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Napoleon

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rojaslisa
Words 945
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Lisa Rojas
Jeff Johnson
Civilization 2/HUM2052

Napoleon
Out of the chaos and confusion of the French Revolution, one man arose who would change the course of French and European history. This man has been called everything from a military genius and heroic soldier to a delusional dictator and paranoid executioner. Whatever one’s opinion may be, one thing is certain: Napoleon Bonaparte redefined post-Revolutionary France and, in turn, redefined the idea of what it meant to be a military dictator.

To say that there was chaos and political unrest during the French Revolution is a huge understatement. After decades of oppression amidst a feudalistic society, the country peasants revolted against wealthy landowners and the aristocracy. The gap between the wealthy and powerful and those who were less fortunate was enormous, and the majority of Frenchmen would no longer tolerate living amidst poverty, hunger, and sickness while the French aristocracy lived the life of luxury off the taxes they imposed on the impoverished. After the uprising, France quickly fell into political unrest and financial disaster, with different men rising to power on nothing more than their own aspirations or “reigns of terror”, a la Robespierre. France was spinning out of control and nothing seemed to stabilize society or wield control on the population. The French were desperate for a hero, someone who would come and not only save their dying country, but also reinstate their dignity, power, and sense of national pride. Napoleon recognized himself as just the savoir France needed. He was already a well-established and highly regarded military tactician when he seized his moment. On November 10, 1799, Napoleon seized control in a coup d’etat, becoming a military dictator.
Napoleon’s ambition and ruthlessness is legendary. He was a complex personality with grandiose ideas. Today he would be called a narcissist. His self-absorption and need for validation and complete control led to his eventual downfall—but not before he became one of the most infamous dictators in history.
Napoleon came of age during the heart of the French Revolution, and is was his exposure to this revolution that shaped his politics. “Living in a revolutionary age, Napoleon observed firsthand the precariousness of power. He knew about Louis IV’s execution and that Robespierre had fallen victim to his own Reign of Terror.” In order to avoid these same pitfalls, Napoleon knew that he must cater to both the elite and the common man. “He knew he must become both a statesman and a tyrant. He had to consolidate the Revolution and bind together the different social classes of the French nation.” His domestic policy was clearly influenced by the events of the French Revolution.
Napoleon’s ruling style was a classic study in contradictions. He provided France with a strong central government, but it was a government that he himself would dominate. The Revolution abolished feudalism, nobility, and the Monarchy. France was adrift, and this left an opening for Napoleon. Napoleon understood the need to gain the hearts and minds of the common French people while at the same time catering to the upper class. He relied on public opinion to solidify his position as Emperor, and yet he was the one who controlled public opinion through propaganda, executions, arbitrary arrests, and state control of newspapers. “By repressing liberty, subverting republicanism and restoring absolutism, Napoleon reversed many of the liberal gains of the Revolution.” After the Revolution he was viewed by many as a savior of not only France but also of the common man. During his time in power, however, he reverted back to many of the ways of the monarchs of whom he was so critical before his rise to power. He truly believed that political liberty—the essence of the French Revolution—threatened the government and, more importantly, his own authority. Additionally, Napoleon also re-wrote French law. He instituted the Code Napoleon, which incorporated “equality before the law, freedom of religion, protection of private property, abolition of serfdom, and the secularization of the state.” However, this set of laws also had a dark side. “Workers were denied collective bargaining, trade unions were outlawed, and a system of labor passports was instituted. Women were declared inferior to men by law, and children had no rights at all.” Napoleon’s genius was that he appeared to embrace the ideals and philosophies of the Revolution, which is what the public wanted. In reality, however, he had his own agenda, which was to be a dictator with absolute power and control. This was in total contradiction to the Revolution, and the people of France ultimately realized that Napoleon was not the savior they imagined him to be.
Napoleon was eventually ousted and exiled to St. Helena, a small island far away from the thriving country of France. Napoleon portrayed himself as the epitome of a Revolutionary idealist, while in reality he was just another dictator whose narcissistic tendencies and insecurities ultimately led to his downfall. The two faces he wore eventually led the people of France to see the harsh reality—that they had replaced the monarchy with a dictator, and for many this was one in the same. Napoleon’s contribution to France cannot be denied. It was his ego, however, that overshadows his legacy even to this day. He may have believed in the ideals of the Revolution. His need for power and control, however, led him to become the very thing he spoke out against.

Works Cited
Hunt, Lynn, Thomas R. Martin, Barbara H. Rosenwein, and Bonnie G. Smith. The making of the west. Third ed. Boston: Beford, 2010. Print. www.historyguide.org. N.p, 5 Nov 2005. Web. 31 July 2011.

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