Tuesday , April 20 2021
Home / The Economist Europe / Despot, genius or both? France argues about Napoleon

Despot, genius or both? France argues about Napoleon

Summary:
Mar 6th 2021PARISTO SOME HE was a military genius, strategic mastermind and visionary leader who bequeathed to France a centralised modern administration and sense of gloire. To others he was a tyrant and a butcher who squandered French supremacy in Europe on the battlefield of Waterloo. Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in captivity on the British island of Saint Helena at the age of 51, has long inspired both admiration and distaste, even in France. Now, ahead of the bicentenary of his death on May 5th 1821, those rival passions have been revived.Listen to this storyYour browser does not support the element.Enjoy more audio and podcasts on iOS or Android.Alexis Corbière, a deputy from Unsubmissive France, a left-wing party, declared: “It is not for the republic to celebrate its gravedigger.”

Topics:
The Economist: Europe considers the following as important:

This could be interesting, too:

The Economist: Europe writes Fish tongues, a Norwegian delicacy harvested by children

The Economist: Europe writes Italian women take more top jobs, but many have no job at all

The Economist: Europe writes The EU’s Calhounian moment

The Economist: Europe writes The battle to succeed Angela Merkel gets nastier

TO SOME HE was a military genius, strategic mastermind and visionary leader who bequeathed to France a centralised modern administration and sense of gloire. To others he was a tyrant and a butcher who squandered French supremacy in Europe on the battlefield of Waterloo. Napoleon Bonaparte, who died in captivity on the British island of Saint Helena at the age of 51, has long inspired both admiration and distaste, even in France. Now, ahead of the bicentenary of his death on May 5th 1821, those rival passions have been revived.

Listen to this story

Enjoy more audio and podcasts on iOS or Android.

Alexis Corbière, a deputy from Unsubmissive France, a left-wing party, declared: “It is not for the republic to celebrate its gravedigger.” On the right Jean-Louis Debré, formerly head of the constitutional council, said that “overdoing it” would be “a provocation”. The Black Lives Matter movement has emboldened those who reject any celebration of a leader who reintroduced slavery to the French West Indies in 1802. Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, the Socialist mayor of Rouen, says he wants to replace the imposing bronze statue of the emperor on horseback that stands outside his Normandy town hall.

Yet the French also acknowledge that they owe much of their modern state, and its institutions, not to mention their country’s aspiration to grandeur, to the “little Corsican”. As first consul, Napoleon created the French legal code, the Bank of France, the administrative system of préfets, high-school lycées, the légion d’honneur and much more. In a poll in 2016 he was listed as the second-most-important Frenchman in history, after Charles de Gaulle. His red quartzite tomb in Les Invalides, lying in splendid isolation in a crypt beneath the dome, receives over a million visitors a year. This spring scores of new books are promised, says the Fondation Napoléon, as well as conferences and a big exhibition in Paris. “We have every reason to be proud of him,” said Patrice Gueniffey, a historian, who considers him a historical figure on a par with Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar (both of whom also killed a lot of people).

President Emmanuel Macron has not yet shown his hand. In 2005 Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist predecessor at the Elysée Palace, refused—amid protests at the time—to commemorate the bicentenary of Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. Talk shows have been debating what to do this year, and whether his legacy is damaging or beneficial for France. An adept of “en même temps”, or the improbable art of reconciling opposing views, Mr Macron has his work cut out.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline "An emperor’s clothes"

The Economist: Europe
With a growing global circulation (now more than 1.5 million including both print* and digital) and a reputation for insightful analysis and perspective on every aspect of world events, The Economist is one of the most widely recognized and well-read current affairs publications. The paper covers politics, business, science and technology, and books and arts, concluding each week with the obituary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *