Heine’s Lutèce


Source: Lutèce. Paris, Michel Lévy Frères, 1855, from the French edition of his complete works, supervised by Heine;
Translated: from the original for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2011.

Paris, December 28, 1841

I expect no satisfactory results from the Chamber of Deputies, which just opened its session. All we will see is petty fights, personal disputes, brilliant powerlessness, and perhaps at the end complete stagnation. In fact, a Chamber needs to contain within itself different compact parties, without which the entire parliamentary machine is incapable of functioning. When each deputy puts forward an individual opinion, different and isolated, there can never result a vote of a nature to be looked upon as in any way the expression of a common will, and yet the essential condition of the representative system is that such a common will manages to manifest itself. Like all of French society, the Chamber is decomposed into so many fractions and parcels that we no longer find two people in complete agreement in their views.

When I consider the French of today in this regard I recall the words of our witty Adam Gurowski who didn’t grant the Germans any capacity for action, since for every twelve Germans there were twenty-four parties. With our conscientious and profound way of thinking, he said, each of us has also been penetrated by the opinion contrary to his own, with all the demonstrative reasons that speak in favor of this opposed opinion, and so there are always two parties within every German. The same thing is now occurring with the French. But where does this infinite division, this total dissolving of shared ideas, this particularism, this extinction of any esprit de corps that constitutes the moral death of a people lead? It’s the cult of material interests, of egoism, of money that has brought about this state of affairs.

Will it last for a long time or will an event of force majeure, an effect of chance, or a public disaster again unite the French spirit? God doesn’t abandon any Germans, but he also doesn’t abandon any Frenchmen. In fact, he doesn’t abandon any people, and when a people falls asleep because of fatigue or laziness he prepares for it future awakeners who, hidden in some far away and dark corner, wait for their moment, the moment of the general awakening. Where are these awakeners waiting? I have often asked this question, and I was told with mystery, the army. “Here in the army,” they said, “there is yet a powerful national sentiment. Here under the tricolor the generous passions that ruling industrialism rejects and ridicules have taken refuge. Here modest civic virtue, the intrepid love of great acts and honor, and ardent enthusiasm still flourish. And while discord and decomposition dominate everywhere, the healthiest part of life still exists here, and at the same time there exists the strictest obedience to authority, in any case an armed unity. It would not be at all impossible that one fine day the army overthrows the current rule of the bourgeoisie, this second Directory, and carries out again its 18 Brumaire.” The government of the saber would be the end of the song, and human society would again be regaled with the racket of glory with its eternal Te Deums, its wax lanterns, its heroes with their golden epaulettes, and its uninterrupted cannon fire!