February 13, 2013

Napoleon On Men of Destiny

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to, "The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words," edited and translated by J. Christopher Herold. Columbia University Press: New York. 1955.
"This supreme combination of intellect and energy gave Napoleon's mind a magnetic, almost supernatural power--a power that seems to radiate from his pictured features and endows his very name with magic. If modern times have produced a mythological figure, that figure is Napoleon. Abraham Lincoln is a possible rival, but as a figure of mythology Napoleon has a great advantage: like the Olympians, he is beyond good and evil, a true pagan god, eminently classical and Greek. Lincoln, a Christlike figure from the backwoods, belongs to a different circle.

Few men have expressed the Napoleon mystique so suggestively as Heine in these few sentences: "His countenance, too, was of the complexion we find on the marble heads of Greeks and Romans. The features were as nobly proportioned as those of ancient statues, and on his face was written: Thou shalt have no other god but me."

This mystique is not to be confused with the so-called Napoleonic legend, a political fabrication for which Napoleon himself is only partly responsible. Representing the Emperor as the champion of liberal and popular aspirations, the legend helped powerfully in placing Napoleon III on the throne and in keeping Bonapartism alive. It appealed to sentimentalists, chauvinists, and naive liberals, but it had nothing to do with the Napoleon mystique of less gullible men--Byron and Stendhal, for instance.

Examined one by one, Napoleon's accomplishments and utterances lose much of their magic. Their imperfections and errors, their improvised and derivative nature become only too apparent, and the man's personal defects, his boundless egotism, deceitfulness, and callousness stand exposed. The sum of the parts is less than the whole. Unfortunately, this analytical "debunking," if applied to almost any great man (with the possible exception of a handful of saints), would similarly divert attention from the majestic outline of the forest to the imperfection of the trees. A critical examination of a great man's thought or deeds always leads to the ultimate, the only really important question: which is the deeper reality--the whole or the parts? If the answer is, the parts, then all greatness stands diminished."
II. Napoleon On Men of Destiny

From "The Mind of Napoleon" [Pg. 41-42]:
[Dictation, Saint Helena, on the coup d'├ętat of 18 Brumaire] When a deplorable weakness and ceaseless vacillations become manifest in supreme councils; when, yielding in turn to the influences of opposing parties, making shift from day to day, and marching with uncertain pace, a government has proved the full measure of its impotence; when even the most moderate citizens are forced to admit that the State is no longer governed; when, in fine, the administration adds to its nullity at home the gravest guilt it can acquire in the eyes of a proud nation---I mean its humiliation abroad---then a vague unrest spreads through the social body, the instinct of self-preservation is stirred, and the nation casts a sweeping eye over itself, as if to seek a man who can save it.

This guardian angel a great nation harbors in its bosom at all times; yet sometimes he is late in making his appearance. Indeed, it is not enough for him to exist: he also must be known. He must know himself. Until then, all endeavors are in vain, all schemes collapse. The inertia of the masses protects the nominal government, and despite its ineptitude and weakness the efforts of its enemies fail. But let that impatiently awaited savior give a sudden sign of his existence, and the people's instinct will divine him and call upon him. The obstacles are smoothed before his steps, and a whole great nation, flying to see him pass, will seem to be saying: "Here is the man!"

[Conversation, 1817] Mohammed came at a moment when general opinion was ready for a single God.  . . A man is but a man, but often he can do much; often he is a tinderbox in the midst of inflammable matter.

[Conversation, 1817] Jesus was probably hanged like so many fanatics who wanted to act the part of the prophet, the Messiah. Every year, there were several. . . . What is certain is that public opinion at the time favored a single God and that those who spoke of him first were well received. Thus were the circumstances. It's like myself: if from the lowest social class I rose to be Emperor, this was possible because of the circumstances and a favorable public opinion.