Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

“An imperialism that spreads out and puffs up”

The world of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire is in no way the world of the Manifesto of the Communist Party in which we were “compelled to face with sober senses” overwhelming objective developments taking place or unfolding before our very eyes. This world is replaced in short order…by a world inaccessible to our “sober senses,” a world where illusions exert real force and are in fact the conditions on which action is based…. The external world no longer carries any obvious meaning; we are faced instead with the inscrutability of images that are impenetrable to the underlying reality to which they are supposed to refer, or which they purport to represent (Paul Thomas, Alien Politics: Marxist State Theory Retrieved, 101).

Benjamin quotes a contemporary opinion that the crinoline represents the "spread out and puffed up" imperialism of the Second Empire This description of the Second Empire as a world of masquerade and appearence reminds me of Benjamin’s Arcades; but it also reminds me of Marx’s description of the state in On the Jewish Question.Now, Benjamin is talking very specifically about the Second Empire, down to the ephemera of fashion (part of his argument concerns the analogy between the puffed up skirts of the crinoline and Louis Napoleon’s puffed up imperialism); Marx in the Brumaire is also analyzing a specific moment. Marx in OTJQ, on the other hand, seems to be talking about the capitalist state more generally. I wonder about the relationship between the two; is Marx in OTJQ deriving a theoretical model, that is later exemplified by the Second Empire? But that doesn’t look like what Marx is doing in the Eighteenth Brumaire, which appears to involve a significant process of discovery (Balibar argues in The Philosophy of Marx that the different approaches to truth and ideology between the Manifesto and the Brumaire mark one of Marx’s most important theoretical developments).

This is not an entirely unusual situation, as with Marx the relation between the specific case and the general model frequently seems unclear. The universal is not simply an ideal type but a strange sort of material tendency (an existing non-existent), while the particular is never a mere particular, but a strange sort of example or instance (the existence of which points beyond itself).