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Chapter 16

OMNIPOTENCE


Let us forget this man's origin and his 2nd of December, and look to his political capacity. Shall we judge him by the eight months he has reigned? On the one hand look at his power, and on the other at his acts. What can he do? Everything. What has he done? Nothing. With his unlimited power a man of genius, in eight months, would have changed the whole face of France, of Europe, perhaps. He would not, certainly, have effaced the crime of his starting-point, but he might have covered it. By dint of material improvements he might have succeeded, perhaps, in masking from the nation his moral abasement. Indeed, we must admit that for a dictator of genius the thing was not difficult. A certain number of social problems, elaborated during these last few years by several powerful minds, seemed to be ripe, and might receive immediate, practical solution, to the great profit and satisfaction of the nation. Of this, Louis Bonaparte does not appear to have had any idea. He has not approached, he has not had a glimpse of one of them. He has not even found at the Élysée any old remains of the socialist meditations of Ham. He has added several new crimes to his first one, and in this he has been logical. With the exception of these crimes he has produced nothing. Absolute power, no initiative! He has taken France and does not know what to do with it. In truth, we are tempted to pity this eunuch struggling with omnipotence.

It is true, however, that this dictator keeps in motion; let us do him this justice; he does not remain quiet for an instant; he sees with affright the gloom and solitude around him; people sing who are afraid in the dark, but he keeps moving. He makes a fuss, he goes at everything, he runs after projects; being unable to create, he decrees; he endeavours to mask his nullity; he is perpetual motion; but, alas! the wheel turns in empty space. Conversion of rentes? Of what profit has it been to this day? Saving of eighteen millions! Very good: the annuitants lose them, but the President and the Senate, with their two endowments, pocket them; the benefit to France is zero. Credit Foncier? no capital forthcoming. Railways? they are decreed, and then laid aside. It is the same with all these things as with the working-men's cities. Louis Bonaparte subscribes, but does not pay. As for the budget, the budget controlled by the blind men in the Council of State, and voted by the dumb men in the Corps Législatif, there is an abyss beneath it. There was no possible or efficacious budget but a great reduction in the army: two hundred thousand soldiers left at home, two hundred millions saved. Just try to touch the army! the soldier, who would regain his freedom, would applaud, but what would the officer say? And in reality, it is not the soldier but the officer who is caressed. Then Paris and Lyons must be guarded, and all the other cities; and afterwards, when we are Emperor, a little European war must be got up. Behold the gulf!

If from financial questions we pass to political institutions, oh! there the neo-Bonapartists flourish abundantly, there are the creations! Good heavens, what creations! A Constitution in the style of Ravrio,--we have been examining it,--ornamented with palm-leaves and swans' necks, borne to the Élysée with old easy-chairs in the carriages of the garde-meuble; the Conservative Senate restitched and regilded, the Council of State of 1806 refurbished and new-bordered with fresh lace; the old Corps Législatif patched up, with new nails and fresh paint, minus Lainé and plus Morny! In lieu of liberty of the press, the bureau of public spirit; in place of individual liberty, the ministry of police. All these "institutions," which we have passed in review, are nothing more than the old salon furniture of the Empire. Beat it, dust it, sweep away the cobwebs, splash it over with stains of French blood, and you have the establishment of 1852. This bric-à-brac governs France. These are the creations!

Where is common sense? where is reason? where is truth? Not a sound side of contemporary intelligence that has not received a shock, not a just conquest of the age that has not been thrown down and broken. All sorts of extravagance become possible. All that we have seen since the 2nd of December is a gallop, through all that is absurd, of a commonplace man broken loose.

These individuals, the malefactor and his accomplices, are in possession of immense, incomparable, absolute, unlimited power, sufficient, we repeat, to change the whole face of Europe. They make use of it only for amusement. To enjoy and to enrich themselves, such is their "socialism." They have stopped the budget on the public highway; the coffers are open; they fill their money-bags: they have money,--do you want some, here you are! All the salaries are doubled or trebled; we have given the figures above. Three ministers, Turgot (for there is a Turgot in this affair), Persigny and Maupas, have a million each of secret funds; the Senate a million, the Council of State half a million, the officers of the 2nd of December have a Napoleon-month, that is to say, millions; the soldiers of the 2nd of December have medals, that is to say, millions; M. Murat wants millions and will have them; a minister gets married,--quick, half a million; M. Bonaparte, quia nominor Poleo, has twelve millions, plus four millions,--sixteen millions. Millions, millions! This regime is called Million. M. Bonaparte has three hundred horses for private use, the fruit and vegetables of the national domains, and parks and gardens formerly royal; he is stuffed to repletion; he said the other day: "all my carriages," as Charles V said: "all my Spains," and as Peter the Great said: "all my Russias." The marriage of Gamache is celebrated at the Élysée; the spits are turning day and night before the fireworks; according to the bulletins published on the subject, the bulletins of the new Empire, they consume there six hundred and fifty pounds of meat every day; the Élysée will soon have one hundred and forty-nine kitchens, like the Castle of Schönbrunn; they drink, they eat, they laugh, they feast; banquet at all the ministers', banquet at the École Militaire, banquet at the Hotel de Ville, banquet at the Tuileries, a monster fête on the 10th of May, a still more monster fête on the 15th of August; they swim in all sorts of abundance and intoxication. And the man of the people, the poor day-labourer who is out of work, the pauper in rags, with bare feet, to whom summer brings no bread, and winter no wood, whose old mother lies in agony upon a rotten mattress, whose daughter walks the streets for a livelihood, whose little children are shivering with hunger, fever and cold, in the hovels of Faubourg Saint-Marceau, in the cock-lofts of Rouen, and in the cellars of Lille, does any one think of him? What is to become of him? What is done for him? Let him die like a dog!


Victor Hugo