyond Neocameralism, is STEEL-cameralism.

Putting it another way, the choice is not:

God

Or

Gold?

But:

Guns, Gold and God.

(God, remember, in the American context means freedom.)

The comment, we left, is the following in response to Carl’s essay ending rhetorical question:

“The question is whether your internationalists are going to be men of the Holy Alliance, or Davos Men. ”

You assume that the conflict is between Church and Corporation, God and Gold, Merchant and Priest, Government as a Charity and Government as a Business.

There is a third class of possibilities:

Guns and not Gold or God.
The Military College and not the Business school or the Seminary.
The Military and not the Corporation or the Church.
The Soldier and not the Merchant or the Priest.

The Supreme Commander and not the Chief Executive or the Pope.

USG’s military has ties to every single military in the world, including its enemies and frenemies.

General Sisi restored order in Egypt. Sisi spent time in both British and American staff colleges. No doubt, the Red Government gave him the green light to restore order, despite whatever protestations the Blue Government might have. Indeed, President Sisi’s visit to the White House was rather welcoming and successful.

Furthermore, Musharraf, and many other Pakistani officers, have taken courses in England. The same is true all over the Middle East.

Thus, the officer class could serve as an international ruling elite.

In general, the military in Muslim countries are hostile to both terrorists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Officers, who are generally a reactionary caste, are perhaps, paradoxically, better candidates to bring about peace and security than the so called peace-makers. If you want war, have a “peace-process” but if you want peace, make a deal.

In the next part, we look at the arguments pro and con over Napoleon as a reactionary and arguments over why he should be studied.

 

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17 thoughts on “Napoleon: Hot or Not? (1.)

  1. Interesting. I look forward to the second part which seems more relevant to my concerns, but until then, some notes:

    First of all, I clearly do not object to the study of Napoleon. Rather, I labeled a “dead end” the use of the reign, conquests and legal administration of the Napoleonic era (which I believe can reasonably be defined as lasting from the Consulate to the Empire) as a model for a counterrevolution.

    Come to think of it, I think our root disagreement emerges from the distinction between a counterrevolution and a restoration. I insist on the former, which is a more specific goal that, as you point out, overlaps with modes of governance that are closer to what might be called the “priestly” and “ecclesiocratic” archetype. Whereas you lean toward the military route, in which case Napoleon is an obvious figure to take interest in.

    Not that I object in the slightest to a more vanilla restoration, though I largely see this happening as a Thermidorian moment within the Davos Man’s circles that get him to behave more like a July Revolution-era Orleanist liberal as opposed to the radical he is currently. But I’ll have to save the details for a future post.

    I personally regard Louis-Napoleon’s and post-Hundred Days Napoleon I’s statements as being genuine convictions rather than political formulas for Machiavellian coalition-building, but even if they were simply the latter, the actions of both of these men were ultimately more harmful than beneficial to the prospects of a restoration by, if nothing else, the spillover effects of their interventions inflaming the passions and serving the interests of anti-royal/monarchomaque interests in e.g. Italy (for Napoleon III) and the sister republics in Napoleon I’s case.

    As for Machiavellianism, an in-depth examination is one of many topics I must add to my to-do list.

    (As for Thiers v. Taine, I was just saying these were the two poles, not that there aren’t any number of syncretic or nuanced interpretations, as I listed May Holland’s just immediately after.)

    Like

    1. Thanks for the reply.

      You write:

      “First of all, I clearly do not object to the study of Napoleon.”

      Duly noted.

      “Rather, I labeled a “dead end” the use of the reign, conquests and legal administration of the Napoleonic era (which I believe can reasonably be defined as lasting from the Consulate to the Empire) as a model for a counterrevolution.
      Come to think of it, I think our root disagreement emerges from the distinction between a counterrevolution and a restoration. ”

      An interesting and important distinction.

      “I insist on the former, which is a more specific goal that, as you point out, overlaps with modes of governance that are closer to what might be called the “priestly” and “ecclesiocratic” archetype. ”

      Presumably, you mean the conditions of Pre-Reformation Europe?

      Like

    2. “Whereas you lean toward the military route, in which case Napoleon is an obvious figure to take interest in.”

      There are background assumptions here that would take time to spell out. However, we will attempt to do it with concision.

      1: A “paradigm-shift” involving a “Napoleonic” or “Pinochet” type leader may occur. Thus, it would be useful to explore the paths, dangers and strategies of this possibility.

      2: Given the “Red gov” v “Blue gov” conflict in the U.S, this possibility needs to be considered. Our assumption, following Creveld, is that while the people and the state is in decline, the power and importance of both the military the “endless wars” that the U.S is involved in has to be reckoned with.

      In short, working within this constraint, what would be the best one could try for? What is biggest danger?

      Like

    3. “I personally regard Louis-Napoleon’s and post-Hundred Days Napoleon I’s statements as being genuine convictions rather than political formulas for Machiavellian coalition-building, but even if they were simply the latter, the actions of both of these men were ultimately more harmful than beneficial to the prospects of a restoration by, if nothing else, the spillover effects of their interventions inflaming the passions and serving the interests of anti-royal/monarchomaque interests in e.g. Italy (for Napoleon III) and the sister republics in Napoleon I’s case.”

      You could be wrong about the first claim, but correct about the second. During the “100 days” Napoleon was desperate to hold onto power, yet recall reading that he had the option of ordering a mass conscription, but he chose not to do so. Apparently Napoleon said that: “he would not hand France over to those people.” He was referring to the Jacobins.

      Like

    4. “As for Machiavellianism, an in-depth examination is one of many topics I must add to my to-do list.”

      That would be good. The first couple of chapters in Burnham’s book is what to concentrate on.

      Like

  2. “However, if we did require the use of a metaphysic, then philosophical naturalism is the background metaphysic we would adopt (for Elites), because not only is it the most consistent with reality it would also be the most useful for the modern, reactionary state.”

    First, the Cathedral believes in “philosophical naturalism” and they are doing a pretty crappy job. Indeed, one might conclude that this is the source of many of their errors.

    Second, “philosophical naturalism” is self-refuting, because it cannot explain how I am thinking what I am thinking when I write this. In fact, “philosophical naturalism” must insist I am not thinking anything at all (!) so as not to be forced to posit any reality outside of matter and energy.

    Like

    1. “Second, “philosophical naturalism” is self-refuting, because it cannot explain how I am thinking what I am thinking when I write this. ”

      Conscious thought depends upon a functioning architecture of one’s brain.

      Understand the necessary physical conditions that give rise to thought, then you can understand how thought is possible.

      Like

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