Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Bonapartist Ideology

NAPOLEON I, as head of the state, desired to be regarded as the chosen of the people. In his public activities, the emperor boasted that he owed his power to the French people alone. After the battle of the Pyramids, when his glory began to attain its acme, the general imperiously demanded that there should be conferred on him the title of premier représentant du peuple, although hitherto the style of "popular representative" had been exclusively reserved for members of the legislative bodies.1 Later, when by a plebiscite he had been raised to the throne of France, he declared that he considered his power to repose exclusively upon the masses.2 The Bonapartist interpretation of popular sovereignty was a personal dictatorship conferred by the people in accordance with constitutional rules.

The Cæsarism of Napoleon III was founded in still greater measure upon the principle of popular sovereignty. In his letter to the National Assembly written from London on May 24, 1848, the pretender to the crown recognized the French Republic which was the issue of the February revolution and was founded upon universal suffrage. At the same time he claimed for himself, and at the expense of the exiled king Louis Philippe, a hereditary right to insurrection and to the throne. This recognition and this claim were derived by him from the same principle. With simultaneous pride and humility he wrote: "In the presence of a king elected by two hundred deputies, I could remember that I am the inheritor of an empire founded on the consent of four million Frenchmen; in the presence of the national sovereignty (the result of universal suffrage) I can't and don't wish to claim any rights but those of a French citizen."3 But Napolean III did not merely recognize in popular sovereignty the source of his power, he further made that sovereignty the theoretical basis of all his practical activities. He made himself popular in France by declaring that he regarded himself as merely the executive organ of the collective

____________________
1
Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Idées napoléoniennes, 1839, Italian ed., Pelazza, Turin, 1852, p. 74.
2
Ibid. p. 119.
3
Eugène Tenot, Paris en Décembre 1851. Etudes hitoriques sur le Coup d'Etat, Le Chevalier, Paris, 1868, p. 10.

-212-

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