August 21, 2023


Ridley Scott's Napoleon: Was the French leader really a monster? (Neil Armstrong, 20th August 2023, BBC)

Philip Dwyer, professor of history at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and the author of a three-volume biography of Napoleon, doesn't think so. "You can have a debate about whether Napoleon was a tyrant or not - I'd be leaning towards the tyrant - but he was certainly no Hitler or Stalin, two authoritarian dictators who brutally repressed their own people, resulting in millions of deaths."

Some have even argued that the Empire was a 'police state' because there was a complex system of secret informers keeping tabs on public opinion," he continues. "But very few people - a number of aristocrats more or less involved in plots to overthrow the regime, a couple of journalists - were actually executed by Napoleon for their opposition. If I was going to compare Napoleon to anyone, then I would go back in history to Louis XIV, an absolute monarch who waged unnecessary wars costing thousands of lives.

"So too Napoleon waged wars  - again debatable whether they were necessary or not - costing the lives of millions of people, although we don't know how many civilians were killed directly or indirectly as a result of the wars." [...]

However Charles Esdaile, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Liverpool and the author of several books on Napoleon including Napoleon's Wars: An International History 1803-15, has a different view.

"I see Napoleon as a warlord," he says. "A man who was driven by personal ambition and who was absolutely ruthless. A man who had a very clear vision of the sort of France he needed to construct and, indeed, the sort of Europe he needed to construct, to support his war machine. Any idea that he was some sort of liberator, some sort of a man of the future - essentially this is all part of the Napoleonic legend.

Like his more murderous brethren, he was perfectly Rational.

Posted by at August 21, 2023 12:00 AM