Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Napoleon's Sponge

The most confusing chart ever created

Retreating this day and the next,
We wonder'd when 's our battle, vext;
The veterans talk'd upset:
"What then? we 're off to winter dorms?
Go the commanders by new norms;
Daren't they rip foreign uniforms
On Russian bayonet?"

- Mikhail Lermontov, Borodino
Americans have a rather provincial view of the War of 1812.  We think of Ft. McHenry and the rocket's red glare, and the more honest of us recall the burning of the White House - an act for which we've been strangely negligent in thanking Great Britain.  While all that was going on, nearly three quarters of a million men were locked in hand to hand combat on the Russian steppe.

Napoleon had made himself master of Europe, with only two exceptions.  Nelson and the Royal Navy had stymied his plans to invade that nation of shopkeepers in the west.  To the east, the Czar refused to be cowed.  And so l'Empereur assembled nearly half a million men to break the last of the resistance under his heel.

Crossing the river Neman on 24 June, Napoleon's army reached - and occupied - Moscow less than 100 days later, having covered the distance on foot.  Hitler's panzers took five months to make that same journey, a century later.  The French seemed unstoppable, an irresistible force of nature, the wave of the future.  Napoleon didn't see that the entire campaign was leading his Grande Armeé into utter collapse.

His philosophy led to overreach, to the point where the fall was so sudden and so far that it changed the course of European history for a generation.  The Russians burned everything behind them in their retreat, leaving nothing for the French to eat.  Of the nearly half a million men he led into Russia in June, only 27,000 followed him back across the border in November - the width of the lines in the picture above represents the size of the army as it crossed Russia and back.  A Europe crushed and demoralized by French force of arms was suddenly in open revolt as subject kingdoms in Germany and Austria saw the weakening of their hated overlord.  Even Paris itself rose in a coup d'état.  Sixteen months after he invaded Mother Russia, the Battle of Nations ended Napoleon's dreams of a Europe safe for French culture.

The ancient Greeks knew that hubris led to nemesis.  So with Napoleon, who thought he had the subject kingdoms cowed.  Early victories - especially those where victory was not truly consolidated - led to a false sense of superiority, and a resulting disaster.  Disaster which can come astonishingly quickly.

The Progressive agenda has been ascendent for a century, carrying all before it in western societies.  It has seemingly marched from victory to victory, and Emperor Barack Obama led what was to have been the final assault on what little remained of resistance to the Progressive Cause.  Obama is encountering what Napoleon did - a scorched earth where territory "won" benefits the victors not at all.  This has been going on for some time, and is accelerating.  Consider the "victories" of the Progressives:

Obamacare was the high water mark of the Progressive dream, equivalent to Napoleon's inconclusive "victory" at Borodino, where a quarter million men faced each other with grapeshot and bayonet, and 70,000 ended their campaign for good. Today Obama seems like Napoleon, looking upon the devastation that was Moscow and wondering how he can keep his army alive over the winter. 

He can't, and they're all deserting.  2010 saw the Democratic Party refuse to run on the "success" that was their biggest entitlement victory in a generation, because America increasingly hates it - to the point that 90% oppose the mandate to buy insurance.  That's not "50% plus one" where you can either convince people later or sweep it under the rug.  That's the time you start wondering if your party is the 1%.

The problem for Progressives is that Obama has let the mask slip.  He ran as a moderate who would reach across the aisle to get things done for America.  He's governed as a radical who is intentionally inflaming class warfare.  And so the Democratic Party finds itself in a crisis of legitimacy so profound that even the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg can't avoid it:
But in smaller, more probing focus groups, voters show they are fairly cynical about Democratic politicians’ stands. They tune out the politicians’ fine speeches and plans and express sentiments like these: “It’s just words.” “There’s just such a control of government by the wealthy that whatever happens, it’s not working for all the people; it’s working for a few of the people.” “We don’t have a representative government anymore.”
But none of this has slowed the Administration, pushing stealth gun control via the ATF "Fast and Furious" operation, preventing oil drilling on public land or in the Gulf, or using the IRS to harass Tea Party organizations.  As Maréchal Ney said to Napoleon after Borodino, "Never let a crisis go to waste, even if you have to make the crisis."  (Err, I think I read that in a history book somewhere.)

And as we view the unfolding collapse of the Progressive vision in general and the Eurozone in particular, the Administration tells Congressional Democrats that they're on their own as far as fund raising is concerned.  Three years after receiving his Nobel Prize, the Emperor is leaving the advanced guard behind.   He's taking a sleigh away from the front lines to save his own chances, while they're expected to fall under Tea Party sabres in the snowy retreat.

Let me just put that last bit in perspective: Obama was the crowning achievement of a century of Progressive agitation by the Press and the Academy.  This was the final push to eliminate the last vestiges of opposition.  And he's leaving his army on the field to die in the 2012 elections.

And make no mistake - die they will.  The cossacks mercilessly butchered retreating French units, and the Tea Party, Republicans, and independents will do the same to the Democrats.  Quite frankly, there won't be any "moderate" Democrats left come November.  Greenberg sees that bloody end:
This distrust of government and politicians is unfolding as a full-blown crisis of legitimacy sidelines Democrats and liberalism. Just a quarter of the country is optimistic about our system of government — the lowest since polls by ABC and others began asking this question in 1974. But a crisis of government legitimacy is a crisis of liberalism. It doesn’t hurt Republicans. If government is seen as useless, what is the point of electing Democrats who aim to use government to advance some public end?
What's the point, indeed.  But you really see the big picture if you substitute "Progressives" for "Democrats".  The People have given the Progressives the chance to prove that big government run by an intellectual elite can deliver the goods.  The People have made up their minds.  Overreach has led to what will be a fall of stunning suddenness and magnitude, changing the political landscape for a generation or two.

And so, I find myself surprisingly optimistic.  Stick a fork in the Progressive vision - it's done.  Marketing professionals will tell you that once someone makes up their mind about something (or someone), it's terribly hard to change it.  Liberals rebranded a generation ago (back to "Progressive"), but Obama's run as a centrist govern as a radical strategy has raised the difficulty level of doing that again - raised it to the breaking point.  Short of a coup, Progressives are out of gas - and I don't for a second think that the military (or the States and the National Guard, or the People in their righteous wrath) would go along with Progressives in the street.

The Republican Party, of course, remains the Stupid Party, to the point where it leaves stupid prints on the carpet when it walks by.  The Tea Party and independents will have to hold their feet to the fire, because even a stupid politician can feel pain.  A lot of people are saying that it took us a long time to get here, and it will take us a long time to unwind this.  But the story has been written, and has solidified in the public's mind: the government is a bumbling idiot and is not to be trusted with more power and money.  There's your winning slogan.

The People believe it, because they've seen it.

What is it, that is best?  To crush your enemy's ideology, to see it driven from the airwaves, and to hear the lamentation of his Professors.  I think that the cossacks said it better in the original Russian*.

(Image source)
Napoleon is a torrent which as yet we are unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that will suck him dry.

- Mikhail Kutuzov
* The Czar of Muscovy emails with the original Russian: Что это, что лучше? Сокрушить идеологию моего врага, наблюдать он изгнан из эфира, и слышать причитания его профессоров. Я думаю что казаки сказал вещи лучше в оригинале русский язык. It's all Greek to me, but an Autocrat must know the language of command, nyet?


Anonymous said...

Feeling hopeful, are we?

SGB said...


Six said...

I'm just not there yet. Sometimes I feel like a dog that's been whipped too many times; distrustful and ready to bite the very next hand that reaches out to me. I'm trying to rein in my pessimism but with the current crop of presidential opposition nominees and the Congressional caving on F&F (among others) I'm having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

My Great Great Great Grandpa David T-Bolt travelled with Napolean to Moscow. And back, obviously. (might have been one more great...)

He was a Bavarian Draftee that had herded cows up to alpine meadows and made cheese. All those nights in the mountains in the cold might have been useful training for later.

Guffaw in AZ said...

Sounds hopeful. Perhaps too hopeful. I think in terms of historical pendulums. E.G. getting rid of 'environmentalists' as a political force brings polluters to the surface, etc.
I hope you ARE right - gfa

NotClauswitz said...

I loce that poster - it's a pretty graphic early Hippie-Pacifist chart/poster, and kind of an awesome display of Military exsanguination. BIG one here. And those poor sons of bitches who bailed-out and re-joined during the retreat - and died in the failed icy river-crossing - that's some kind of bitch when the coat-tails are so slippery. Are those the
Academic cowards and the Religious Denominations who broke left like Episcopalians?
But when the loss is so deep, where do you apply the tourniquet? Around the neck I suppose...
I have one of those from the Edward Tufte seminar, but I'd seen it elsewhere before.

agirlandhergun said...

I like this post. Not all doom and gloom.

Anonymous said...

Oh if ask nicely we can burn Washington again for you at very reasonable rates. You just have to ask. Honest it won't be much trouble. We can even have some of your own people give us a hand oh and BYOB.

wolfwalker said...

After a generation of pro-environment messages from a very liberal media, a majority of Americans do not self-identify as "environmentalists".

I suspect that depends very, very heavily on how you define "environmentalist." If you define it the way it was defined forty years ago, the answer is probably very different.

The cossacks mercilessly butchered retreating French units, and the Tea Party, Republicans, and independents will do the same to the Democrats. Quite frankly, there won't be any "moderate" Democrats left come November.

Now THIS is interesting. By this time in 2010, the conservative blogs I read were already full to overflowing with stories about the developing tidal wave against Democrats in Congress. I've hardly heard a whisper about congressional races this year -- the contest between Barry Lackwit and the Stupid Party is consuming most of the pxygen in the room, and jabbering about a few "critical" Senate races is taking up what's left. Do you really think we're going to see another wave election for congressthings?

Anonymous said...

The strange part is, after Nappy lost that army, he left the remnants of it to take command of a brand new one, just as big, marching Eastward.

Anonymous said...

Very well written, but I have to disagree.

After four years of Clinton, and the landslide R victory in 1994, Clinton got another term.

Progressivism is alive and well in the US, and a non-candidate will seal Obama's November win. It's not time for a real rout, not yet.

After 4 more years of Obama, I think what you say might happen.

Just my opinion, though.