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 III : INTERNAL MATTERS / QUESTION INTÉRIEURE
We have rapidly reviewed the administrative organisation of the Empire, and set in relief the principle material good works of this epoch. Let us now cast our eye over its political organisation.
Firstly, let me be permitted to say that I consider to be a misfortune, the fatal tendency we have in France to always wish to copy the institutions of foreign peoples, to adopt them amongst ourselves. Under the Republic we were Roman; then the English constitution appeared to be the masterpiece of civilisation; the titles of noble peer and honourable member seemed more liberal than those of tribune and senator, as if in France, this country [patrie] of honour, to be honourable was a title and not a quality. Finally, there later arose the American school. Shall we thus never be ourselves? England, it is true, has offered us for a long time a fine spectacle of parliamentary liberty. But what is the element of the English constitution, what is the base of the edifice? The aristocracy. Suppress it, and in England you would have nothing organised; “just as in Rome”, said Napoleon, “if we removed religion, nothing would remain”.
In the United States of America we also see great things; but where might we find a single likeness between this country and France? The United States have not yet become a social world; for the organisation of such a world presupposes fixedness and order; fixedness, attachment to the soil, to property, conditions impossible to fulfil, so long as the commercial spirit and the disproportion between the number of the inhabitants and the expanse of the territory will only make the land be seen as a commodity. Man has not yet taken root in America, he has not yet incorporated himself into the land; interests are personal and not territorial [See Tocqueville on this matter]. In America, commerce is first in line, next comes industry, and lastly agriculture; it is therefore Europe turned upside down.
In France, in many respects, is at the head of civilisation; and we seem to doubt that she might be able to give herself laws that be uniquely French, that is to say, laws adapted to our needs, modelled after our nature, subordinated to our political position! Let us take, from foreign countries, improvements that a long experience has consecrated; but let us keep in our laws the French form, instinct and spirit. “Politics”, a writer said, “is the application of History to the morals of societies” [Monsieur Daunou]. We may say as much of a constitution: the pact which links the various members of a society must draw its form from the experience of past times, its matter from the present state of this society, and its spirit from the future. A constitution should be made only for the nation to which one wishes to adapt it. It must be like a garment which, to be well made, must fit only a single man.
In political terms, the Emperor was only able to organise France provisionally; but all his institutions contained a seed of perfection that in peacetime he would have nurtured.
Let us observe first of all a truth, that when the French people proclaimed Napoleon emperor, France was so weary of continual disorder and changes, that everything contributed to investing the head of State with the most absolute power. The Emperor had therefore, no need to covet it, he had only, on the contrary, to refuse it to himself. As much as public opinion had demanded that the [executive] power be weakened, because it believed it to be hostile, just as much it was prepared to reinforce it, since it had seen it to be tutelary and reparative. It would have depended only upon Napoleon to have neither Legislative Body nor Senate, so much we were tired of these eternal discussions, prolonged, as he said himself, by a host of people who persisted in arguing over nuances of tone, before having ensured the triumph of the colour.
Emperor Napoleon did not commit the mistake of many statesmen, of wishing to subject the nation to an abstract theory, which then becomes, for a country, like the bed of Procrustes; he studied, on the contrary, with care, the character of the French people : their needs, their present state; and according to this data, he formulated a system, which he modified yet still in keeping with circumstances. “Where would I be”, he said, “facing all Europe, with a government that I was building in the midst of ruins, whose foundations were not yet set, and of which, at every instant, I must plan the forms with new circumstances that arise from the very variation of external policy; if I submitted several of these plans to absolute methods which allow no modifications, and which are only efficient because they are unchanging ?”