Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Napoleon: Enlightened or not?

OK, so this is a new post as well as a response to Sam's post and the comments people made on it.
If we define a enlightened despot as a ruler who has absolute power, but also rules with the ideas of the Enlightenment, then Napoleon was enlightened. He applied many of the Enlightenment's ideas while he ruled France. As Elise has already pointed out, he ended feudalism in France, going a step beyond enlightened despots such as Catherine and Frederick the Great. Napoleon supported scientific research and thought it was "the essential, rational foundation of modern knowledge" (pg. 410). Religious toleration was also a part of Napoleon's empire. Perhaps the greatest indicator of Napoleon's enlightenment is his belief that all men are created equal and want the same things. This is exhibited in his "careers open to talent" policy. If I remember correctly, we decided as a class that Joseph II of Austria was our most enlightened despot. He and Napoleon seem to have reformed the same things in their respective countries i.e. abolishing feudalism and religious toleration. To me, it seems that Napoleon's greatest mistake was the fact that he overreached himself. His ideas were good ones, but as Sam has already said, he tried to apply them everywhere using his military. Had he limited himself to France, he would have stayed in power much longer. Our book states that Napoleon: "carried over the rationalist and universalist outlook of the Age of Enlightenment" (pg. 406), "spoke endlessly of the enlightenment of the age" (pg. 410), and "may be thought of as the last and most eminent of the enlightened despots" (pg. 389).

8 comments:

Ben said...

I agree with you completely Sarah. I think that people are too quick to condemn him for the things he did wrong than to notice the things that he actually did right. I think that he should be put into the Enlightened Despot catagory given the things he did to further modernize France and Europe as a whole.

The Captain said...

YAY!! I WIN! :) Well, at least someone supports me. Thank you Sarah for your support. Its really easy to condemn the guy, I mean just look at all the countries/provinces he took over. the number of people he forced to fight in his Grand Army. But in the end as you said he just overreached himself. He tried to force too many people into a too different way of life than their previous (which led to Nationalism!!) But had those countries not gotten fed up with all his european uniformity he would have been more popular than Louis XVI.

Hilary Kane said...

I would agree that Napoleon was an enlightened ruler. However, when we mention him overreaching, it shows good intentions, but not necessarily strong, enlightened rule. Many of the enlightened despots focused strongly on centralization and organization of their territory. Napoleon strived for this centralization, but by overreaching, he failed keep his states united and efficient.

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ivoryowl said...

I agree with Hilary. Yes he brought many enlightened policies to France but should he be considered enlightened when he failed in such a prominent "rule" of enlightenment? Yes it is easy to condemn him, but how can one not when he DECLARED himself emperor and forced people into things that they didn't want to do including his grand army? (I personally believe he got what he deserved.) What are other things that make Napoleon not enlightened?

ivoryowl said...

I agree with Hilary. Yes he brought many enlightened policies to France but should he be considered enlightened when he failed in such a prominent "rule" of enlightenment? Yes it is easy to condemn him, but how can one not when he DECLARED himself emperor and forced people into things that they didn't want to do including his grand army? (I personally believe he got what he deserved.) What are other things that make Napoleon not enlightened?

ivoryowl said...

I agree with Hilary. Yes he brought many enlightened policies to France but should he be considered enlightened when he failed in such a prominent "rule" of enlightenment? Yes it is easy to condemn him, but how can one not when he DECLARED himself emperor and forced people into things that they didn't want to do including his grand army? (I personally believe he got what he deserved.) What are other things that make Napoleon not enlightened?

suvam seal said...

Indeed he got what he deserved. A man born into a barely aristocratic family became ruler of most of continental Europe.that's what a man of such genius deserves