TOUT POUR ET PAR LE PEUPLE – EVERYTHING FOR AND BY THE PEOPLE
« Pour l’Honneur de la France, pour les intérêts sacrés de l’Humanité – For the Honour of France, for the sacred interests of Humanity »
(Napoléon le Grand, le 17 ventôse an VIII – Samedi 8 mars 1800 – Napoleon the Great, 17th of Ventôse Year VIII – Saturday 8th March 1800)
ON NAPOLEONIC IDEAS
NAPOLEON III, EMPEROR OF THE FRENCH
Translated from the French
by Paul-Napoléon Calland, President of the Bonapartist Movement, and published in French and English in honour of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Napoleon the Great, on the Fifteenth of August, 2019.
Traduit du français par Paul-Napoléon Calland, Président du Mouvement Bonapartiste, et publié en français et en anglais en l’honneur du 250e anniversaire de Napoléon le Grand, le 15 août 2019.
CHAPTER II : GENERAL IDEAS / IDÉES GÉNÉRALES
Mission of the Emperor. – Freedom will follow the same path as Religion. – Re-establishment of the Monarchy and of the Catholic faith. – How we should judge Napoleon.
WHEN ideas which have governed the world for long periods lose, by the necessary transformation of societies, in strength and command, new ones arise, destined to replace those which preceded them. Although they bear in them a reorganising seed, they proceed by disorganisation. But so great is the presumption of new-born ideas, and so pleasing is the idea of permanence to our ephemeral existence, that at each stone that they rip from the old edifice, they proclaim this debris upon which they stand to be a new foundation with indestructible bases ; until other landslides, burying one another, prove to them that they have demolished without having built, and that their work must have more solid materials, to be sheltered from the collapsing ruins of the past.
It was thus that the ideas of 1789, ideas which, after shaking Europe, will end by ensuring her repose, seemed, already in 1791, to have destroyed the old order of things and to have created a new one. But the birth of liberty is painful, and the work of centuries is not destroyed without terrible tremors ! 1793 followed soon after 1791, and ruins appeared over ruins, transformations upon transformations ; until finally Napoleon appeared, cleared the fog of this chaos of void and glory, seperated truths from passions, the elements of success from the seeds of death, and drew to the idea of synthesis all of these great principles which, struggling ceaselessly amongst themselves, jeopardised the success that was in the interest of all.
Napoleon, upon arriving on the stage of the world, saw that his role was to be the executor of the Will and Testament of the revolution. The destructive fire of the parties was spent, and when the revolution, dying, but unvanquished, bequeathed to Napoleon the accomplishment of her last will, she said to him « Establish upon solid foundations the principle results of my efforts, reunite the divided French, drive back feudal Europe leagued against me, heal my wounds, enlighten the nations, execute across the span of the world what I had to do in the depth of the nation ; be for Europe what I have been for France ; and even if you should water with your blood the tree of civilisation, see your projects misunderstood and your own wander countryless throughout the world, never abandon the sacred cause of the French people, and make it triumph by all the means to which genius gives birth, which humanity approves ».
This great mission, Napoleon accomplished completely. His task was difficult. He had to seat a society which was still boiling with hate and grudges upon new principles ; use, to consolidate, the same instruments which until then had been used only to strike down.
The fate common to each new truth which arises is to terrorise instead of seducing, to wound instead of convincing. It is so because she leaps forward with all the more force the longer she has been suppressed ; because having obstacles to overcome, she must wrestle, and she overthrows, until, understood and adopted by most, she becomes the basis of a new social order.
Liberty will follow the same way as the Christian religion. Deadly weapon for the old Roman society, christianity aroused for a long time the fear and hatred of the peoples ; then, growing with martyrs and persecutions, the religion of Christ entered into the minds and consciences ; soon she had armies and kings at her command ; Constantine and Charlemagne led her in triumphal procession through Europe. Then the religion laid down her arms of war ; she unveiled to all the principles of order and of peace that she kept in her, and became the organising element of societies, the support of power itself. It will be thus too for liberty. She has already had the same phases. In 1793, she terrified the peoples as much as she did the sovereigns ; then, having taken on softer forms, she crept in everywhere following our battalions. In 1815 all the parties adopted her flag, and leaning up her moral strength, covered themselves with its colours. The adoption was not sincere, and liberty was obliged to put on her war armour once more. With the struggle, fears reappeared. Let us hope that soon they will cease and that liberty will don her festival garments, to never more remove them.
The Emperor Napoleon contributed more than any other to hastening the reign of liberty, by saving the moral influence of the revolution, and by diminishing the fears that she inspired (1). Without the Consulate and the Empire, the revolution would have been nothing more than a great drama which leaves great memories, by few traces. The revolution would have drowned in the counter-revolution, whereas the reverse took place, because Napoleon rooted in France, and introduced everywhere in Europe, the principle benefactions of the great crisis of 1789, and because, to use his expressions, he untarnished the revolution, strengthened the kings, and ennobled the peoples. He untarnished the revolution by seperating the truths that she caused to triumph from the passions which, in their delirium, had blotted them out ; he strenghtened the kings by rendering power honoured and respectable ; he ennobled the peoples by giving them consciousness of their strength and these institutions which raise a man in his own eyes.
The Emperor should be considered to be the messiah of these new ideas. For, it must be said, in the moments which closely follow social upheaval, the important point is not to apply principles in all the subtlety of their theory, but to seize the regenerative genius, to identify with the sentiments of the people, and to lead them boldly toward the goal that they wish to reach. To be capable of accomplishing a like task, your fibre must reply to that of the people (2), that you feel as they do, and that your interests be so mixed with theirs, that you cannot vainquish or fall but together !
It is this union of sentiments, of instincts and of wills which made all the strength of the Emperor. It would be a grave mistake to believe that a great man is omnipotent and draws his strength only from within himself. To know how to sense, to seize opportunity and to guide, such are the foremost qualities of a superior genius. « I am on guard », Napoleon said, « against falling into the trap of men of modern systems, to believe myself to be, by myself and my ideas, the wisdom of the nations. The genius of the worker is to know how to use the materials that he has to hand ».
One of the foremost necessities for a government is to know the state of the country that it rules, and to know where are the elements of strength that it requires for support. The former monarchy had the nobility and the clergy for support, because at the time it was in these two classes that the two principle elements of strength resided, territorial wealth and moral influence. The revolution had destroyed all of this feudal edifice : she had moved interests, created new sources of power and wealth, caused new ideas to be born.
To attempt to bring back the Ancien Régime, to lean upon strengths which no longer had roots, would have been madness. The Emperor, at the same time as he re-established the old forms, based his authority only upon a young and vigourous sap, the new interests. He re-established religion, but without making of the clergy a means of government. So it was that the passing from republic to monarchy and the re-establishment of worship, instead of awakening fears, reassured the minds ; for, far from offending any interests, they satisfied political and moral needs, and responded to the wishes of the greatest number. In effect, if transformations had not been in the sentiments and the ideas of the majority, Napoleon would not have accomplished them ; for he sensed rightly, and wished to augment his moral power and not diminish it.
So it was that such great changes were never achieved with less effort. Napoleon had only to say « Let the churches be opened », and the faithful flowed in. He said to the nation « Do you wish for a hereditary succession ? » and the nation responded affirmatively with four million votes (3). For it is difficult to entirely divest yourself of the past; a generation has, like an individual, antecedents which dominate it. Our feelings are no more, for the most part, traditions. A slave to the memories of his childhood, man obeys, all his life, unsuspectingly, the impressions made upon him in his younger years, the tests and influences with which he has been confronted. The life of a people is subjected to the same general laws. A single day does not make of a 500 year old republic a hereditary monarchy, nor of a 1400 year monarchy an elective republic.
Behold Rome: for 500 years her republican forms placed her at the head of the world; for 500 years the elective system produced great men; and the dignity of consul, of senator, of tribune, was far above the thrones of kings, whom the Romains had known only by seeing them tied to the triumphal chariot of the victor. Thus, though Rome was no longer capable of bearing these centuries-old institutions which had made her grandeur and her strength, she conserved nonetheless, for 600 years still, under the emperors, the venerated forms of the Republic. Likewise, the French Republic, which succeeded a monarchy of 1400 years, of which the result had been to make a great and glorious France by the sole principle of monarchic centralisation, despite the vices and errors of the kings; likewise this republic, not only soon vested herself in the old forms, but from her origin she conserved the distinctive character of the monarchy, in proclaiming and by reinforcing by all means this centralisation of power that had been the vital element of French nationality.
Let us add to these considerations, that Napoleon and Caesar, who found themselves both in analogous circumstances, were bound to act for the same reasons in opposite directions. Both wished to rebuild with old forms upon new principles (4). Caesar was bound therefore to wish to preserve the republican forms, Napoleon re-established those of the monarchy.
At the turn of the 19th century, all ideas were borne toward the heredity of the Emperor’s power, be it by the traditional strength of old institutions, be it by the prestige that surrounded the man invested with authority, or lastly, be it by the desire for an order of affairs that would give a greater guarantee of stability. But the difficulty in establishing the Republic could be explained, perhaps, by another consideration. France was democratic since 1689; whereas, in a great European State, it is difficult to conceive of the existence of a republic without an aristocracy (5).
There are for any country two sorts of interests well distinct and often opposed: the general interests and the private interests; otherwise said, permanent interests and passing interests. The former do not change with the generations; their spirit passes from age to age by tradition rather than calculation. These interests can be only be represented by an aristocracy, or, failing which, a hereditary family. The passing, or private interests, on the contrary, change continually according to circumstances, and can only be well understood by delegates of the people, who, being constantly renewed, be the faithful expression of the needs and desires of the masses. But, France no longer having, and no longer being able to have an aristocracy, that is to say, one of these privileged bodies whose influence is great only because time has consecrated their authority, the Republic would have been deprived of this conservative power which, faithful guardian, though often oppressive, of the general and permanent interests, for centuries, in Rome, Venice and London, made the grandeur of these countries by simple perseverance in a national system.
To obviate this lack of fixedness and continuity, which is the greatest weakness of democratic republics, it was necessary to create a hereditary family, which would be the conservator of these general interests, and whose might would be based only upon the democratic spirit of the nation.
Opinions may differ on the value of these considerations; one may blame Napoleon for having surmounted, with a crown his republican laurels; one may blame the French people for having wished for and approved this change, all is liable to controversy. But there is a point upon which all those who recognise in the Emperor a great man must agree, which is, that even if he were mistaken, his intentions were necessarily always as lofty as his faculties. The height of inconsistency is to attribute to a great genius all the weaknesses of mediocrity.
There are however lower minds which, envious of the superiority of merit, seem to wish to avenge themselves by attributing to him their petty passions! Thus, instead of understanding that a great man can have been only directed by great conceptions, by reasons of State of the highest consequence, they say: “Napoleon made himself emperor from personal ambition; he surrounded himself with illustrious names of the Old Régime to satisfy his self-love; he spent the treasures of France and the purest of her blood, to aggrandise his might and to put his brothers on thrones; lastly, he married an Austrian arch-duchess to put a true princess in his bed.” “Have I thus reigned over intellectual pygmies, that they should have so little understood me?”, Napoleon cried out at Saint Helena in a moment of anger … Let his soul be consoled! The masses have long since rendered him justice; every day that passes, on discovering a plight that he healed, a wrong that he ripped out, explains enough his noble projects. And his great thoughts, which shine all the more brightly as the present grows darker, are like luminous lighthouses which draw our gaze, in the midst of darkness and tempests, toward a future of security!
- It was the fears which the French Revolution inspired in the sovereigns which stopped in their lands the progress introduced before 1789 by Joseph II, in Austria, and by Leopold, in Italy.
- The words of the Emperor.
- Certain persons would call into question the legitimacy of such an election; but thus, they also attack all of the constitutions of the Republic, for these constitutions did not even receive so strong an endorsement.
Voters – Approvers – Refusers
Constitution of 1791 not submitted to the acceptance of the people.
Constitution of 1793 – 1,801,018 11,600
Constitution of Year III – 1,507,390 49,977
Consulate 3,012,569 3,011,007 1,562
Consulate for Life 3,577,259 3,568,888 8,374
Hereditary Empire (1804) 3,524,254 3,521,675 2,579
4. The Emperor, in his « Précis des guerres de César », sufficiently proved that this great man never wished, and could never have wished, to make himself king: “As victor”, said Napoleon, “Caesar governed only as consul, dictator or tribune; he thus confirmed, rather than discredited them, the ancient forms of the Republic. Even Augustus, long afterwards, and when the republican generations had been destroyed by the proscriptions and the wars of the triumvirs, never thought of raising a throne. It would have been, on the part of Caesar, a strange policy to replace the curule chair of the conquerors of the world with the rotten, despised throne of the vanquished”.
5. I find in « Histoire de la révolution », by Monsieur Thiers, an analogous idea, in volume VIII, page 12. “On thinking better, one would have seen that an aristocratic body is more particularly suited to republics”. One might add that the aristocracy does not need a head, whereas the nature of democracy is to be personified in a man.