March 6, 2013

Napoleon On His Legacy

 Napoleon On Tragedy.

From, "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. Pg. 239-242.
[Conversation, 1816] I shall be credited with great profundity and subtlety in things which perhaps were simplicity itself. Projects will be ascribed to me which were never mine. People will wonder whether or not I really aimed at universal monarchy. It will be argued at length whether my absolute authority and my arbitrary actions were the effects of my character or of my calculations; whether they were caused by my inclination or by force of circumstance; whether I waged constant warfare to indulge my personal taste or whether I was pushed into it against my will; whether my immense ambition, for which I have been blamed so much, was spurred by lust for power, or thirst for glory, or the necessity of establishing order, or love of general welfare--for it deserves to be examined from several angles. Arguments will rage concerning the motives that led me in the catastrophic affair of the duc d'Enghien and on innumerable other occasions. Many matters that were altogether natural and straightforward will be subtly distorted. It is not up to me to deal specifically with these questions: I would be pleading, and this I despise . . . Yet by how much misinformation will [historians] be assailed, ranging from the lies and inventions of timeservers . . . to the revelations, "documentation," and assertions made even by my ministers, decent people though they were, who will reveal not so much what actually took place as what they thought was taking place! For is there a single one among them who knew my whole mind? Their personal share consisted, most of the time, merely of some elements of the vast whole, of which they were unaware. Thus they have seen only their own facet of the prism--and, at that, how unlikely they are to have seen even that facet correctly! Have they seen all of it? Was it not in its turn cut into fragments? And yet there is not one who, according to his own insight, would not present as my true policy the fantastic product of his own reasonings: hence, once more, the agreed-upon fiction called history. And it cannot be otherwise. It is true that, being several, they are unlikely to be in agreement. Besides, as far as their positive assertions go, they will prove themselves cleverer than I, for I often would have found it very difficult to assert with any degree of truth what was my whole and real intention. 

[Conversation, 1816] I may have had many projects, but I never was free to carry out any of them. It did me little good to be holding the helm; no matter how strong my hands, the sudden and numerous waves were stronger still, and I was wise enough to yield to hem rather than resist them obstinately and make the ship founder. Thus I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances. This is so true that when, at the beginning of my reign, during the Consulate, my true friends and most enthusiastic champions asked me, with the best intentions and for their own guidance, where I was heading, I always answered that I had not the least idea. This astonished and possibly annoyed them, and yet I was telling them the truth. . . . The fact was that I was not master of my actions, because I was not so insane as to attempt to bend events to conform to my policies. On the contrary, I bent my policies to accord with the unforeseen shape of the events, and this is what often gave me the appearance of fickleness and inconsistency, of which I have been accused at times; but were these accusations fair?

 [Conversation, after 1811] France does not know my position well, and that is why she completely misjudges most of my acts. Five or six families are sharing the thrones of Europe, and they are pained to see a Corsican taking a seat on one of them. I cannot keep my place except by using force. I cannot accustom them to look upon me as an equal except by keeping them under my yoke. As soon as I cease to be feared, my Empire is destroyed. Thus I must repress whatever they undertake. I cannot let them threaten me and not strike back. What would be an indifferent matter to a king of an old dynasty is very serious to me. I shall persist in this attitude so long as I live, and if my son does not become a great warrior, if he does not resemble me, he will have to come down from the throne to which I shall have raised him--for it takes more than one man to consolidate a monarchy. Louis XIV, despite all his earlier victories, would have lost his crown at the end of his life if he had not been the heir of a long line of kings. Among the anciently established sovereigns, war aims never go beyond possession of a province or a fortress. With me, the stake is always my existence and that of the whole Empire.

In domestic matters, my position is entirely different from that of the long-established sovereigns. They can live indolently in their palaces; they can abandon themselves shamelessly to all the debauches of riotous living. Nobody challenges their legitimate rights; nobody dreams of replacing them; nobody accuses them of ingratitude, since nobody has helped them to attain the throne. As for me, everything is different: there is no general but believes he has the same rights to the throne as I. There is no influential man who doesn't give himself the credit for having guided my conduct on the Eighteenth Brumaire. Consequently, I must be very stern toward those people. If I were familiar with them, they would soon share my power and the public treasury. They don't like me--but they fear me, and that's good enough for me. I admit them into the army, I give them commands--but I also keep an eye on them. They wanted to escape my yoke, they wanted to federalize France. One word from me was enough to stifle their plot. So long as I live, they will never be dangerous. If I suffered a defeat, they would be the first to desert me.

At home as abroad, I reign only through the fear I inspire. If I renounced this system, I would be dethroned before long. This is my position, and these are the motives that guide me.

[Conversation, date uncertain] My power is dependent on my glory, and my glory on my victories. My power would fall if I did not base it on still more glory and still more victories. Conquest made me what I am; conquest alone can keep me there.

A newly established government must dazzle and astonish. The moment it ceases to glitter, it falls.