Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In Middle Ages, Christian theologians postulated that heresy is even worse than heathenism. Because when someone is a heathen, he is openly a non-Christian, and thus no Christian can be confused and ensnared by him. A heretic, however, while being the enemy of the Church and its little god, pretends to be a Christian and espouses some of the doctrines of Christianity — thus, he is dangerous to an average Christian who may not be able to tell a difference between a heretic and a true believer. (And that is why the Church oppressed Jews and, lehavdil, Muslim, but burned the Christian heretics.)

Following this logic of thinking, this is the most dangerous political philosophy:
Napoleon gained support by appealing to some common concerns of French people. These included dislike of the emigrant nobility who had escaped persecution, fear by some of a restoration of the ancien régime, a dislike and suspicion of foreign countries had tried to reverse the Revolution — and a wish by Jacobins to extend France's revolutionary ideals.
Bonaparte attracted power and imperial status and gathered support for his changes of French institutions, such as the Concordat of 1801 which confirmed the Catholic Church as the majority church of France and restored some of its civil status. Napoleon by this time, however, was not a democrat, nor a republican. He was, he liked to think, an enlightened despot, the sort of man Voltaire might have found appealing. He preserved numerous social gains of the Revolution while suppressing political liberty. He admired efficiency and strength and hated feudalism, religious intolerance, and civil inequality. Enlightened despotism meant political stability. He knew his Roman history well: after 500 years of republicanism, Rome became an empire under Augustus Caesar.
Although a supporter of the radical Jacobins during the early days of the Revolution (more out of pragmatism than any real ideology), Napoleon moved to tyranny as his political career progressed and once in power embraced certain aspects of both liberalism and authoritarianism — for example, public education, a generally liberal restructuring of the French legal system, and the emancipation of the Jews — while rejecting electoral democracy and freedom of the press.
Because open and complete tyranny is obviously evil. And inefficient government is obviously disastrous. But Napoleon’s model — a strong government that provides for most civil liberties, a government that is oppressive but only for the purpose of being “efficient” and resolute — may sound attractive to some. It takes greater intelligence and more time to recognize the problem with this system.

Just like I was an atheist before I became a frum Jew, I was a supporter of a strong centralized government that provided for civil freedoms — a “Conservative” in American terms — before I became a libertarian.

(Alter Rebbe, by the way, also recognized the danger of the attractive lure of Napoleon’s promises of emancipation of the Jews. Better to be confronted by a clear enemy such as the oppresive Russian Tzar who sponsored pogroms than by a hidden one like Napoleon who would give civil freedom with his right hand and assimilation with his left one. Thus, during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, Alter Rebbe opposed Napoleon.)


Menashe said...

Please contrast Napoleon's benevolent dictator type government with the democratic republicanism of early American history. Not the hogwash that currently occupies DC. In 500 words or less. Thanks :-)

Anonymous said...

Did you know that USA and Europe blocked Wikileaks? What do you think about it?
Thank for all