Did Napoleon Bonaparte Do More Good Than Bad For France? Watch

Cato the Elder
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Discuss.
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username2324315
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No, we aren't doing your History essay for you.
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Connor27
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I'd argue no, although he did help get rid of the frivolous and overly powerful king; he was a total hypocrite.

He just gave himself the same power a few years later and changed the title to "emperor"; before proceeding with an attempted conquest of Europe, the funds for which could've gone towards improving the lives of French people.

I see him as a proto-Stalin, I think ol' uncle Joe took note to a lot of what Napoleon did and copied his methodology.
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Cato the Elder
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(Original post by Connor27)
I'd argue no, although he did help get rid of the frivolous and overly powerful king; he was a total hypocrite.
Napoleon had nothing to do with the overthrow of Louis XVI. He was just a rookie officer of the artillery when the corpulent knave was executed. No offence, but you don't appear to know a lot about Napoleon. Btw, Napoleon hated the rabble and was disgusted by the way the king was treated. Napoleon actually witnessed the chaotic scenes of 20th June 1792 when King Louis and Marie Antoinette were captured by a frenzied mob in the Tuileries Palace. He wrote the following to his brother Joseph:

"Between seven and eight thousand men armed with pikes, axes, swords, guns, spits, sharpened sticks...went to the king. The Tuileries gardens were closed and 15,000 National Guards were on guard there. They broke down the gates, entered the palace, pointed the cannon at the king's apartment, threw four doors to the round, and presented the king with two cockades, one white [the Bourbon colour] and the other tricolour. They made him choose. Choose, they said, whether you reign here or in Coblenz. The king presented himself. He put on a red bonnet. So did the queen and the royal prince. They gave the king a drink. They stayed in the palace for four hours...All this is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent. It is hard to predict what will happen to the empire in such stormy circumstances." (Roberts, Andrew, Napoleon the Great, Penguin Books, 2014 [2015], p.39.)

So as you can see, Napoleon was far from an enthusiastic revolutionary. He had supported the King's overthrow, albeit reluctantly, but he was horrified at the King's weak response and at the behaviour of the uncontrollable revolutionary mobs. In fact this scene among others helped sow his hatred for the mob and his pathological fear of chaos and disorder. This is one of the reasons why he assumed dictatorial power, in order to prevent the tumults that had rocked France during the 1790s from destroying the country entirely. I do not believe him to be a "total hypocrite", but an independent-minded, albeit ambitious man.

(Original post by Connor27)
He just gave himself the same power a few years later and changed the title to "emperor"; before proceeding with an attempted conquest of Europe, the funds for which could've gone towards improving the lives of French people.

I see him as a proto-Stalin, I think ol' uncle Joe took note to a lot of what Napoleon did and copied his methodology.
When you say "a few year later", I think you are understating the length of time here by more than a bit. 11 years elapsed between the time of the abolition of the French ancien regime and the beginning of the Empire under Napoleon.

It is completely false to suggest that he attempted to conquer Europe. True, he wished to make France the most powerful nation on the Continent, but it is not at all true that he aimed at the conquest of every single nation in Europe. The vast majority of his wars were fought in self-defence against several coalitions made of of Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, Russia etc. The War of the Third Coalition was begun against Napoleon when Britain formed a league with Austria and Russia against Napoleon. Napoleon crushed them at Austerlitz. The War of the Fourth Coalition was formed against him in 1806 composed of Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom. He crushed them too. He made peace with Alexander I of Russia at Tilsit in 1807, but Alexander had no intention of sticking to the treaty and secretly plotted revenge, which forced Napoleon to invade Russia in 1812 when Alexander would not halt his preparations for war against Napoleon. The War of the Fifth Coalition was launched against Napoleon in 1809 by Austria and Great Britain and was yet again defeated by Napoleon. The War of the Sixth Coalition was launched against Napoleon after his defeat in Russia. The War of the Seventh Coalition was launched against him after he returned from exile in Elba to lead France once more. Every single one of these wars saw Napoleon being declared war on, not the other way round. He is by far one of the greatest, if not the greatest, generals in history, having won 53 out of all 60 battles in which he participated, due to his sheer military genius.

To call one of the greatest Europeans who ever lived a "proto-Stalin" strikes me as monstrously ignorant. The man restored stability to France after a long period of upheaval, overthrowing the corrupt and inefficient Directory in his coup of 1799 and becoming First Consul. He gave France a new constitution with a strong executive capable of keeping the country together and preventing factionalism. When he saw that the French pined for the old ways, he restored a form of monarchy by creating the Empire, preserving what was good about the Revolution and discarding what was bad, and reconciling it with more ancient forms of governance. He crushed brigands and criminals in the south-west of France. He established the Bank of France. He created the greatest army in Europe. He reformed the education system to make it one of the best in Europe, which it still is. How he is anything like Stalin in this regard is beyond me.
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Connor27
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(Original post by Cato the Elder)
Napoleon had nothing to do with the overthrow of Louis XVI. He was just a rookie officer of the artillery when the corpulent knave was executed. No offence, but you don't appear to know a lot about Napoleon. Btw, Napoleon hated the rabble and was disgusted by the way the king was treated. Napoleon actually witnessed the chaotic scenes of 20th June 1792 when King Louis and Marie Antoinette were captured by a frenzied mob in the Tuileries Palace. He wrote the following to his brother Joseph:

"Between seven and eight thousand men armed with pikes, axes, swords, guns, spits, sharpened sticks...went to the king. The Tuileries gardens were closed and 15,000 National Guards were on guard there. They broke down the gates, entered the palace, pointed the cannon at the king's apartment, threw four doors to the round, and presented the king with two cockades, one white [the Bourbon colour] and the other tricolour. They made him choose. Choose, they said, whether you reign here or in Coblenz. The king presented himself. He put on a red bonnet. So did the queen and the royal prince. They gave the king a drink. They stayed in the palace for four hours...All this is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent. It is hard to predict what will happen to the empire in such stormy circumstances." (Roberts, Andrew, Napoleon the Great, Penguin Books, 2014 [2015], p.39.)

So as you can see, Napoleon was far from an enthusiastic revolutionary. He had supported the King's overthrow, albeit reluctantly, but he was horrified at the King's weak response and at the behaviour of the uncontrollable revolutionary mobs. In fact this scene among others helped sow his hatred for the mob and his pathological fear of chaos and disorder. This is one of the reasons why he assumed dictatorial power, in order to prevent the tumults that had rocked France during the 1790s from destroying the country entirely. I do not believe him to be a "total hypocrite", but an independent-minded, albeit ambitious man.



When you say "a few year later", I think you are understating the length of time here by more than a bit. 11 years elapsed between the time of the abolition of the French ancien regime and the beginning of the Empire under Napoleon.

It is completely false to suggest that he attempted to conquer Europe. True, he wished to make France the most powerful nation on the Continent, but it is not at all true that he aimed at the conquest of every single nation in Europe. The vast majority of his wars were fought in self-defence against several coalitions made of of Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, Russia etc. The War of the Third Coalition was begun against Napoleon when Britain formed a league with Austria and Russia against Napoleon. Napoleon crushed them at Austerlitz. The War of the Fourth Coalition was formed against him in 1806 composed of Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom. He crushed them too. He made peace with Alexander I of Russia at Tilsit in 1807, but Alexander had no intention of sticking to the treaty and secretly plotted revenge, which forced Napoleon to invade Russia in 1812 when Alexander would not halt his preparations for war against Napoleon. The War of the Fifth Coalition was launched against Napoleon in 1809 by Austria and Great Britain and was yet again defeated by Napoleon. The War of the Sixth Coalition was launched against Napoleon after his defeat in Russia. The War of the Seventh Coalition was launched against him after he returned from exile in Elba to lead France once more. Every single one of these wars saw Napoleon being declared war on, not the other way round. He is by far one of the greatest, if not the greatest, generals in history, having won 53 out of all 60 battles in which he participated, due to his sheer military genius.

To call one of the greatest Europeans who ever lived a "proto-Stalin" strikes me as monstrously ignorant. The man restored stability to France after a long period of upheaval, overthrowing the corrupt and inefficient Directory in his coup of 1799 and becoming First Consul. He gave France a new constitution with a strong executive capable of keeping the country together and preventing factionalism. When he saw that the French pined for the old ways, he restored a form of monarchy by creating the Empire, preserving what was good about the Revolution and discarding what was bad, and reconciling it with more ancient forms of governance. He crushed brigands and criminals in the south-west of France. He established the Bank of France. He created the greatest army in Europe. He reformed the education system to make it one of the best in Europe, which it still is. How he is anything like Stalin in this regard is beyond me.
l'll be honest my knowledge of the period is rather scarce, I only know from what I've read casually, you appear to be far more of an expert than I.

I guess I must've been influenced by certain historian's interpretations, meh it happens, I stand corrected I suppose, well done.
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anarchism101
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Depends what you're comparing his regime to. The Directory? The Ancien Regime? Robespierre?

Overall, I'd say that in many ways Napoleon rounded off the initial issues raised by the early liberal French revolutionaries, and was in many ways the kind of "enlightened despot" those liberal noble reformists like Lafayette and Mirabeau had wanted Louis XVI to be back in 1789. Though I would say Napoleon diverged from this in two ways. Firstly, the early liberal reformers wanted a constitutional system in which power would be shared between a legislature elected by the propertied, and a monarch. While Napoleon's regime did indeed have an elected legislature, in practice it was toothless and he ran a near-absolutist state. Secondly, Napoleon's regime was fundamentally defined by war. While it's true that many of the wars were not started by Napoleon, this doesn't change the fact that the legitimacy of his regime had always at least partially depended on his military victories (and Napoleon himself admitted this). He was viewed as a parvenu rather than a conventional monarch, and this meant his regime was never entirely secure - it was dependent on his person. His most crucial source of power was always the army.

Still, if you're a liberal in pre-Revolutionary France, then I'd say Napoleon, for the most part, achieved what you wanted. But I'm not a liberal.
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anarchism101
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(Original post by Cato the Elder)
"Between seven and eight thousand men armed with pikes, axes, swords, guns, spits, sharpened sticks...went to the king. The Tuileries gardens were closed and 15,000 National Guards were on guard there. They broke down the gates, entered the palace, pointed the cannon at the king's apartment, threw four doors to the round, and presented the king with two cockades, one white [the Bourbon colour] and the other tricolour. They made him choose. Choose, they said, whether you reign here or in Coblenz. The king presented himself. He put on a red bonnet. So did the queen and the royal prince. They gave the king a drink. They stayed in the palace for four hours...All this is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent. It is hard to predict what will happen to the empire in such stormy circumstances." (Roberts, Andrew, Napoleon the Great, Penguin Books, 2014 [2015], p.39.).
Not particularly disagreeing with the assessment of Napoleon given on this particular issue, but Andrew Roberts uncritically worships Napoleon to such an extent that he's just cringing to watch or read.

While of course not nearly as reprehensible, and I'm sure that Roberts, unlike Irving, is essentially scholarly honest, the style reminded me a bit of David Irving's hagiographical accounts of Hitler. Roberts looks at everything from the point of view of Napoleon and his court, and internalises that view. Roberts assumes that any reason Napoleon had for doing something must have been a good reason, that Napoleon, for the most part, could only make minor mistakes rather than any fundamental flaws or failings; all Napoleon's apparent failings were really someone else's fault. I much preferred Alan Forrest's biography of Napoleon.
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ChaoticButterfly
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(Original post by anarchism101)

Still, if you're a liberal in pre-Revolutionary France, then I'd say Napoleon, for the most part, achieved what you wanted.
The tyranny of private property?
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Ruth199
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Clearly more bad, of course he did some good things, but mainly bad things, he put back slavery, he made many wars, causing millions of death, and because of him monarchy came back to france
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Cato the Elder
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(Original post by anarchism101)
Not particularly disagreeing with the assessment of Napoleon given on this particular issue, but Andrew Roberts uncritically worships Napoleon to such an extent that he's just cringing to watch or read.

While of course not nearly as reprehensible, and I'm sure that Roberts, unlike Irving, is essentially scholarly honest, the style reminded me a bit of David Irving's hagiographical accounts of Hitler. Roberts looks at everything from the point of view of Napoleon and his court, and internalises that view. Roberts assumes that any reason Napoleon had for doing something must have been a good reason, that Napoleon, for the most part, could only make minor mistakes rather than any fundamental flaws or failings; all Napoleon's apparent failings were really someone else's fault. I much preferred Alan Forrest's biography of Napoleon.
Do you have any examples of Roberts doing this? I mean, I thought he was pretty fair. That said, Napoleon has been my hero since I was 8, so I'm not exactly impartial myself.
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anarchism101
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(Original post by ChaoticButterfly)
The tyranny of private property?
Yes, though not just that. The average wealthy French bourgeoisie in 1788 would have wanted greater centralisation and uniformity across France, a more professionalised and meritocratic state bureaucracy, a reduced role for the Catholic Church, etc, all of which are things which Napoleon delivered or consolidated.
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anarchism101
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(Original post by Cato the Elder)
Do you have any examples of Roberts doing this? I mean, I thought he was pretty fair. That said, Napoleon has been my hero since I was 8, so I'm not exactly impartial myself.
I admit it's a while since I read the book, but from my recollection:
- He passes over France's naval weaknesses as if they were a minor problem, rather than a fundamental flaw which allowed the British to put a maritime economic stranglehold on France (which in turn pushed Napoleon into the flawed Continental System in retaliation).
- While he does of course talk about the 1812 invasion of Russia in detail, he doesn't give any substantial analysis of how utterly catastrophic a decision it turned out to be, even somehow trying to imply it was forced on Napoleon.
- He overplays his hand on meritocracy. While yes, Napoleon's state was far more meritocratic than the Ancien Regime or the European powers he was fighting. he slipped into a decent amount of nepotism and loyalty-based promotion. His obsession with making his family members monarchs, for instance, was blatantly not based on merit, and proved disastrous. Those leading generals who had genuinely come from humble origins, like Lannes and Augereau, had already reached such high ranks before Napoleon came to power. Also, particularly towards the latter end of his reign, Napoleon often promoted men with a heavy eye to ensuring their loyalty to his regime rather than pure merit. This became particularly bad in the last few years, as the generals became increasingly sycophantic and unwilling to tell Napoleon hard truths that he didn't want to hear.
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Josb
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Napoleon went backwards throughout his entire reign and in the end it looked very much like the former monarchy. He got rid of the parliament, recreated a nobility -- with the legal exceptions attached, censored the press like nobody ever did in French history (there was only one newspaper), increased the centralisation with the prefects -- who looked like the former royal intendants with more powers, reinstated slavery, increased the unfair tax burden, implemented a harsh conscription that was worse than under the monarchy, created an arbitrary police state, etc.

In 1814, nobody supported Napoleon and he was universally hated, even by his marshals and the senators, whom he had however bestowed with honours, but betrayed him that year.
The liberals, behind Benjamin Constant, strongly opposed Napoleon, but couldn't do much.

What "saved" Napoleon in history was the disastrous policies of his successor Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI. The king brought back the white flag, halved the wages of officers (unwise when you want to avoid mutiny), did not repeal imperial taxes as the royalists had promised, and failed to really condemn retaliations made by the royalists against the former revolutionaries. When Napoleon came back in 1815 during the Hundred Days he was welcomed as a hero by a good part of the people (not everybody though) and his desperate fight against the rest of Europe turned him into a Romantic figure, fighting bravely for a lost cause.

I don't see what good Napoleon did. I prefer the Civil Code over a common law system, but most of it had already been written during the Revolution. Almost 900K French soldiers were killed in action. 20.5% of men born between 1790-5 were killed in action (compared to 24.5% of those born between 1891-5 killed during WWI). The borders of France were also much smaller at the end of his reign than in 1799.
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