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Chapter 58

PROGRESS CONTAINED IN THE COUP D'ÉTAT


THE QUANTUM OF GOOD CONTAINED IN EVIL


Among us democrats, many well-meaning minds were stupefied by the event of the 2nd of December. It disconcerted some, discouraged others, and terrified many. I have seen some who cried: Finis Poloniae. As for myself, since at certain times I am obliged to say, I, and to speak in the face of history as a witness, I proclaim that I saw that event without perturbation. I say more than this, that at times, in the face of the 2nd of December, I declare myself satisfied.

When I can abstract myself from the present, when for a moment I can turn my eyes away from all the crimes, from all the blood spilt, from all the victims, from all the proscribed, from those hulks that echo the death rattle, from those deadful penal settlements of Lambessa and Cayenne, where death is swift, from that exile where death is slow, from this vote, from this oath, from this vast stain of shame inflicted upon France, which is growing wider and wider each day; when, forgetting for a few moments these painful thoughts, the usual obsession of my mind, I succeed in confining myself within the severe calmness of the politician, and in considering, not the fact, but the consequences of the fact; then, among many results, disastrous beyond doubt, a considerable, real, enormous progress becomes manifest to me, and, from that moment, while I am still of those whom the 2nd of December exasperates, I am no longer of those whom it afflicts.

Fixing my eyes upon certain points in the future, I say to myself: "The deed was infamous, but the result is good."

Attempts have been made to explain the inexplicable victory of the coup d'état in a hundred ways. A true balance has been struck between all possible resistances, and they are neutralized one by the other: the people were afraid of the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie were afraid of the people;--the faubourgs hesitated before the restoration of the majority, fearing, wrongfully however, that their victory would bring back to power that Right which is so thoroughly unpopular; the shopocracy recoiled before the red republic; the people did not understand; the middle classes shuffled; some said, "Whom shall we send to the legislative palace?" others: "whom are we going to see at the Hotel de Ville?" In fine, the rude repression of 1848, the insurrection crushed by cannon-shot, the quarries, the casements, and the transportations--a living and terrible recollection;--and then--Suppose some one had succeeded in beating the call to arms! Suppose a single legion had sallied forth! Suppose M. Sibour had been M. Affre, and had thrown himself in the midst of the bullets of the pretorians! Suppose the High Court had not suffered itself to be driven away by a corporal! Suppose the judges had followed the example of the representatives, and we had seen the scarlet gowns on the barricades, as we saw the scarfs! Suppose a single arrest had miscarried! Suppose a single regiment had hesitated! Suppose the massacre on the boulevards had not taken place, or had turned out ill for Louis Bonaparte! etc., etc., etc. This is all true, and yet what has been, was what was to be. Let us say again, under the shadow of that monstrous victory vast and definitive progress is taking place. The 2nd of December succeeded, because in more than one point of view, I repeat, it was good that it should succeed. All explanations are just, but all are vain. The invisible hand is mingled in all this. Louis Bonaparte committed the crime; Providence brought about the result.

In truth, it was essential that order should come to the end of its logic. It was essential that people should learn, and should learn for all time, that, in the mouths of the men of the past, that word order signifies false oaths, perjury, pillage of the public cash-box, civil war, courts-martial, confiscation, sequestration, deportation, transportation, proscription, fusillades, police, censorship, degradation of the army, disregard of the people, debasement of France, a dumb Senate, the tribune overthrown, the press suppressed, a political guillotine, murder of liberty, garroting of the right, violation of laws, sovereignty of the sword, massacre, treason, ambuscades. The spectacle that we have before our eyes is a profitable spectacle. What we see in France since the 2nd of December is the debauch of order.

Yes, the hand of Providence is in it. Reflect, too, upon this: for fifty years the Republic and the Empire have filled men's imaginations, the one with its souvenirs of terror, the other with its souvenirs of glory. Of the Republic men saw only 1793, that is to say, the terrible revolutionary necessity,--the furnace; of the Empire they saw only Austerlitz. Hence a prejudice against the Republic, and prestige for the Empire. Now, what is the future of France to be? is it the Empire? No, it is the Republic.

It became necessary to reverse that situation, to suppress the prestige of that which cannot be restored, and to suppress the prejudice against that which must be. Providence did it: it destroyed those two mirages. February came and took away from the Republic its terror; Louis Bonaparte came and deprived the Empire of its prestige. Henceforth, 1848, fraternity, is superimposed upon 1793, terror; Napoleon the Little is superimposed upon Napoleon the Great. The two grand things, one of which alarmed and the other dazzled, are receding. We perceive '93 only through its justification, and Napoleon only through his caricature; the foolish fear of the guillotine vanishes, the empty imperial popularity disappears. Thanks to 1848, the Republic no longer terrifies; thanks to Louis Bonaparte, the Empire no longer fascinates. The future has become possible. These are the secrets of the Almighty!

But the word republic is not sufficient; it is the thing republic that is wanting; well, we shall have the thing with the word. Let us develop this thought.


Victor Hugo