Louis Napoleon, Socialist Emperor

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The effect of free society is to encourage the oppression of the poor, Fitzhugh says — in contrast to slave societies:

The ink was hardly dry with which Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations, lauding the benign influences of free society, ere the hunger and want and nakedness of that society engendered a revolutionary explosion that shook the world to its centre. The starving artisans and laborers, and fish-women and needle-women of Paris, were the authors of the first French revolution, and that revolution was everywhere welcomed, and spread from nation to nation like fire in the prairies.

The French armies met with but a formal opposition, until they reached Russia. There, men had homes and houses and a country to fight for. The serfs of Russia, the undisciplined Cossacks, fought for lares and penates, their homes, their country, and their God, and annihilated an army more numerous than that of Xerxes, and braver and better appointed than the tenth legion of Caesar. What should Western European poor men fight for? All the world was the same to them. They had been set free to starve, without a place to rest their dying heads or to inter their dead bodies. Any change they thought would be for the better, and hailed Buonaparte as a deliverer. But the nature of the evil was not understood; there were some remnants of feudalism, some vigor in the Catholic church; these Buonaparte swept away, and left the poor without a stay or a hope. Buonaparte is conquered and banished, universal peace restored; commerce, mechanic arts, manufactures and agriculture revive and flourish; invention is stimulated, industry urged on to its utmost exertion. Never seemed the world so prosperous, so happy, so progressive. But only seemed! Those awful statistics unfold the sad tale that misery and crime and poverty are on the increase still. The prisons are filled, the poor houses and the penal colonies supplied too fast, and the gallows ever pendant with its subject.

In 1830, Paris starves again, builds barricades, continues hungry, and hesitates what next to do. Finally sets up a new king, no better than the one she has expelled. Revolution follows revolution with electric speed throughout great part of Western Europe. Kings are deposed, governments changed; soon new kings put in their places, and things subside — not quietly — into the status quo ante bellum. All this, while millions of the poor are fleeing from Europe as men fly from an infected plague spot, to seek their fortunes in other climes and regions. Another eighteen years of hunger, of crime, of riots, strikes, and trades unions, passes over free society.

In 1848 the drama of 1830 is almost literally re-enacted. Again Paris starves, builds barricades, and expels her king. Again Western Europe follows her example. By this time, however, men had discovered that political changes would not cure the diseases of society. The poor must have bread; government must furnish it. Liberty without bread was not worth fighting for. A Republic is set up in Paris that promises employment and good wages to every body. The experiment is tried and fails in a week. No employment, except transplanting trees and levelling mounds, could be found, and the treasury breaks.

After struggling and blundering and staggering on through various changes, Louis Napoleon is made Emperor. He is a socialist, and socialism is the new fashionable name of slavery. He understands the disease of society, and has nerve enough for any surgical operation that may be required to cure it. His first step in socialism was to take the money of the rich to buy wheat for all. The measure was well-timed, necessary and just. He is now building houses on the social plan for working men, and his Queen is providing nurseries and nurses for the children of the working women, just as we Southerners do for our negro women and children. It is a great economy. Fourier suggested it long after Southerners had practiced it.

During these times there was a little episode in Ireland — Ireland, the freest country in the world, where law is violated every day, mocked at and derided, whence the rich and the noble have emigrated, where all are poor, all equal, and all idle. A few thousands only had usually starved annually; but the potatoe crop failed; they had no feudal lords to buy other food for them, and three hundred thousand starved in a single season. No slave or serf ever did starve, unless he were a runaway. Irishmen, although they love liberty to distraction, have lost their taste for starving. They are coming en masse to America, and in a few years, at the present rate of emigration, will leave the island without inhabitants. The great and increasing emigration from free society in Europe can only be accounted for on the ground that they believe their social system so rotten that no mere political change can help them — for a political revolution can be had on twenty-four hours’ notice.

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