Saturday, May 14, 2016

Neo-Bonapartism In The Nuclear Age

I have gotten bored with all the "Benito Trump" talk.  Yeah, sure, he actually looks like Il Duce at the right angle, and he certainly has the bombast and ego and nationalism, as well as the curious mixture of right and left economic appeals all muddled up so that who like the bombast and the nationalism can find something they like (he is a socialist like me!  he loves big business like me!), with ultimately the message to be on economics that both business and labor should subordinate themselves to the great leader for purposes of moving The Nation forward.  Yes, that is fascism, but the term has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, and indeed because it is tied to full out genocide in Hitler, it has become a general swear word, with leftists declaring it right wing and rightists declaring it left wing, and so on.

So I want to point out what it replaced, what is its origin, what the same basic political impulse was called before Benito came along with his party in the 1920s and dredged up this old Roman term for a bunch of sticks tied together to name his party.  That older term is Bonapartism, after, yes, Napoleon Bonaparte.  So we have most of the elements there.  He came out of the French revolutionary left just as Mussolini came out of the Italian Socialist Party (and the Nazis were the National Socialists) and Donald Trump used to support Dems like Hillary.  But then he went right in asserting a strong nationalism, maintaining certain nods to the left but also strongly supporting the bourgeois and big business right in asserting the superiority of France and its power.  This peculiar combination was Bonapartism, and whenever a "Man on the Horse" would appear, especially in France, but also elsewhere in Europe, making these kinds of mixed appeals that the class conflict would be subsumed into nationalism under the leadership of the Man on the Horse, this was Bonapartism, with Napoleon's nephew, Napoleon III, a perfect practitioner.  Some would say that this continued in France on down through Charles de Gaulle even.

Now I will accept that Bonaparte may not have been bad as the fascists or even as modern day Donald Trump.  He did support liberation of some minorities, especially the Jews from old feudal restrictions. But he also clearly believed in the superiority of the French over all other people and their right to rule them. 

Now one area where Trump might look better than old Bonaparte or the later fascists is in the parts of  his foreign policy where he seems to want to avoid too many entanglements abroad.  Of course he has been lying that he opposed the Iraq War when it started; he supported it.  But on some foreign policy subjects, he almost looks reasonable, but there are two important caveats.  One is simply his label for  this, "America First," which for any student of US history was the label of the pro-Nazi and fascist sympathizers who did not want the US to  get into WW II.  Oooops!

Bit the more serious is when we get to the most important policy issue of them all, even more important than global warming, and far more important than any domestic economic issue: nuclear weapons and nuclear war.  Part of his staying out of the rest of the world has been his call for letting Japan and South Korea get  nuclear  weapons.  I shall simply note that trying to halt nuclear proliferation has been one of the highest goals of nearly every US president since WW II and for good reason.  But here is the Donald just fine with it.  Let them have nukes!

Then, even more seriously we have him talking loosely about using tactical nuclear weapons against ISIS.  No presidents or presidential candidates have talked about using nuclear  weapons.  It is not done. Even Barry Goldwater did not do so, and since the retirement of the late Curtis E. LeMay, no significant figure in the US government has done so.  This silence was matched globally after awhile, and I would give Thomas Schelling back door credit on this for helping to establish as a global focal point norm that nobody would be the first to use nuclear  weapons, and nobody would even talk about doing so.'

But now this norm has broken down, and neo-Bonapartist Trump is part of it.  I shall note that he did not start it, however. The credit for that goes to people around Trump's pal, fellow neo-Bonapartist Vladimir Putin, who at the time the Russians grabbed Crimea and sanctions were put on Russia for doing so, started yapping about how they could destroy New York City with their nuclear weapons.  The cat was let out of the bag at that point,and Putin indeed fits the neo-Bonapartist scenario, appealing to resentments about national failure and leaning both left and right on economic policy while assuming more and more dictatorial power.  So, yes, here in the nuclear age, we have neo-Bonapartists recklessly bringing us closer to nuclear war with their irresponsible and loose talk.

Barkley Rosser


Unknown said...

Well he was embarrassed about his stubby hands. See his most famous portrait.

"Is it responsible to speculate? It is irresponsible not to" said...

Actually Napoleon was of middle height, about 5'6. It was a successful British propaganda/disinformation campaign that spread the story that he was very short.

Of course, he was always sticking that hand in his coat, perhaps to hide its smallness... :-).

Anonymous said...

«trying to halt nuclear proliferation has been one of the highest goals of nearly every US president since WW II and for good reason»

Israel being the exception that validates the rule? And what about Pakistan and India?

Especially India: the policy of the past few presidents has been to reward India's proliferation, despite the guarantees solemnly signed by their predecessors in the NPT.

The "halt nuclear proliferation" is no longer a USA policy, that's pretty clear, when it helps to frighten China (and perhaps Russia).

«Vladimir Putin, who at the time the Russians grabbed Crimea»

Ah the usual neocon propaganda. It fits :-).

Myrtle Blackwood said...

"We think about small things. We think about a few people; we worry about ourselves. What are we supposed to do? Hold history to our heads? Be fully aware all the time of everything that's happening? Stalin said a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic...It's a lot like us to think that up to our very end, something will save us."

From: 'The Prometheus Crisis' by Thomas N Scortia and Frank M Robinson. Publishes in 1976. Page 292. said...


I think you are way off on this comment. I do not think the US had jack doodley squat to do with any of those three nations obtaining nuclear weapons.

The nation that gave intial support to Israel's nuclear weapons program was France starting in the 1950s when Eisenhower was siding with Egypt and the USSR against UK, France, and Israel in the Suez Canal crisis. OK, US has not cut off aid to Israel to protest its holding of nukes, but it did not aid them getting them.

The US did cut off aid for Pakistan after it first tested one for an extended period of time. But that was eventually relaxed. And as with Israel, the US did not aid Pakistan in getting them.

At the time India first tested one, the US was not providing India with aid and did not help them get their nukes. They were officially neutral, but de facto allied with the USSR from whom they got most of their military hardware, although I think they developed their nukes largely on their own.

I see no point in not being friendly with Pakistan and India now as they both have arsenals and the US sometimes helps play a role in keeping them from using their nukes, which they have mostly directed at each other.

So, blissex, get real. The US has done very little to spread nuclear weapons and it has most certainly been the policy of the US to try and prevent proliferation, even if it has failed to do so in some cases, including China and North Korea beyond the three you brought up.

Oh, the big joke is that the one nation I can think of we really did help get nukes, aside from UK in WW II, was Iran, with a nuclear power program started in the 50s under Ike, which the Shah started turning into a nuclear weapons program in the 70s, with Nixon turning a blind eye, although I guess we did not specifically aid that. Of course that the Iranian nuclear weapons program started under the Shah has long been an irony of the long effort to bring that program to a halt more recently.

Sandwichman said...

"Stalin said a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic..."

Except Stalin never said any such thing. As Abe Lincoln warned, "don't believe everything you read on the internet." said...

When confronted with a demand from the pope, Stalin also reportedly said, "How many troops does the pope have?" But then, he for some reason never insisted on communalizing farm land in deeply Catholic Poland, in contrast to all other Eastern European nations that had the Red Army sitting in it after WW II. said...

Oh, trivial correction: "collectivizing farm land," not, "communalizing," which is slightly but importantly different. Mao communalized in China in the late 50s. In Europe (including USSR) they merely collectivized.

Thornton Hall said...

Wait one second-
Two issues being conflated: has US given up on non-proliferation, and who cares?
On the first issue, point: Rosserbj
On the second issue: ?

Why do only certain countries, specifically the countries that the rest of the world has plenty of reason to know are not to be trusted, allowed to have nuclear weapons? In 2016 should it be ok to assert any Dulles era truth without multiple arguments why it shouldn't be dismissed summarily?

Anonymous said...

«I do not think the US had jack doodley squat to do with any of those three nations obtaining nuclear weapons.»

But the solemn obligation of the USA under the NPT is also to provide no assistance whatever to non-signatories that proliferate, and to provide assistance only to members of the NPT that respect it. To forget that is astoundingly disingenuous, as it was the proposal of a nuclear assistance treaty with India despite their status of non-NPT proliferator. Indeed as the proliferator that motivated Pakistan to get into the same business.

The USA have done embargoes etc. against North Korea and Iran, and have provided vast help to Israel, Pakistan and India, including help with improving their nuclear technology.

Otherwise if the USA give proliferators outside the NPT the same help that it gives to members, what's the point?

Anonymous said...

On India nuclear deal two snippets among many:
«critics in the United States say the deal fundamentally reverses half a century of U.S. nonproliferation efforts, undermines attempts to prevent states like Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, and potentially contributes to a nuclear arms race in Asia.»
«a twofold promise: that those nations that possess nuclear weapons will gradually give them up, and that these same nations will refuse to share nuclear technology and fuel with countries that refuse to sign the NPT.»

And that's just the letter of the treaty: the spirit was that non-members would be treated worse than members in general, and in particular that non-members that developed nuclear weapons would be treated as pariah states, not as much favoured allies by the USA, like Israel, Pakistan, India have been.

Sure, the USA arm-twisted existing NPT members to sign off on the special deal for India, so it is now formally "legal", but in effect that means that the NPT is now dead, a really huge reversal in USA policy.

Bruce Wilder said...

On the original Napoleon, it might be worthwhile to recall that Napoleon was able to resolve several important political conflicts, which had been troubling France for a decade since the Revolution began. That ability to slice thru political Gordian knots like Alexander was a key to his success. That the politicians had not been able to resolve these problems gave him an opportunity to seize power and to secure it.
Just off the top of my head, Napoleon was able to settle the relationship of the French state with the Catholic Church, which had been the source of some of the worst atrocities of the Revolution. Napoleon was able to establish a Bank of France and reinforce the administrative state; recall that it was the depredations of the tax farmers and the bankruptcy of the state that precipitated the fall of the old regime. And, Napoleon was able to jumpstart the long pending reform of the legal code.
We should not only remember the martial megalomania, but we might want to remember that real political problems could not seem to reach resolution in the preceding decades and ask why French politics was so dysfunctional that it needed Napoleon.

Sandwichman said...

"...remember that real political problems could not seem to reach resolution in the preceding decades and ask why French politics was so dysfunctional that it needed Napoleon."

And by analogy ask why American politics is so dysfunctional that it brings Trump to the fore. said...


You are right that the US has probably been to quick and easy to help out the actually existing nuclear powers, even if they were outside the NPT framework. These are deeply difficult matters, to put it mildly.

Bruce W.,

Yes, Napoleon was a great historical leader of France who managed to put together a post-feudal system that at least partly resolved many old contradictions, although I would say your presentation of his role is pollyannish in the extreme. I remember listening to the late great Harvey Goldberg at UW-Madison pointing out that in the Battle of Austerlitz alone more died than in all of the Terror of the Revolution and its "efficient" guillotine.