Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu

Translator's Preface


Maurice Joly was born in Lons-le-Saunier in 1821. Taking after his father, who was the Councilor General of the Jura, Maurice studied law as a young man. In the wake of the February 1848 revolution, which toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe and led to the creation of the French Second Republic, Joly moved to Paris. In the capital, he was hired as a secretary to Jules Grevy, who had been a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1848. Joly worked at the newly restored Ministry of State for the next 10 years. During that period, he completed his legal studies and, in 1859, he was admitted to the bar in Paris. His first work, a satire entitled Le Barreau de Paris ("The Bar of Paris"), was published in Paris in 1863. The following year, Joly published Caesar, which belittled the pretensions of the dictator who called himself "Napoleon III" (Louis Bonaparte). His third work, the Dialogue aux Enfer entre Machiavel et Montesquieu ("Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu") -- another attack on Louis Bonaparte -- was published anonymously, printed in Belgium and smuggled into France. On 25 April 1865, Joly was sentenced to a prison term of fifteen months at Sainte-Pelagie for "incitement of hatred and scorn for the government." Immediately after his release, and apparently undeterred by his prosecution, he found another Belgian publisher for the Dialogue in Hell and a Parisian publisher for a new work, Recherches sur l'art de parvenir ("Research into the Art of Success"). Over the course of the next decade, Joly published three more books: the autobiographical Maurice Joly, son passe, son programme, par lui-meme (1870), Le Tiers Parti republicain (1872) and Les Affames (1876). In 1878, he committed suicide in Paris.

During Joly's lifetime, but unknown to him, his Dialogues in Hell began to be put to nefarious purposes. In 1868, a Prussian secret policeman and propagandist named Hermann Goedsche used portions of it to generate an anti-Semitic, three-volume series called Biarritz: Ein Historisch-politischer Roman ("Biarritz: A Political Historical Novel"). A reader of the novels of Eugene Sue, who had described a fictional conspiracy by the Jesuits in his ten-volume series of novels entitled Les Mysteres de Paris (1842-1843), Goedsche found it expedient to replace the Jesuits with the Jews. In 1872, Biarritz was translated into Russian and began to circulate in the Russian Empire. Eventually, both Goedsche's Biarritz and Joly's Dialogue in Hell came to the attention of Matvei Golovinski, a Russian secret police agent and propagandist who was stationed in Paris, where his job was to write pro-Czarist articles for Le Figaro. (According to the Ukrainian scholar Vadim Skuratovsky, author of The Question of the Authorship of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" [2001], it was Charles Joly -- Maurice Joly's son -- who provided Golovinski with a copy of Dialogue in Hell.) As early as 1897, Golovinski had fashioned out of the materials at his disposal a book that he called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to be the minutes of a secret meeting of powerful Jewish conspirators. In 1905 and then again in 1906, the Protocols was published in Russian. Over the course the 20th century, it was translated into dozens of languages and used to justify virulent anti-Semitism, especially the German extermination campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s. Today, the Bible and the Protocols are the top two best-selling books in the world.

In 1920, the Protocols was denounced as a fake by the British writer Lucien Wolf in his book The Jewish Bogey and the Forged Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The following year, it was denounced by a British journalist named Philip Graves, who had access to a copy of Joly's Dialogue in Hell (or at least access to someone who did) and compared passages from the two texts side-by-side to prove his contention. In 1935, a British writer named Herman Bernstein published The Truth about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which not only denounced the Protocols as a fake -- as did Bernstein's 1921 book, History of a Lie -- but also included a complete English translation of Joly's Dialogue in Hell. In 1940, a French secret agent named Henri Rollin, author of L'Apocalypse de notre temps (seized and destroyed by the Germans when they occupied France), again denounced the Protocols as a plagiarism and a fake, and quoted from Joly's book to prove these allegations.

We are fully aware that, for some people (especially those who have never read it), the Dialogue in Hell is noteworthy because it exposes the falsity of the Protocols. But we are in full agreement with Michel Bounan, who asserts in his 1992 essay The Crafty State (written as a preface to Maurice Joly's book) that "the Dialogue in Hell was not recently rescued from oblivion so as to demonstrate the falsity of the Protocols; on the contrary, it was the mediatic-police operation of the Protocols that proved the truth of Maurice Joly." It is certainly true that Golovinski need not have plagiarized from Joly in particular; indeed, he should not have plagiarized from any source, even one as obscure as the Dialogue in Hell: doing so increased the likelihood that his creation would eventually be exposed as the fake that it was. But the fact that Golovinski did in fact plagiarize from Dialogue in Hell (as many as 160 separate passages, according to Norman Cohn), this shows that Golovinski was convinced that -- despite its nearly total obscurity -- Joly's book remained a threat to the modern state, whether it was Russian or French, industrially backward or advanced. It was not enough to simply suppress it: one had to falsify it; as much as one could, one had to "go back in time" and undo what it had already done.

* * *

Karl Marx clearly believed that the reign of Charles Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who was elected president of France in 1848, would not last long. Writing in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Marx declared,

If he still shares with the peasants the illusion that the cause of their ruin is to be sought not in the small holdings themselves but outside -- in the influence of secondary circumstances -- his experiment will shatter like soap bubbles when they come in contact with the relations production. [...] If the natural contradictions of his system chase the Chief of the Society of December 10 across the French border, his army, after some acts of brigandage, will reap, not laurels, but thrashings. [...] With the progressive deterioration of small-holding property, the state structure erected upon it collapses. [...] But when the imperial mantle finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendome Column.

But in 1869, when The 18th Brumaire was reprinted, President Louis Bonaparte was still in power. Indeed, just a few months after Marx's book was first published, Louis Bonaparte seized power in a coup d'Etat, inaugurated the "Second French Empire," and crowned himself "Napoleon III." And though there were assassination attempts in the late 1850s, and strikes by workers in the late 1860s, Louis Bonaparte was not toppled by a revolution. Indeed, he remained on the throne until September 1870, when he was defeated in battle and captured by the Prussians at Sedan. Marx had been wrong about the strength of Louis Bonaparte's hold on power and, though the second edition of The 18th Brumaire corrected a large number of misprints in the first one, he did not take the occasion to say so.

Marx wasn't the only one who was wrong about Louis Bonaparte's hold on power: so was Victor Hugo. In Napoleon the Little, completed a few months after The 18th Brumaire, Hugo wrote:

But it is not to be; men will awaken. [...] Louis Bonaparte thinks that he is mounting the steps of a throne; he does not perceive that he is mounting those of a scaffold. [...] By all the blood we have in our veins, no! this shall not last. [...] [The dictator of ancient times] was appointed for a very short period -- six months only: semestris dictatura, says Livy. But as if this enormous power, even when freely conferred by the people, ultimately weighed upon him, like remorse, the dictator generally resigned before the end of his term. [...] [C]ivil war is brewing under this melancholy peace of a state of siege. [...] If it rained newspapers in France for two days only, on the morning of the third nobody would know what had become of M. Louis Bonaparte. [...] Assuredly, a short time hence, -- in a year, in a month, perhaps a week, -- when all that we now see has vanished, men will be ashamed of having, if only for an instant, bestowed upon that infamous semblance of a ballot [...] the honor of discussing it.

As the reader can see, though the basis Hugo's critique of Louis Bonaparte is moral and not socio-economic, the French author was no less wrong about the dictator's ability to survive than the German revolutionary. "Don't deceive yourselves," says one of Hugo's imaginary skeptics about Louis Bonaparte's reign; "it is all solid, all firm; it is the present and the future."

In The Crafty State, Michel Bounan notes that Louis Bonaparte managed to do something that none of the rulers on the Continent managed to do: bring about long-lasting social peace in the midst of a century dominated by political revolution. "There would still be the shock of the Commune [in 1871]," Bounan notes; but thereafter there was "nothing for a century, even between the two world wars, when there were shocks in Germany, Italy and then Spain." As a result, "one can definitively say that, in a few years, the French Second Empire alone had accomplished the work undertaken by the European dictatorships and by their liberators, that is to say, the great relief of the statesman by what Nietzsche would call 'the coldest of the cold monsters.' "

This is why we read Maurice Joly's book today, and not (merely) because it was used as source material for The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In meticulous detail, the Dialogue in Hell describes the construction -- it catalogues the essential elements -- of the first truly "modern" (that is to say, bureaucratic capitalist) state. But Joly didn't merely record what was taking place in France in the 1850s and '60s; he also anticipated or even predicted what would take place in the decades that followed. In a certain way, he thus praised the very thing he was denouncing. Victor Hugo's Napoleon the Little explains why: "great thinkers take satisfaction in castigating the great despots, and, in some instances, even exalt them somewhat, in order to make them worthy of their rage." Precisely because so many states, both democratic and totalitarian, became like or modeled themselves on Louis Bonaparte's cold monster, Joly's Dialogue in Hell reads like it was written in 1964 and not a hundred years earlier.

But Maurice Joly and Victor Hugo approached the problem posed by Louis Bonaparte's reign in very different ways. Unlike Joly, Hugo had a tendency to engage in wish fulfillment as well as castigation and exaltation. In his Notre Dame de Paris, 1482 (first published in 1832 and known in English as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), he portrays what was happening to Paris -- its alleged modernization -- as already completed.

Let us add that if it is right that the architecture of an edifice be adapted to its purpose in such a way that the purpose be readable from the edifice's exterior alone, we can never be sufficiently amazed at a monument which can equally well be a royal palace, a house of commons, a town hall, a college, a riding school, an academy, an entrepot, a tribunal, a museum, a barracks, a sepulchre, a temple, a theatre. For the time being it is a Stock Exchange. . . . We have that colonnade going round the monument, under which on the great days of religious observance there can be developed in majestic style the theories of stockbrokers and commission agents. Without a doubt these are quite superb monuments. Add to them a quantity of handsome streets, amusing and varied like the Rue de Rivoli, and I do not despair that Paris, seen from a balloon, should one day present that richness of line, that opulence of details, that diversity of aspect, that hint of the grandiose in the simple and unexpected in the beautiful, which characterizes a checkerboard.

Note well that this description precedes the beginning of "Haussmannization" (the destruction and rebuilding of Paris by Louis Bonaparte's Prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugene Haussmann) by twenty years and that, even in the 1860s, Haussmanization had not been completed or, rather, had only incompletely rebuilt Paris. In his superb book, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers, T.J. Clark notes that

We might say of these writers [Victor Hugo and those who quoted him] that they seem to want the city to have a shape -- a logic and a uniformity -- and therefore construct one from the signs they have, however sparse and unsystematic. They see or sense a process and want it finished, for then the terms in which one might oppose it will at least be clear. The ultimate horror would be to have modernity (or at any rate not to have what had preceded it), to know it was hateful, but not to know what it was.

For Victor Hugo, this "ultimate horror" is moral and limited to the crimes committed by Louis Bonaparte: he says in Napoleon the Little that "this government feels that it is hideous. It wants no portrait; above all it wants no mirror." But Clark sees something else at work here, something far more general and certainly not limited to a single ruler. Drawing upon the work of Jeanne Gaillard, who declared in Paris, La Ville: 1852-1870 that "it seems to us that more profoundly, in the Second Empire, the powers-that-be took advantage of the diverse changes which Paris was undergoing in order to effect a permanent change in the relation between the city and its inhabitants," Clark writes that

Capital[ism] did not need to have a representation of itself laid out upon the ground in bricks and mortar, or inscribed as a map in the minds of its city-dwellers. One might even say that capital[ism] preferred the city not to be an image -- not to have form, not to be accessible to the imagination, to readings and misreadings, to a conflict of claims on its space -- in order that it might mass-produce an image of its own to put in place of those it destroyed. [...] I shall call that last achievement the spectacle, and it seems to me clear that Haussmann's rebuilding was spectacular in the most oppressive sense of the word. We look back at Haussmannization now and see the various ways in which it let the city be consumed in the abstract, as one convenient fiction. But we should be careful of too much teleology: the truth is that Haussmann's purposes were many and contradictory, and that the spectacle arrived, one might say, against the grain of the empire's transformations, and incompletely. (The spectacle is never an image mounted securely and finally in place; it is always an account of the world competing with others, and meeting the resistance of different, sometimes tenacious forms of social practice.)

Thus, the precise problem with Hugo's wish to see the "checkerboard" already completed, or his wish to hold a "mirror" up to Louis Bonaparte's face, is not so much that he has gotten his facts wrong, but that these wishes imagined that social practice had come to an end and thus, despite themselves, they colluded with the ideology of capitalism. But social practice did not come to an end. On 4 September 1870, "the busts of the Emperor and Empress were thrown out of the windows of the houses in which they were found; and on one ladder I saw a well-dressed bourgeois effacing the street name of the Boulevard Haussmann, and substituting that of 'Victor Hugo'"; and in October of that same year, "Furniture is smashed. A splendid plan of Paris, draw up by Haussmann's engineers and Napoleon's Haussmann, is cut to pieces by the vengeful Reds" (N. Sheppard, Shut Up in Paris, quoted in T.J. Clark). And, of course, in March of 1871, there was the great insurrection that founded the Paris Commune.

What makes Maurice Joly's Dialogue in Hell truly extraordinary is that it described and documented what was happening in the 1860s; it even anticipated or predicted what was going to happen in the future; but it did not engage in wish fulfillment. Joly showed how and why Louis Bonaparte was able to remain in power for so long (longer than anyone apparently imagined), but he did not believe what he has Machiavelli say in the last of his dialogues with Montesquieu: "Everything will have been done, everything will have been completed; no more resistance will be possible." Instead, Joly believed that resistance was not only possible, but it would also be effective, provided that it found new means of expressing itself, new means of acting in the world.

It is certain that Joly had read Napoleon the Little. In Chapter VI ("Portrait") of Book I, Hugo writes of Louis Bonaparte:

To feign death, that is his art. He remains mute and motionless, looking in the opposite direction from his object, until the hour for action arrives; then he turns his head, and leaps upon his prey.

And in the 24th Dialogue of the Dialogue in Hell, Joly has Machiavelli say of the absolute monarch whom he would become:

I would have the gift of stillness, it would be my goal; I look away and, when it is in my reach, I would suddenly look back and pounce on my prey before it has had the time to utter a sound.

In this same Dialogue, Joly has Machiavelli say, "The height of skillfulness would be to make the people believe in one's frankness, even though one has a Punic faith," which is a clear echo of Hugo's remark in Chapter VIII, Book II of Napoleon the Little that "in the centre is the man -- the man we have described; the man of Punic faith." But we must make absolutely clear that these are not instances of plagiarism, which is a tool used by authors who uncritically or simply agree with the other author(s) from whom they are taking words, phrases or whole sentences: plagiarizers are just too lazy to come up with their own, and certainly hope that no one recognizes their thefts. Instead, here we have instances of what the Situationist International called detournement, which is a tool used by authors who are engaged in a critical dialogue with the other author(s) from whom they are taking and altering words, phrases or whole sentences: users of detournement hope that their readers will recognize both their borrowings and the telling changes that they have made to them. Such changes are far more than simple reversals or negations of what the original author(s) claimed. (There are at least six such simple reversals of Napoleon the Little in Dialogue in Hell, all of which we have indicated by way of translator's footnotes to the text itself. Certainly the most important reversal concerns Hugo's flat assertion in Chapter VIII, Book VI, that "Nothing good has evil for its basis," because all of Joly's Dialogue in Hell revolves around Machiavelli's assertion -- made in the very first Dialogue -- that "good can come from evil, that one arrives at the good through evil.") The changes wrought by detournement aim instead at re-routing or diverting the original author's meanings towards other, better targets. In the famous words of Isidore Ducasse ("Lautremount"), the author of Poesies (1870): "Ideas improve. The meaning of words has a part in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. Plagiarism takes an author's phrase, uses his expressions, erases a false idea, replaces it with the correct one."

One might say that the essence of Joly's detournement of Hugo's Napoleon the Little lies in its treatment of Machiavelli. In Hugo's book, Machiavelli is a figure of evil and amorality:

Machiavelli made small men; Louis Bonaparte is one of them. [...] As for the plan in itself, as for that all-embracing idea of universal repression, whence came it? who could tell? It was seen in the air. It appeared in the past. It enlightened certain souls, it pointed to certain routes. It was a gleam issuing from the tomb of Machiavelli.

In the Dialogue in Hell, Machiavelli is not defended by Joly: instead, Joly contrives to have Machiavelli speak for and defend himself. And so, since Machiavelli had then been dead for over 300 years, we are solidly in the realm of the hypothetical. But the genius of Joly was at play in his decision to have Machiavelli accompanied by a second famous man brought back from the dead, one to whom Hugo made no reference at all: Charles-Louis de Secondat, the Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu, then dead for over 100 years. Rather than do what Victor Hugo did, which was to declare or, rather, bring onstage an unnamed person, "the most intrepid of thinkers, a brilliant mind," "that man, that orator, that seer [...] that prophet," who declares that the French Republic, that democracy, that society itself will "crumble by means of these four false supports: centralized government, standing army, irremovable judges, [and] salaried priesthood," Maurice Joly puts Montesquieu himself on trial. Using the figure of Machiavelli as his prosecuting attorney, Joly tries (and convicts) Montesquieu -- the prime architect of French republicanism -- for allowing these four institutions to thrive or, if you will, for failing (in Hugo's words) to "transform your government root and branch," for failing to "suppress here, retrench here, remodel everything." Because Montesquieu did not do so, he left in place all the tools that Louis Bonaparte -- that "perjured executive power" -- would need to turn republicanism into despotism. "I have already said many times, and I will repeat it again," Machiavelli tells Montesquieu in the Fourteenth Dialogue, "that I do not need to create everything, to organize everything; I find a large part of the instruments of my power in the already existing institutions." Karl Marx agreed: in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte he wrote: "Present-day France was already contained in the parliamentary republic. It only required a bayonet thrust for the bubble to burst and the monster to leap forth before our eyes."

How did Joly avoid wish fulfillment and thus keep social practice alive? By not having Machiavelli and Montesquieu speak about Louis Bonaparte and the Second French Empire directly, in the present tense. Instead, Joly has Machiavelli tell Montesquieu what kind of government he (Machiavelli) would fashion if he were in power today. Everything remains hypothetical, conditional; as the translator, we made sure to render the tenses and verb moods so that the reader never loses sight of this fact. Men from the past have been brought into the present to discuss a possible future. This remarkable (remarkably indirect) way of interrogating the real or actual present -- France as it was in 1864 -- is neatly reflected or paralleled by the facts that 1), though Machiavelli lived two centuries before Montesquieu, it is the Florentine who envisions the "future" (the potential present), while it is the Frenchman who looks back to the "past"; and 2) Montesquieu has no idea of what year it is, and no idea what took place in France between 1847 and 1864, while Machiavelli does. In the Third Dialogue, Machiavelli explains: "Here the last are the first, O Montesquieu! The statesman of the Middle Ages, the politician of barbaric times, knows more about modern times than the philosopher of the 18th century. Today it is the year of grace 1864." He never tells him what happened in 1848.

Thus, the figure of Machiavelli is doubled: he "stands in" or "stands for" for Maurice Joly, and he also "stands in" or "for" Louis Bonaparte. In a neat touch, Joly does not sign the Dialogue in Hell: in his preface, he explains why:

One will not ask where is the hand that traced out these pages: a work such as this is, in a certain way, impersonal. It responds to an appeal to consciousness; everyone has conceived it; it is executed; the author effaces himself, because he is only the editor of a thought that is in the general sense; he is only a more or less obscure accomplice of the coalition for good.

This gesture of self-effacement is, of course, doubled by or matched with the larger-than-life absolute monarch whom Machiavelli would want to be: more than just Louis Bonaparte and more than any one despot. In the Twenty-Second Dialogue, he says he

would cross the Alps, like Hannibal; I would make war in India, like Alexander; in Libya, like Scipio; I would go from the Atlas to the Taurus [Mountains], from the banks of the Ganges to the Mississippi, from the Mississippi to the Amur River. The Great Wall of China would fall before my name; my victorious legions would defend the Tomb of the Savior in Jerusalem and the Vicar of Jesus Christ in Rome; their steps would tread upon the dust of the Incas in Peru, on the ashes of Sesostris in Egypt, on those of Nebuchadnezzar in Mesopotamia. Descendant of Caesar, Augustus and Charlemagne, I would avenge the defeat of Varus on the banks of the Danube; the rout of Cannes on the banks of the Adige; and the outrages against the Normands on the Baltic Sea.

In the Twenty-Fifth Dialogue, Machiavelli says he would be "Washington, Henri IV, Saint Louis, Charles the Wise; I mention your best kings so as to honor you. I would be a king of Egypt and Asia, at the same time; I would be Pharaoh, Cyrus, Alexander, Sardanapole." In a word, Machiavelli -- who, over the course of 25 dialogues, discourses upon such varied subjects as constitutional law, the judiciary, politics, the electoral system, the press, the printing and distribution of books, architecture, urbanism, finances, the banks, the police forces, morals and customs -- wants to be capitalism, the greatest of all despotisms.

Joly or, rather, Joly's Machiavelli, avoids all the ideological traps that ensnare Victor Hugo (and others). He is sophisticated enough to realize that, in the words of T.J. Clark, "the snake of ideology always circles back and strikes at the mind trying to outflank it." Hugo insists upon showing Louis Bonaparte what he looks like:

[A] man of middle height, cold, pale, slow in his movements, having the air of a person not quite awake. [...] He has a heavy mustache, covering his smile, like that of the Duke of Alva, and a lifeless eye like that of Charles IX.

But Joly's Machiavelli -- despite his careful attention to detailing the "physiognomy of the Prince" in the 24th Dialogue, despite his insistence that his features must be imprinted on every coin and building -- withholds or refuses to describe the actual face of the despot whom he would be. In the same way, though Joly's Machiavelli frequently uses the word "spectacle" to describe the emperor's presence and public appearances, his book is characterized by a steadfast refusal to visualize (anything). Joly's Dialogue in Hell is not an exposition, but a drama of words that are (to be) spoken aloud, by orators, and heard, not read, by an audience. (Note well that these facts discomfit John S. Waggoner, who claims that "the staging of Joly's Dialogue perhaps risks diverting students from sustained reflection to matters of literary aesthetics -- secondary considerations of all too questionable value.")

There are no stage directions, no indications of how Machiavelli and Montesquieu are to be dressed, no indications of what Hell is supposed to look like. Though we are told that there are crowds of other "shadows" in Hell, we never "hear" them speak or wail, and so we never "see" them, either. Nor can these shadows see the two protagonists. "Do you see the shadows that pass not far from you, covering their eyes? Do you recognize them?" Machiavelli asks Montesquieu at the very end of the book, as Machiavelli starts to disappear, right before Montesquieu's eyes. First, there were two isolated and disembodied protagonists, wandering around a virtually empty wasteland; then there was only one, about the see the truth about his own blindness. An apparent paradox: the absence of images, or a kind of blindness, is pushed to a spectacular degree; the entire twenty-five part-long dialogue of words is reduced to a single, unanswerable cry ("Eternal God, what have you permitted?").

Finally, like other "enemies of Hausmannization," Victor Hugo "had no very precise notion of how the baron's work belonged to capitalism, and they did not interest themselves over much in its financial logic -- beyond accusations of secrecy and waste" (T.J. Clark). In Book VII, Chapter I of Napoleon the Little, Hugo says of the loyalty oaths that Louis Bonaparte required:

What I admire most is its ineptitude. To receive as so much ready money and coin of good alloy, all those 'I swear' of the official commons; not even to think that every scruple has been overcome, and that there cannot be in them all one single word of pure metal! He is both a prince and a traitor! To set the example from the summit of the State, and to imagine that it will not be followed! To sow lead and expect to reap gold! Not even to perceive that, in such a case, every conscience will model itself on the conscience at the summit, and the perjury of the prince transmutes all oaths into counterfeit coin.

Here the oppositions and pairings are quite simple: valid oaths and pure, unalloyed gold coins; invalid oaths and coins made out of lead; oaths corrupted into "counterfeit coin" by money; oaths (and consciences) that remain uncorrupted because they cannot be purchased with money.

But Maurice Joly had a very sophisticated understanding of what money is and what money-driven corruption is. It is not an accident (it certainly isn't "dramatic") that he spends four whole chapters (a fourth of his book, in total) on financial matters, budgets, loans and so forth. Unlike Hugo, Joly knows that, precisely because money is a way of thinking (a form of signifying) as well as a way of transacting (a system of exchange), even those who have not been bribed can be corrupted by money and those who have in fact been bribed need not be completely corrupted.

For example, in the Twenty-Second Dialogue, Joly has Montesquieu -- in the midst of a condemnation of Machiavelli's plan to procure work for his subjects -- use an extraordinary phrase: "The working classes that one accustoms to counting on the State would fall into debasement [avilissement]; they would lose their energy, their spirit, their funds of intellectual industry." Montesquieu does not have tangible or physical funds in mind here, but abstract funds, monies that exist in the mind, not in the pocketbook. And one can experience "economic" phenomena -- losses and gains -- that exist only in the mind or "the spirit." As Joly makes clear in his use of the word avilissement, which can mean both moral debasement and financial depreciation, mental "economic" phenomenon can easily be "falsified": is not a pun or a play on words a kind of usury, that is to say, an artificial increase in the meaning or "value" of words? Such plays upon the double meanings of words -- interet, perception, bon, defrayer, coin, forfait, liens, et. al -- are scattered throughout Dialogue in Hell and, as the translator, we have done our best to render them as honestly and completely as possible. Together, Joly's puns and jokes form a subterranean and doubled discourse: a bold, self-conscious demonstration of the practical power of human creativity and a self-effacing confirmation of the degree to which money has invaded and structured human thought.

A final note: it would not have mattered to Louis Bonaparte's spies, police officers or judges if one of the books they detected, seized and suppressed in 1864 was a funny book. As long as it defamed and/or inspired hatred of the King, it wouldn't matter if it was a funny book or not. And that's unintentionally funny, because in this particular case, Joly's book is in fact funny; deliberately funny, despite the apparent seriousness of its subject matter and the sobriety of its presentation. Its humor is not a measure of its author's fear; it is instead a measure of his defiance, his refusal, his invincibility. They are laughing at us because we don't get the joke, and so we are losing the battle, the Russian spy and professional disinformer Golovinski might have realized, thirty years later. Let's give them something to laugh about, something that shows that we know how to joke around, too: let's use Joly to make "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

* * *

Out of print and largely unavailable for eight decades after its original publication, the Dialogue in Hell was finally reprinted in France in 1948, when it was brought out by the Parisian publishing house Calman-Levy, which -- thanks to Raymond Aron -- reprinted it again in 1968. This second reprint seems to have been the inspiration for its first theatrical adaptation, which was made by Pierre Fresnay in that same year. In 1982, Pierre Franck's theatrical adaptation of the Dialogue in Hell was performed in the Theatre de Petit Odeon in Paris. In 1983, France Culture broadcast a version of Joly's book on the radio. In 2002, a second English translation of Joly's book was undertaken by John S. Waggoner and published by Lexington Books. And, just two years ago, in 2006, Pierre Tabard offered a revision of Pierre Fresnay's theatrical adaptation (published in Paris by L'Harmmattan), and Daniel Coche directed a movie version of the book.

At the end of 2007, we undertook to make our own translation of the Dialogue in Hell. We consulted both Bernstein and Waggoner. But, unlike the former, whose purposes were very narrow, ours are broad and have nothing to do with exposing the falsity of the Protocols; and, unlike the latter, who reduced Joly's elegant French into an English that would be easily understood by (his) college students (Waggoner tends to paraphrase, rather than translate, and even deletes words, phrases and whole sentences that he doesn't think students will understand!), we are not academics. Like Maurice Joly himself, we are writers and political revolutionaries. We hope that this new translation, which includes footnotes that draw the reader's attention to contemporary critical theories of capitalism and which hopefully retains the grand style of the original, is read by other enemies of the cold monster: libertarian socialists and Marxists, council communists, situationists and anarchists. We also hope that we have brought to Joly a little of the joy and the political playfulness that he knew how to offer and invent. More so than perhaps any other writer, he has wept over how his words have been used.


-- NOT BORED!
New York City
3 February 2008




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