It happened today - October 4, 2015
On this day in history, Napoleon struck again for the first time. In 1795, he helped rout a Royalist mob in the streets of Paris with his infamous “whiff of grapeshot,” catapulting him to command of the French armies in Italy and ultimately to imperial power. And for what?
I get that Napoleon didn’t like disorder and was contemptuously impatient with nonsense. And he was also without question a great military strategist and tactician. He rose rapidly from obscurity to supreme power within France and made a valiant effort to conquer Europe, Britain and much of the New World. And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those darn Anglo-Saxons.
Along the way, Bonaparte confirmed the maxim “Don’t attack the Anglosphere.” And helped to exhaust France, which should have been content with excellence and not been obsessed with greatness and glory. But to me he’s like Julius Caesar, a man of many admirable qualities, a giant among dwarves in many respects, but one whose whole career seems to have no point and ends in unlamented disaster.
What exactly did Napoleon want to do with all that power? He doesn’t seem to have had much of a social agenda and what he had seems incoherent and pointless. Obviously he enjoyed planning and winning battles. But as an end in itself a military career is gory and vainglorious.
Conrad Black recently argued that if Napoleon had conquered Europe the 20th century would have gone much better than it did. I doubt it, not least because with men like Napoleon, Caesar or Alexander the “Great” the appetite grows with the eating. And I think it grows partly because the conquests have no purpose beyond personal aggrandizement and further conquest.
I suspect the mob Napoleon dispersed needed dispersing. But after that, well, frankly, so did he as far as I can tell.