“Hegel remarks,” wrote Marx, “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.”

This passage begins a work whose core business was not to depict history as anything less than tragic when we hear its zombie echoes. Instead, it describes the social and political circumstances in which a “grotesque mediocrity”, in this case Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, can briefly come to assume heroic and historic dimensions.