Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Crow and the Emperor

"I closed the gulf of anarchy and brought order out of chaos. I rewarded merit regardless of birth or wealth, wherever I found it. I abolished feudalism and restored equality to all regardless of religion and before the law. I fought the decrepit monarchies of the Old Regime because the alternative was the destruction of all this. I purified the Revolution."

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

My friend Crow who met the Emperor many years ago had this to say about him:

For all his faults, (he had some world class ones) Napoleon's greatest achievements, other than in battle, were in the field of law, the arts, government, and civil reform. Wherever the writ of the French Empire ran, there were basic civil rights, freedom of religion, hospitals and orphanages.The Code Civil, better known as the Code Napoleon has survived and thrived to this day, and gave France its first written code of law. It is also a part of the laws of Italy, Germany, and parts of the United States.

He revamped French education, instituted the precursor of the metric system, granted full citizenship to the Jewish people, granted freedom of worship for all denominations, encouraged industrialization and agriculture, built roads, bridges, harbors, drained swamps, encouraged and sponsored the arts, established the first governmental office to oversea France's natural resources, planted trees, balanced his budgets, put France on a stable economic footing, brought the smallpox vaccination to the continent, encouraged the use of gas lighting, and opened careers in France to talented people, not caring if they were peasant or noble, middle class or fanatic, as long as they would serve honestly and loyally.

Napoleon also established the Legion of Honor as a system to recognize those who had served France in an extraordinary capacity, be they military or civilian. He also established fire departments, hospitals, and orphanages. The fact that not one European nation alone could defeat him is testimony to his greatness. It required not only the combined forces of Russia, England, Austria and Prussia to remove him from power, they needed treachery and deceit to remove him for good. His position in history is positively unique, there never was another character quite like him and there never will be again.

At 5'7", the Emperor wasn't short either. That was propaganda. Yes, everyone has faults and Napoleon Bonaparte's major fault was that he thought he could make the world a fair place by force.

Unfortunately, now we have those who embrace the idea of force while forgetting the principal of fairness:

Quote of the week:
“One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests” 
~ John Stuart Mill


Andrew R. Scott said...

I would be rather inclined to tell John Stuart that one person with a belief can do a heck of a lot more harm than ninety-nine who have only interests.

Oh and Crow's connections impress, as ever.

susan said...

He likely would have agreed with you, Andrew. Crow and I most certainly do.

You should hear his stories about Alexander the Great.

marja-leena said...

Even with faults, he sure did good! I don't expect the same from a certain candidate trying for president south of the border, in fact he scares me.

Crow sure gets around. Hope he stays away from said candidate.

susan said...

Last winter I thoroughly enjoyed reading all 20½* of Patrick O'Brian's 'Aubrey and Maturin' novels about a British naval captain and his Spanish/Irish doctor companion during the Napoleonic Wars. Although they were fighting against the Emperor I couldn't help but admire much of what I read about him and so have followed up. On consideration it became apparent that the two friends were, in a way, pawns of a much larger process over which they had no control. Napoleon was probably a much better man than the leaders of the forces that challenged him.

No worries about Crow getting involved in the current contest.

* Patrick O'Brian died before finishing #21

Tom said...

Did Mr Crow also point out that it took many more countries to beat the Nazi Feuhrer, Adolf Hitler. Living in France I can say that not everything about Napoleon's legacy is as good as it may seem. :)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
I loved the cartoon and the idea of emperor Trump who seems to elicit the same strong opinions as Napoleon does today to one of admiration or those who think he is of a tyrant. But in the unlikely event he gains ascendancy I would hazard a guess many of those bold assertions wont gather muster.

Although I hasten to add I am no great historian there a many I note who posit Napoleon paid no attention on a personal level to his rather grand utterances or to his significant libertarian enactments which on face value appear meritorious. Execute troublemakers at the drop of hat.

But like many past successful conquers / leaders he was the genius who was able to harness power at that time on the back of the revolution and assume the mantle of a supreme ruler and military commander with the express aim to conqueror the world at any cost.
As you know you then have the inevitable suffering and slaughter always associated with war with over a million estimated dead in France alone from mostly conscripts and 7 million estimated in total. Some historians believe France never really recovered from the ordeal.
Best wishes

susan said...

Apologies for mentioning it took the military of several nations to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. A comparison with Hitler had never occurred to us since that may be the only similarity between the two leaders.

As for Bonaparte's legacy, we all admire his grand redesign of Paris, the City of Light.

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
It's certainly true that people far better educated than me have spent entire careers studying Napoleon Bonaparte. He really was a fascinating, and very complex, man. Among other things I've read that he may have been one of the all time great propagandists and that he had a tendency to pay lip service to causes that didn't much interest him at all.

My point was to compare someone who really did make some differences for the good in the world to someone in our modern world who is no more than an unqualified blowhard when it comes to international leadership abilities.

While I deliberately left out the military aspects of Napoleon's reign that's probably a thing that's really too big to ignore. His Grande Armee was based on sheer numbers of soldiers to overwhelm the enemy. Yes, far too many people died. When it comes to strong men who grab power after a revolution (ie, Mao, Pol Pot, Robespierre, Stalin all oversaw horrendous bloodbaths) Napoleon was a mild despot.

A worry we have in North America right now is that a true tyrant will take power sometime in the near future. It may not be Donald Trump but there's a genuine hysteria brewing in the US and that never leads to calm and reasoned results.
All the best

Sean Jeating said...

Each July 14th, when they are celebrating the storming of the Bastille, I wonder why the French would have made revolution to get rid of a king, to get only 15 years later an emperor.

susan said...

The Reign of Terror?
Continuing war with royalists?
Invasions by foreign forces?
Everybody loved Josephine?
.. so many possibilities :)

Lucy said...

And after everything Stephen Maturin went through to bring about his downfall!

One of the remarkable things is the strength of feeling, for good and ill, Napoleon still provokes. From my albeit limited observations here, it seems that those who are apologists for or proud of the Revolution are quite anti-Napoleon, whereas those who deplore the Revolution tend to be more positive about him. Reading 19th century writers like Hugo and Balzac, I'm struck not only by the trauma of all the wars and uprisings and general violence of the times (and don't forget all the horrors in the Vendée and Brittany arising from the Revolution, described by one modern French historian as France's hidden genocide), but also how psychologically exhausting all the changing of political moods and allegiances must have been, going from Jacobin to Bonapartist to Royalist to whatever came five minutes later. I think in many ways they're still living with the effects of this, as well as all the troubles of the last century.

The apparent aspects of the Code which I suppose we're most aware of and find unreasonable are those relating to families and inheritance, about parents not being able to disinherit their children (and vice-versa, to some extent) and about all the heirs to property needing to be found and squared before anything can be done about it, leading to unfairness to surviving spouses and mouldy wrecks of houses and chopped up scraps of land about the countryside! I wonder if Napoleon and his laws and reforms can be compared a bit to the Prophet and Islamic law: an ordering and civilising of chaotic and brutal status quo, but in time becoming oppression, dead hand or simple irrelevance.

The link to Paris under Napoleon is interesting, he certainly made a start didn't he?! Though perhaps more of the real redesign was later under Napoleon III with Haussmann etc. Even that was sometimes accused (by Hugo among others)of being a move against the freedom of the people to have uprisings and block the streets and so on, as well as a vanity project which came in way over budget and time! But in the end light, air and sanitation won out and it was considered a Good Thing.

Speaking of Robespierre, do you know Hilary Mantel's 'A Place of Greater Safety'? It's a great read about the Revolution, and while it's a novel, as always with her you feel your in fairly safe hands for research and accuracy (while her terrific, totally anachronistic dialogue beguiles you into suspending all disbelief). At one point he even moved to abolish the death penalty! Before he got a taste for it that was. Someone recently described Jeremy Corbyn as 'a man of herbivorous ways and carnivorous views', which reminded me of Robespierre. Poor old Maximilien, he only gets a really small metro station in an out of the way suburb named after him too.

Tom put me onto this post, I love the picture of Mr Crow out front with Napo!

Lucy said...

This is a good piece too:

One quote:

'The historian Lord Acton once famously said that in terms of the time, the deaths under the Terror were relatively few in number (he was thinking of the official death sentences). As Acton pointed out, many millions were to die in Napoleon’s wars for no better reason than his own glory. Yet the aura of the hero still clings to Napoleon, while Robespierre’s name is synonymous with violence and horror.'

susan said...

Dear Lucy,
I was delighted to get your wonderfully generous comment on this post about some of Napoleon's accomplishments, one that was meant to be no more than an essential comparison between a real world leader and the American pretender, Donald Trump. It was having recently read the novels of Patrick O'Brian that made me think of the Emperor (who also makes a brief appearance in the Ibis Trilogy I recommended). My older memories of this part of French history mostly come from literature - "A Tale of Two Cities" and "War and Peace" - rather than any deep reading of European history.

Maturin certainly had good reasons to hate Napoleon as he was a strong opponent of the Emperor's intention to subdue all of Europe under his personal control. That he sacrificed many people during his reign can't be denied. War always seems unnecessary to those of us who far prefer peace and quiet - which I imagine includes most people. Unfortunately, while there have always been predators among us at least Napoleon could in some ways be described as a benevolent sort of dictator, if one is open to ignoring the dirty details for a little while.

The article I linked to at the beginning of my post was one from The Smithsonian that caught my attention some months ago. Entitled, "Why We'd Be Better Off if Napoleon Never Lost at Waterloo", the author makes a good case for the theory that after the exile to Elba he may very well have given up on his expansionist ideas. Here is the concluding paragraph:

If Napoleon had remained emperor of France for the six years remaining in his natural life, European civilization would have benefited inestimably. The reactionary Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria would not have been able to crush liberal constitutionalist movements in Spain, Greece, Eastern Europe and elsewhere; pressure to join France in abolishing slavery in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean would have grown; the benefits of meritocracy over feudalism would have had time to become more widely appreciated; Jews would not have been forced back into their ghettos in the Papal States and made to wear the yellow star again; encouragement of the arts and sciences would have been better understood and copied; and the plans to rebuild Paris would have been implemented, making it the most gorgeous city in the world.

The part of the Code you describe does sound awful. Yes, Mohammed left a mess behind him too. Karen Armstrong's "Muhammad" and Martin Ling's Sufi interpretation of the life of The Prophet (also called "Muhammad") both described the extraordinary effect of the teachings as they were originally received. Then, just like in Christianity, smaller people with big ambitions get to do the interpreting.

Napoleon III and Haussmann's Paris is one of the greatest architectural achievements of modern times, one that was established by Napoleon I who had a very deep admiration for ancient Rome. You need boulevards for those grand military parades and it isn't a bad idea to make it difficult for the rabble to put up barricades. I've always been part of the rabble myself - got to spend three months in Paris long ago and enjoyed every minute. Now I'm a bit too old for rebellion at a major level despite the fact there is much to complain of now - perhaps even more than then. The world is no smaller but modern weaponry and modern zealots leave few places as safe retreats.

More recently I've read a number of books about the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the brutal way they've affected 'reforms'. There are some very disturbing stories to say the least.

I've just read a couple of Amazon reviews of Hilary Mantel's book and have found our library does have a copy which I've ordered. It must still be popular because I'm number three in line. I've had a brief look at Marisa Linton's article about Robespierre and have bookmarked it for later.

Many thanks again for writing.
All the best to you and Tom.

Should Fish More said...

Wish my typing was moire capablke at the moment, and no,not stoipping to correct the ring ginger's typois...
The commentsw on Bonaparte are fascinating and learned, I congratulate you and your respionders.
The rokle of France in world history is perhaps unmatched, if one examines the possible effects on current European history.
Again, sorry bout the typing

susan said...

Despite your regrettable injury, Mike, your comment is quite readable. In fact, I quite enjoyed the image you managed with the ring ginger's typois..
Whereas France came late to the revolution, Napoleon was a great admirer of what the US had achieved and was determined to end feudalism. Unfortunately, the craziness that ensued once the original battle against the Bourbons was done proved too much temptation for a man who felt he was the only one with all the right answers.
I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I usually avoid anything smacking of politics.
Best wishes

Lucy said...

Hello again, thank you for your thoughtful response. I don't necessarily agree with Lord Acton on that, mind. My views on this and many other things aren't very fixed.

I wanted to thank you for the book recommendation you left at mine too. I have to admit I am better at getting to the end with historical fiction than straight history!

Quite a thought that had things gone differently with Napoleon perhaps there might have been no holocaust, and the current situation in the Middle East might have been different for the better. It's odd how countries which are on their knees, like France after the Revolution or Germany after WW1 turn to expansionism, and find the means to do it too, like a kind of pernicious secondary infection or something.

Recommending books always worries me a bit, that I might be inflicting an ordeal on the recommendee! I enjoyed the Hilary Mantel but was glad to get to the end of it, and probably needed to read something very different afterwards.

I'm inclined to think Hugo was a bit of a hypocrite and a windbag. His paintings are interesting though.

susan said...

Hello again to you too, Lucy,
There's long been a tendency among idealists that some wonderful place exists where everything is perfect and there is no strife. Would that that were true, perhaps among some small and hidden away groups peace and contentment does have a home, but it's not part of our larger culture now and may never have been.

I honestly do think you'd find much to love about Amitav Ghosh's 'Ibis Trilogy'. While I can't make any direct comparison with Patrick O'Brian's marvelous life's work in Aubrey and Maturin, I can honestly say the experience of reading Ghosh's trilogy had a very rich and familiar effect on me. I wonder how you felt about POB's last book in the series - #20½? I thought it was fine. How else could he have finished but with everyone together and a story to be continued into infinity?

Yes, I was struck with the Smithsonian author's conclusion about how things could have turned out so very differently had Napoleon remained in power. Sometimes I wonder if there might not be other realities where different world lines lead to other circumstances, hopefully better ones. There are times when I feel so sad about how things are that my heart feels like it's breaking. No wonder I love to read.

Not to worry about recommending Hilary Mantel. How much more depressing could the book be than: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” We must have hope.

I've never been a big fan of Victor Hugo but his 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' was most entertaining too. He certainly stood by his principles.

All the best, Susan

L'Adelaide said...

Fascinating people this bird hangs with.... After months*years? * of politics here, I think I'd sort of, mind you, sort of welcome a Napoleon type to get on his white steed and seize the whole damned mess we've got going on down here. I am sure you cannot believe it and since I tend towards a wee bit more cynicism, just a guess, I must say I am not very surprised. We are a greedy nation and not too moral either--am not sure ''moral'' is the right word but others fail me. And lately, the word sort of strikes me as a fitting!

Aw well.... If Hillary doesn't go to jail, maybe she'll get in... I'm afraid Bernie doesn't intrigue me as there's no way to pay for all those lovely ideas of his.. As if any of them can be paid for as we're a broke nation. Maybe we're not a broke nation but it sure isn't looking good on the political pickings front. XOX

susan said...

Why do you think we left the US? Certainly not because either of us prefers the Canadian climate :) The political system there is corrupt, certainly at the federal level and Hillary is in it up to her eyes.

Trump might just be the wake up call America needs. A president Trump could be as bad as Hitler, but if he shocks some good people in both the Republican and Democratic parties into realizing that they are ignoring legitimate concerns of a sizable minority, then let him have his four years.