The person I have chosen to discuss in this essay is Napoleon Bonaparte as it is not possible to discuss French society and culture without mentioning his name. If one wants to study French Culture then it is exceedingly important to acquire knowledge regarding Napoleon Bonaparte and his role in the French Revolution that changed France forever. It would not be incorrect to state that a few people have been successful in dominating an era as scrupulously as Napoleon Bonaparte governed his. His personality can be compared with that of Adolph Hitler.
He was an enigmatic leader, a brilliant politician and a very determined human being. His impulsive and destructive nature became the cause of extensive devastation and a new political structure in the French society. Although he shaped his times; he suffered a miserable collapse in the end. It would not be incorrect to state that even the ideas of liberty and nationalism were greatly compromised by Napoleon "and although his incessant wars led to the deaths of well over a million French soldiers and civilians, Napoleon Bonaparte remains lodged in French memory as a man with a mission, the man who restored the state and embodied the Enlightenment" (Joffrin).
Napoleon had a great role in the French Revolution that began with the collapse of the Bastille. It is important to highlight the importance of French Revolution and contributions of Napoleon Bonaparte during that time as the events that took place during that time still have a great influence over the French society of contemporary era. In addition, the French Revolution has transpired itself as a model for the initiation of revolutionary movements in the modern world. The world witnessed the power of nationalism, xenophobia and self-rule during the French Revolution and this jingoism is still influential in the nations that exist in the present times (Joffrin).
It is also significant to note here that the French Revolution is an example for the emerging nations of the modern world for the acquirement of independence and chauvinism. The study of French culture is incomplete without a comprehensive understanding of the French Revolution and the ideas of impartiality and liberty spread by it (Spielvogel 326). This is the reason Napoleon Bonaparte will always be remembered as one of the most influential historical figures in the world as he was a major contributor in the French Revolution that still impacts global societies in the present day.
The career of Napoleon was a result of his hereditary armed and political forces to a great extent. He inherited the mentioned strengthening powers from the Revolution and made clever exploitations to suit his objectives (Spielvogel). As far as military affairs are concerned, Napoleon was a very lucky dictator who inherited original military advancements from the French Revolution. It was in his times that the French armies acquired massed military capability in the form of innovative armaments and the ability of extensive and safe mobilization. The dexterousness of Napoleon’s mind made it possible for the armies to use the military tactics in the most efficient and effective manners (Goodlad).
As far as the political conditions of France were concerned, the country had gone through an entire decade of radical havoc and mayhem by the year 1799. Such chaotic circumstance made the government unsteady and crooked. The policies of the church started to defame as they caused widespread price increases. This turmoil naturally made people sick and they started yearning for a more secure and steady administration. For that reason, Napoleon emerged as a leader with the interchange of armed modernization that made him a public hero (Joffrin). In 1799, he took over the responsibilities of running the French government and promised to fulfill the general desire of a powerful, steady, and sheltered government. He was able to consolidate his power in the region with the help of other military victories, especially against the Austrians. In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself the ruler of France.
It is not an untold secret that the history of both France and Europe has been dominated by Napoleon Bonaparte, from 1799 to 1815 in particular. It can be said that although Napoleon was the major person who ended the French Revolution in 1799; this same revolution gave birth to him as one of the most prominent figures in the history of world. Napoleon rose as a military and political leader due to the French Revolution (Arnold 23). He acknowledged his own power by regarding himself as the ‘revolution’. Napoleon never stopped reminding the French about his capabilities as a leader. He always made them feel indebted to his struggles in benefitting the French society by introduction of productive, revolutionary programs (Spielvogel 345).
Before assessing the importance of Napoleon Bonaparte in the French Revolution and as a leader, it is important to have a glance over his social background. The determined leader was born in Corsica in 1796. His father belonged to a noble family (Florentine) and was a lawyer by profession. Young Napoleon was admitted to a military school in France where he acquired a royal study-scholarship (Schom). In 1785, the French army commissioned him as a lieutenant due to his outstanding academic skills in French military schools (Kates 338). However, his colleagues did not like Napoleon much as he was short-heighted, had an Italian accent, and was not much well-to-do in terms of riches. His fellow officers surely had no idea that this short man would be ruling their children in the coming years. His intense interest in philosophical works gave him leadership insights and due to this knowledge, he was able to carry out a number of military campaigns after becoming the emperor of France (Spielvogel 346).
Although Napoleon experienced dismal failures in the end, he possessed distinguishing personal qualities that helped him to gain popular support in the French society. I believe that he was not only a great general but also administered his government in a very active manner. He achieved some remarkable milestones throughout his military and political careers. He was triumphant in consolidating the French strength in the region by introducing transformational internal reforms. Moreover, he suppressed other powers that longed to interfere in the French society. Napoleon’s government spread the revolutionary message of nationalism and impartiality. However, he made sure that his powers are protected by establishing a virtual police and regulating strict censorship policies. Napoleon did not practice what he preached and suppressed the political and civil freedom of the French people. At the same time, he believed that equality can be used as a very helpful tool in the politics. He made sure that every citizen was equally treated under his power (Brown 6). In order to maintain and protect his own power, he established the Napoleonic Civil Law Codes whereby every male citizen was equal under the law but had his lawful authority over the female members. By passing this law, Napoleon shattered every hope that women probably had regarding the improvement of their legal status in the society.
Napoleon perceived patriotism as a very important factor to maintain the faithfulness and dependability of the French people towards him and his command. In spite of everything, the spirit of nationalism was the one thing that gave an inspiration to the French armies in the most outstanding manner. The military successes had given remarkable benefits to Napoleon and had given him the power to rise gloriously. He wanted to construct a personality faction around himself to be respected by the people in France. He wanted people to consider loyalty towards Napoleon equivalent to faithfulness to the French homeland. On the other hand, this identification of nationalism with a single individual failed to strengthen peoples’ perception of national loyalty as Napoleon unintentionally weakened it ultimately losing his control.
Taken as a whole, the internal policies introduced by Napoleon Bonaparte were influential enough to strengthen France and its culture. It also made French dominance possible over other European countries after a sequence of victorious armed fights. As one would expect, he was able to establish his ruling style in all the countries he took over. However, it was a mistake on Napoleon’s part to think that the revolution in the region and the organizational and legal reforms will influence other parts of Europe too. He thought that he would be able to separate the nationalistic and independence ideas. Nevertheless, he was not able to do so. It can be said that the Napoleonic era affected the French society and culture greatly as it "brought with it a certain degree of administrative stability to France and Europe but at the same time imposed conscription, war and economic deprivation on many of those who fell under within its orb" (Dwyer & McPhee xiv).
As far as my opinion is concerned, I believe that Napoleon’s temper and outlook were modern but he had a destructive aggression. Even though he always had his own ways, he couldn’t stand arguments and contradictions concerning any of his decisions. I believe that Napoleon wanted to use French people, culture and civilization as a launching pad for his personal prospects. He wanted to have limitless powers and imperialistic strengths. He did not have any concern for peoples’ betterment but raised them only to use them for his personal interests in wars and combats. It is worth-mentioning here that in spite of the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded Napoleon Bonaparte, he was an influential figure who mesmerized French for more than two hundred years (Gaenschalz 88). To cut a long story short, Napoleon not only inherited and executed the French Revolution; he played an extremely significant role to liquidate the revolutionary ideals prevalent in the French society (Lyons). Napoleon was perhaps the most exceptional individual in the history of France who affected the country’s culture in the most remarkable manner and this is the reason that the cultural studies of France are not complete without studying about Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Gaenschalz, Erich. "Napoleon Bonaparte. Pioneer of the Century." Philosophy and History 24.1 (1991): 87-88. Print.
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