Postmodernism, Part 30: Blood and Iron

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; The Fall of Paris, by Alistair Horne; A History of Germany, by Bayward Taylor; Bismarck and the German Empire, by Dr. Erick Eyck.)


Enlightenment and Darkness

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

The postmodernists took refuge in the totalitarian collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, leading to Napoleon’s beatdown of Germany.

Right Collectivism

Right Collectivism morphed out of the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel), Rousseau, and Napoleonic stress disorder.  The Germans gave Rousseau their own twist: hero worship, state worship, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

Left Collectivism

Left Collectivism also came from the German Counter-Enlightenment, plus passion: romanticism and disgust (with industrial working conditions).  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (not morality).  Disgusted, Marx and Engels concocted their Hegelian “scientific socialism” (revealed history and Communist prophecy, cloaked in statistics).  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolutionary Disappointment

Marx and friends were bitterly disappointed with the Revolutions of 1848.  In France, the Second Republic’s socialist experiments flopped (triggering leftist uprisings – crushed).  In Germany, Communism and German unity were epic fails.  (Marx exited, stage left.  Bismarck entered, stage right.)  In Italy, Mazzini (“the most dangerous man in Europe”) and Garibaldi failed (again) and returned to exile.

Second Empire

French President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had saved the Pope and his Papal States.  He secretly ordered French troops to crush the Roman Republic because the war was illegal (but fought to gain political support among Catholic conservatives).

Louis-Napoleon was in a tough spot.  France had careened from revolution to revolution (1789, 1815, 1830, 1848).  The Second Republic was torn between conservatives and radical left democ-socs (the Mountain).  The democ-socs called for the President’s impeachment, over the war (for using French troops against liberty).

In June 1848, the democ-socs hatched a failed insurrection (following the usual strategy).  The Mountain proclaimed their insurrection, calling on the National Guard for support.  Troops dispersed the mobs and broke up a meeting, where the democ-socs were declaring a provisional government.  Their leaders fled.

The government cracked down on the left, passing repressive legislation.  The leftists went underground.  The 1852 elections were upcoming.  In a choice of evils, conservatives preferred Louis-Napoleon over “the reds”. The problem: Louis-Napoleon was constitutionally term-limited.

louis-napoleonLouis-Napoleon (Napoleon III)

In December 1851, Louis-Napoleon staged a coup.  He had campaigned across France, to garner popular support for his petition to amend the constitution (gathering 1.5 million signatures).  The National Assembly rejected his bill.  So, he staged a coup, arresting opposition leaders, dissolving the Assembly, and calling for a referendum by the people.

Government troops crushed the ensuing uprisings.  In Paris, republican deputies met to organize resistance, and were briefly arrested.  Small Parisian uprisings were put down.  In the provinces, huge uprisings were easily crushed.  The government cracked down, in sweeping repression against the “red threat”.

In December 1851, French voters (pining away for absolutism) overwhelmingly agreed to the coup, and granted authority to draft a new constitution.  In November 1852, French voters (nostalgic for their Napoleonic glory days) overwhelmingly named Louis-Napoleon as Emperor Napoleon III.

However, the French were fickle masters (as usual).

Blood and Iron

Meanwhile, Prussia and Austria competed to answer the German Question: who would lead united Germany?  Prussia proposed a German Confederation (a non-starter).  Austria reconvened the Diet at Frankfurt under Austrian presidency (where Bismarck plagued Austria).  Austria humiliated Prussia (militarily, backed by Russia, in a territorial dispute).  Prussia humiliated Austria (diplomatically, currying favor with Russia by thwarting Austrian efforts to join the Crimean War).

There was a changing of the guard in Europe.  In France, Napoleon III became Emperor (greeted as “brother” by German rulers).  In Russia, Alexander II (a liberal reformer) replaced (despotic) Tsar Nicholas.  Francis Joseph had replaced Austrian Emperor Ferdinand.  In Prussia, William I replaced “Mad” King Frederick William IV.

Bismarck (1863)Bismarck (1863)

In 1862, Bismarck became Prussian Chancellor.  (Nobody else wanted the job.)  William I (a soldier) wanted to reorganize the army.  He found the army lacking, when Prussia mobilized for the Franco-Austrian War (where Prussia left humiliated Austria in a lurch.)  He wanted to strengthen the regular army, by increasing conscription.  His military budget caused a constitutional crisis.  Only Bismarck was willing to defy parliament (ruling without a budget).

In 1866, Germany moved a step closer to unification, with the Prussian defeat of Austria, in the Seven Weeks War.  Austria and Prussia bickered over disputed territory (further antagonized by Bismarck).  Austria called on the German states to side with them against Prussia.  (This sounded like a declaration of war to Prussia.)  Prussia (the underdog in this fight) had better generals, better troops, better guns, and better railways (for more rapid mobilization).  After weeks of bitter and bloody fighting, Prussia prevailed.

As promised, Bismarck had solved the German Question by “blood and iron”.  Prussia formed the North German Confederation, under German leadership.

The French got nervous, and when the French get nervous, things go downhill.


The stage is almost set for twentieth century catastrophe.  France is a shaky Empire.  Prussia is one step away from Empire.  Marxism is on the rise.  (That sounds like a lethal combination.)


Communism gets serious.  French Communism gets real serious.  Next: Part 31, Paris Commune.