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The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (in German, Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon) was an essay written by Karl Marx between December 1851 and March 1852, and originally published in 1852 in Die Revolution, a German monthly magazine published in New York and established by Joseph Weydemeyer. Later English editions (such as an 1869 Hamburg edition) were entitled The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
The essay discusses the French coup of 1851 in which Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte assumed dictatorial powers. It shows Marx in his form as a social and political historian, treating actual historical events from the viewpoint of his materialist conception of history. Along with Marx's contemporary writings on English politics, the Eighteenth Brumaire is a principal source for understanding Marx's theory of the capitalist state.
The title refers to the Coup of 18 Brumaire in which Louis Bonaparte's uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, seized power in revolutionary France (9 November 1799, or 18 Brumaire Year VIII in the French Republican Calendar).
In the preface to the second edition, Marx said it was the intention of the work to "demonstrate how the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part."
The work contains the most famous formulation of Marx's view of the role of the individual in history: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."
Marx's interpretation of Louis Bonaparte's rise and rule is of interest to later scholars studying the nature and meaning of fascism. Many Marxist scholars regard the coup as a forerunner of the phenomenon of 20th century fascism.
It catalogues the mass of the bourgeoisie, which Marx says that impounded the republic like its property, as composed of: the large landowners, the aristocrats of finance and big industrialists, the high dignitaries of the army, the university, the church, the bar, the academy, and the press.
This book is the source of one of Marx's most quoted statements, that history repeats itself, "the first as tragedy, then as farce", referring respectively to Napoleon I and to his nephew Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III):
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire.
Marx's sentiment echoed an observation made by Friedrich Engels at exactly the same time Marx began work on this book. In a letter to Marx of 3 December 1851, Engels wrote from Manchester:
.... it really seems as though old Hegel, in the guise of the World Spirit, were directing history from the grave and, with the greatest conscientiousness, causing everything to be re-enacted twice over, once as grand tragedy and the second time as rotten farce, Caussidière for Danton, L. Blanc for Robespierre, Barthélemy for Saint-Just, Flocon for Carnot, and the moon-calf together with the first available dozen debt-encumbered lieutenants for the little corporal and his band of marshals. Thus the 18th Brumaire would already be upon us.
Yet this motif appeared even earlier, in Marx's 1837 unpublished novel Scorpion and Felix, this time with a comparison between the first Napoleon and King Louis Philippe:
Every giant ... presupposes a dwarf, every genius a hidebound philistine.... The first are too great for this world, and so they are thrown out. But the latter strike root in it and remain.... Caesar the hero leaves behind him the play-acting Octavianus, Emperor Napoleon the bourgeois king Louis Philippe....