A STEEL-cameralist Manifesto Part 1: Caesar Himself.




n study

A philosopher who argues for exceptional types must also argue for exceptional measures.

Reflecting on the first time he saw the Emperor Napoleon, Heinrich Heine, the so-called ‘panegyrist of Napoleon’, also describes him as a law unto himself, the state of exception incarnate, a veritable force of nature.

Nietzsche and Napoleon: the Dionysian Conspiracy. Don Dombowsky.

Therefore, my own designs are inspired by the experience of Hitler, Muhammad, and Jesus. As well as Octavian, Franco, and William I. Also important to my thinking are Frederick the Great, Mussolini, and Napoleon. And we can’t forget a few American luminaries, such as Ben Hill, J. Edgar Hoover, and Harry Hopkins. History is largely the study of political force, which is an extension of military force. Generals must study generalship by studying battles – any battles, all battles, without regard to the character or merits of the participants. Those who aim to design any system of political force must likewise learn from any and all parties, leaders and movements of the past, American or foreign, vicious or virtuous.

Mencius Moldbug.

There is no such creature as “political engineering”. In correspondence, Moldbug rejects this criticism categorically; citing the school of thought dating back to Machiavelli and historical examples such as Napoleon’s legal code, which persisted across continental Europe long after the emperor himself was permanently dethroned. Maybe there’s something here.

Adam Gurri.

The idea of God is very useful,’ Napoleon said, ‘to maintain good order, to keep men in the path of virtue and to keep them from crime.’ ‘To robbers and galley slaves, physical restrictions are imposed,’ he said to Dr Barry O’Meara on St Helena, ‘to enlightened people, moral ones. 

Napoleon made little effort to conceal his role-model as a lawgiver, civil engineer and nation-builder.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

In the different phases of these relations, my opinion of Napoleon has never varied. I have seen and studied him in the moments of his greatest success ; I have seen and followed him in those of his decline; and though he may have attempted to induce me to form wrong conclusions about him—as it was often his interest to do—he has never succeeded. I may then flatter myself with having seized the essential traits of his character, and with having formed an impartial judgment with respect to it, while the great majority of his contemporaries have seen as it were through a prism only the brilliant sides and the defective or evil sides of a man whom the force of circumstances and great personal qualities raised to a height of power unexampled in modern history.

Memoirs of Prince Metternich.
Prince Metternich.

Better one bad general than two good ones.

Napoleon Bonaparte.

Precisely a century and a year after this of Puritanism had got itself hushed up into decent composure, and its results made smooth, in 1688, there broke out a far deeper explosion, much more difficult to hush up, known to all mortals, and like to be long known, by the name of French Revolution. It is properly the third and final act of Protestantism; the explosive confused return of mankind to Reality and Fact, now that they were perishing of Semblance and Sham. We call our English Puritanism the second act: “Well then, the Bible is true; let us go by the Bible!” “In Church,” said Luther;In Church and State,” said Cromwell, “let us go by what actually is God’s Truth.” Men have to return to reality; they cannot live on semblance. The French Revolution, or third act, we may well call the final one; for lower than that savage Sansculottism men cannot go. They stand there on the nakedest haggard Fact, undeniable in all seasons and circumstances; and may and must begin again confidently to build up from that. The French explosion, like the English one, got its King,—who had no Notary parchment to show for himself. We have still to glance for a moment at Napoleon, our second modern King.


Yet Napoleon had a sincerity: we are to distinguish between what is superficial and what is fundamental in insincerity. Across these outer manoeuverings and quackeries of his, which were many and most blamable, let us discern withal that the man had a certain instinctive ineradicable feeling for reality…

Napoleon, in his first period, was a true Democrat. And yet by the nature of him, fostered too by his military trade, he knew that Democracy, if it were a true thing at all, could not be an anarchy: the man had a heart-hatred for anarchy. On that Twentieth of June (1792), Bourrienne and he sat in a coffee-house, as the mob rolled by: Napoleon expresses the deepest contempt for persons in authority that they do not restrain this rabble.


Through Wagrams, Austerlitzes; triumph after triumph,—he triumphed so far. There was an eye to see in this man, a soul to dare and do. He rose naturally to be the King. All men saw that he was such. The common soldiers used to say on the march: “These babbling Avocats, up at Paris; all talk and no work! What wonder it runs all wrong? We shall have to go and put our Petit Caporal there!” They went, and put him there; they and France at large. Chief-consulship, Emperorship, victory over Europe;—till the poor Lieutenant of La Fere, not unnaturally, might seem to himself the greatest of all men that had been in the world for some ages.

On Heroes, Hereoism and the Heroic in History.”Thomas Carlyle

(The Romans even had a word for a monarch – the good old Latin Rex. No Roman emperor, however dissolute, autocratic or hubristic, ever adopted the title of king. “Emperor” is simply an anglicization of Imperator, meaning “Commander” – ie, a general.)

Mencius Moldbug.

True wisdom, so far as a general is concerned, consists in energetic determination.

General Bonaparte.


Act 1: The Commander and the Crisis of the Cathedral.


Part 1: Caesar Himself.

Part 2: A Dionysian Conspiracy.

The Inciting Incident

Part 3: The Age of Crisis.

Act 2: Never Such Innocence Again.


Part 4: American Fascism.

The Confrontation

Part 5: The American Minotaur of War.

The Companions

Part 6: Neoreactionary Conflict, Consensus, Confusion?

Act 3: A STEEL-cameralist Manifesto.

Statecraft of STEEL

Part 7: STEEL-cameralist Statecraft.

War Makes the State and the State Makes War

Part 8: Cameralism, Neo-cameralism and STEEL-cameralism Compared and Contrasted.

A State of STEEL

Part 9: STEEL-cameralist Grand Strategy, Geo-Economics and Legal Philosophy.

The Steelmanned State

Part 10: The Structure of the STEEL-cameralist State and Philosophy of Command.

Applied STEEL-cameralism

Part 11: A Study in STEEL: 9/11.

Part 12: A Study in STEEL: Urban Renewal.


Towards the Dark Enlightenment.

Part 13: Ten Steps to Unqualified Enlightenment.

Part 1: Caesar Himself.

Introduction: Why Napoleon Matters.

1: Imperial Energy.

2: Master of the Revolution.

3: Master of War.

4: Master of Religion.

5: Master of Law and Order.

6: Master of Coin.

7: Master of Education.

8: Master of the Cathedral.

9: Master of the Masses.

10: Master of France.

Introduction: Why Napoleon Matters.

Grand Master Mencius once called himself a “Carlylean; Thomas Carlyle was the Master’s “Jesus”.

I could call myself a Bonapartean, because Napoleon Bonaparte is my “Muhammad”. A Bonapartean is not, however similar, a Bonpartist

I was thirteen years old when I first read the biography of Julius Caesar; throughout my reading, I asked myself: how can such a man have lived? Later, in college, I read more biographies of Caesar, and the Roman world in general, for relaxation and entertainment; yet this time, as I grasped the political scene, I was struck by the similarities between the late, Roman Republic and today’s ( circa 2009) America: the factionalism, the corruption and the constant warring in foreign countries. However, what stood out most to me was a perverse, exponential feedback loop: between war, slavery, plebeian poverty, populism and patrician obstinacy – all leading to the Roman Revolution.  

Rome needed men to fight and hold territory. More and more men, especially men from plebeian backgrounds, were thus recruited into the Legions. These men had no skills, no property, and no job – except fighting – and when they were released from service, after many years, they were often left destitute.

One factor that left them destitute was that these ex-Legionaries could not find work because of slavery. As Rome grew, so did its military and so did its slave population: more conquests = more slaves; more slaves = less work for the plebs; less work for the plebs = political opportunities for ambitious, young, aristocrats like Julius Caesar.

It was the patricians who bought and worked the slaves on their farms and households – work that could have been done by the plebeians. The financial security of both Legionaries and plebeians thus grew fragile – they were the “precariat” class of their day.

Reforms were attempted, but the elite jealously and fearfully held tight to their wealth and privilege because to “begin reform is to begin revolution” as Lord Wellington once put it.

The “optimates” used violence against the plebeians and their leaders like the Gracchi. Once violence was deployed by the optimates – which was defensive, but foolish – the Republic was locked in a trap of escalating conflict.

Furthermore, as Rome grew, so did the opportunities for personal enrichment and glory; yet, the state became more and more ungovernable; the usual, traditional, customary processes were no longer functioning.

Marius, Sulla and Pompey – these three men were, given Republican tradition, extraordinary and often acted in an “extra-legal” manner.

All three men had power, because they were Commanders of Roman Legionaries. The plebeian Legionaries were bound to these men via fear of poverty, their own financial self-interest and perhaps, for some at least, kinship and affection.

The pressure gradually built to an explosive moment of bloody decision between the plebeians, their populist patrons, and the ruling optimates.

The ambitious, parvenu, Pompey “Magnus” needed farmland to settle his veterans but the optimates of the senate refused to compromise. To compromise meant selling their land.


Rome needed to be governed. The feedback loop starting with imperial expansion, then slavery, then plebeian disenfranchisement, then factionalism, then fear and resentment and then incoherent, corrupt, incompetent governance produced, after many decades, after men like Marius, Sulla and Pompey…… Julius Caesar.

Plutarch thinks that Caesar was aiming for the purple from the start; however, it is hard to argue that Caesar was not necessary for the good of Rome. It is, in the final analysis, impossible to distinguish between reforms that were good for the state or just good for Caesar.

Caesar was a poet, a soldier, a lawyer, a politician, a statesman, a General, A Pope, a Dictator and a GOD.

Caesar: the universal man, the man of action and reason; a man of charisma and confidence, a clear, cool, unromantic commander. Caesar’s life and his cruel dénouement is better than any fictional tale, better than any imaginable tragedy.

So I asked myself: is there anyone else who can compare with Caesar?

Napoleon Bonaparte.


Napoleon Bonaparte’s personal achievements in life are more spectacular and greater than Julius Caesar’s; nevertheless, Caesar is the better man – more dignified, nobler and more honest. One never gets the sense of sheer criminal genius with Caesar, as one does with the life of Bonaparte – despite the fact of that they were both, essentially, Southern European Italians.

And make no mistake, Napoleon was a criminal, but he was a criminal in the age of criminals, in a nation of criminals.

To the STEEL-cameralist, and to the Bonapartean, government is, in reality, a criminal enterprise.

Politicians are liars, frauds, charlatans, actors, hucksters, shysters, extortionists and racketeers, warlords and murderers. Metternich (see below) claimed that Bonaparte lied because Bonaparte considered Paris to be an “opera”; it operated via theatre and pretence.

Government is not a charity, nor is it a Church; Government is Organised Criminality.

The Hooligans Change; but the Hooliganism remains the Same.

Money and power is what it’s all about.

For the state, and its operators, during peacetime, it’s all about preparing the state for war, and getting rich; in wartime, it’s all about warring, and getting rich.

Bonaparte’s army plundered the countries they conquered; they made war pay for war.

To a Bonapartean, like the Machiavellian, government is based on force and fraud. The form of the constitution, the form of the moral system, the form of the religion, rarely, if ever, matches the reality, the results and the consequences.

To a Bonapartean, however, they neither rejoice in the force, or in the fraud; they labour, with grim determination, to keep the devil down in his hole. To a Bonapartean, the devil is the mob, the herd, the howling, ignorant mass of men and women. To a Bonapartean, like the Carlylean, they see liberals as fools and frauds who think that by cutting the straps off the devil, they can make him nice, make him a Gentleman. 

A Bonapartean, unlike a Carlylean however, sees that most men and nearly all women are but children who need lies as well as carrots and sticks, and Sticks.

Napoleon Bonaparte matters because he shows us what politics really is all about: power, fear and self-interest. The second reason Bonaparte matters is his example of a reboot. As you will see, his legal, economic, educational and civil reforms – and his method of execution – are a rich resource to study and contemplate.

The third reason why Bonaparte matters is that he shows us that the state exists for the purpose of  waging war.

Finally, he shows us that real reform, real restructuring, require the leadership, the executive guidance and control of one, exemplary, man – not a council, or a committee or a congress.

A ruler or a leader always needs a core group of essentials those people upon which the ruler relies on as essential for his power, however. Napoleon had his guides, later his Imperial Guards and his Generals who later became his Marshals.

It was the Marshals who were the “essentials”and served as the foundation of Bonaparte’s power – not the middle-class, the bankers or the priests.

However, after his disastrous Russian campaign, it was the Marshalls who, essentially, fired Napoleon.

Here we see the seeds of something which separates Royalism or absolutism and Neo-Royalism: the need for a responsibility mechanism, a failsafe mechanism, a mechanism that allows for the transfer of sovereignty in the case of catastrophic sovereign failure; better yet, a mechanism to prevent such things from happening in the first place.

The Marshalls behaved like the Boards of Directors of a Corporation who fired their Chief Executive Officer. If the Marshalls were the Directors, then the soldiers were the shareholders of the Bonapartist state.

The design flaw of the Bonapartist empire was that the regime was informal: where the form of power (Napoleon as Emperor) did not match the reality of power (Napoleon as CEO just so long as the Directors and the shareholders were happy with him).

In a formalist Bonapartist regime, if the Marshalls really were Directors and if soldiers really were shareholders, along with the other “notables”, then maybe Napoleon would not have impudently invaded both Spain and Russia and simply waged war after war with no grand strategic purpose because the Directors (Marshalls) would have overruled and or replaced him.

Bonaparte was often wrong; indeed, he was, in the final analysis, catastrophically and spectacularly wrong. The origins and nature of his failure are deeply instructive; they are essentially twofold: psychological and institutional.

On the psychological level, Bonaparte failed to form, develop and maintain a grand strategy and the necessary, psychological discipline to stick to it.

In war, success is not cumulative. In business, success – profit – is cumulative; produce more, produce cheaply, sell more and expand, expand and expand – this is success in business, but not in war, or in statecraft either.

Strategy is paradoxical. One paradox is that even if you have the means of using violence to crush your enemy, you should not (always) do so. Why? Because in Bonaparte’s case it led to his enemies coalescing against him, learning his strategy, his tactics and becoming stronger via a kind of  battlefield natural selection mechanism. Paradoxically, Bonaparte’s strategy after Tilsit should have been to aggressively pursue peace. This required discipline. It required Bonaparte to suffer the insults and propaganda of the English; it required lifting many (though not all) of the restrictions on trade; it required diplomacy and a patience with other European powers; it required disciplining and slowly defusing the explosive quality of French society and building actual, solid foundations for a permanent Empire.

In short, it required Bonaparte to transform himself from Caesar to Augustus – a move he was psychologically incapable of making.

Bonaparte, by becoming Emperor, and by marrying Marie Louise – daughter of the Austrian Emperor, Francis II – who produced a son for Bonaparte, which guaranteed that Bonaparte’s throne was secure, that he had been accepted as the de jure ruler of France. Bonaparte effectively had formalised (by the standards of the time) his power. If he had waited ten years, he could have placed his son, backed with Austria, on the throne and retired.

Again, Bonaparte was incapable of doing this, but the system itself provided him few restraints and little constraints that would have prevented him and France from Catastrophe.

The reason for this leads us to the second failure: institutional failure.

As Bonaparte became more powerful, it became more necessary that the full scope and scale of his power was not exercised.

Again, this is paradoxical. For Bonaparte, and for France, the best strategy for both was for him to transition to a role in which he set the overall priorities, selected people to run the country and exercised a veto over war, diplomacy and the economy, but became less involved in the running of the country and its diplomacy with other states.

The problem with Royalism or dictatorship (two different things, though at times similar) is the lack of an Exit for a ruler or leader. Since government is a mafia, looking at the Mafia is quite instructive.

Why didn’t or why couldn’t someone like John Gotti or Pablo Escobar just sell up and ship out? Michael (Godfather) Corleone, after years of trying to escape, said: “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Again, men like Gotti and Bonaparte do not want to give up power – they love it; secondly, even if they did want to give up, they cannot because no one retires from the mafia.

The formal reason is the rules of the game, but the real reason is the logic of Power itself.

When the King retreats, the Aristocrats advance and attack; when the King advances, the Aristocrats retreat and undermine; when the King stops, the Aristocrats advance.

Grand Master Mencius, despite the fact that he has never fired a weapon, participated in a war or ran a criminal organisation – such as a government agency – has an eye that is as realist as Bonaparte’s.

These men saw the real nature of the game, the real rules of the road and both grasped the nettle like men of metal – men of STEEL.

Consider the possibility, in an alternative world, were men like Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi could sell their informal ownership and control for real, formalised, ownership and control and later cash themselves, and their key, essential, subordinates out of the business to spend a life of decadent luxury in Las Vegas or a religious monastery in the hills.

The advantage (for the state and people) is that their leader’s Exit and transfer of power for cold, hard cash allows for stability and continuity of the regime. Trading power for wealth – via shares – serves as a Shelling point for negotiations and conflict resolution because at the end of the day nearly everyone can be bought.

Crucially, however, for the state, such a mechanism allows for long-term “thinking”, rational development and the ability to adapt – quickly and decisively – in a crisis: dangerous or ineffective rulers can be removed and new rulers with new strategies can be employed. (We will consider such things later, including the use of crypto-technologies.)

To achieve this however, it requires political engineering and political engineers.

For political engineers, Bonaparte matters because he was one of the greatest political engineers in history; he was an engineer – not just a theorist like Machiavelli or even Grand Master Mencius.


Bonaparte was that rare thing: a loquacious soldier, a philosopher-king. Like Augustus (“Have I played my part well? Then let me depart.”), Bonaparte understood the theatricality of governing, the mask of command. Again, as he said to Metternich, Paris was an “opera.”

In the same way that Grand Master Mencius developed a potent formula that is formalism and neocameralism by mixing together many different ingredients, STEEL-cameralism is a narcotic that is created by shaking up Grand Master Mencius and stirring in the Emperor Napoleon.

Finally, many reactionaries, I presume, consider Napoleon a revolutionary.

Napoleon, on the contrary, as will be shown, was a reactionary.

Napoleon, again, is that rare thing: a figure that traditional religious people could get behind, a man who had respect for the use though not the truth of religion and lastly someone who was the myth and model of Nietzsche’s pagan “Aristocratic Radicalism”.

This week, we will survey his relevant accomplishments. The following should be considered as an invitation to think about and study the life and work of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Next week, we consider a “philosophical” interpretation of the meaning and significance of Bonaparte among three reactionaries: Metternich, Carlyle and Nietzsche.

The following extracts are – rather generously – taken from a range of books about Bonaparte. ( I never intended this work to grow to such length; you can think of the following bricolage as experimental.)

I recommend starting with the following; the memories of Prince Metternich, volume II, which contains a short, scrupulous, fair and perceptive analysis and accurate judgement of Bonaparte; David Chandler’s the Campaigns of Napoleon is a fantastic resource, though mostly focused on military matters; scholar, Don Dombosky’s Nietzsche and Napoleon is a fascinating analysis of Nietzsche’s fascination with Napoleon.

Finally, the idea for using the word “STEEL” came from this master; the term “Imperial Energy” is owned to my exchange with this master. I also want to express my gratitude to the Social Matter men for regularly listing my entries from a different blog. The current focus of SM is statecraftSTEEL-cameralism is one possibility for a philosophy and technology of statecraft.

So, I present Napoleon Bonaparte: the first and last man of Europe.

1: Imperial Energy.

He was Caesar himself.

 Karl Marx.

His presence on the field makes the difference of forty thousand men.

Lord Wellington.  

Under normal conditions, after a final conference with Bacler d’Albe the Emperor retired to his camp bed about eight or nine o’clock to take four or five hours sleep, the faithful Roustam sleeping across his door. Even then, however, the harassed Household could hardly relax. At any moment an imperious voice might be heard calling for a secretary or an aide to take dictation, and woe betide any individual who was away from his post, even momentarily, when the Imperial summons came at any hour of day or night. Nervous breakdowns were not unknown phenomena among the personnel of the Imperial entourage; the strain of serving a genius was both exacting and ceaseless.

The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

Napoleon was the man! Always illuminated, always clear and decided, and endowed at every hour with energy enough to carry out whatever he considered necessary. His life was the stride of a demigod, from battle to battle, and from victory to victory. It might well be said that he was in a state of continual illumination. On this account, his destiny was more brilliant than any the world had seen before him, or perhaps will ever see after him . . . that was a fellow we cannot imitate!


Reflecting on the first time he saw the Emperor Napoleon, Heinrich Heine, the so-called ‘panegyrist of Napoleon’, also describes him as a law unto himself, the state of exception incarnate, a veritable force of nature.

Quoted from Nietzsche and Napoleon: a Dionysian Conspiracy. Don Dombosky.

He (Pinochet) always expressed great admiration for the life and work of Napoleon.

The New York Times.

Napoleon made little effort to conceal his role-model as a lawgiver, civil engineer and nation-builder…..Caesar……

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

Napoleon was beginning to impress even the sceptics as a man who could do anything; first there was his military talent, then his diplomatic skill, next his administrative ability and finally his prowess as a legislator.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.

The Emperor Napoleon.

Raised by the Revolution to the summit of power, Napoleon endeavoured to prop up by monarchical institutions the throne he had made for himself. The destructive parties, having to do with a man equally great as a statesman and as a general, who knew his country and the spirit of the nation better than any who ever guided the destinies of France, were above all anxious to save from the wreck of their works all they could secure from the encroachments of the Imperial power. These efforts were impotent ; but they were not the less worthy of observation.

The Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Prince Metternich.

Napoleon’s divisional commanders were immediately impressed by his capacity for hard work. Subordinates could never say they would attend to something and then let it slide, and the staff who had been stationary in Nice for four years suddenly felt the pulsating effect of Napoleon’s energy.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

2: Master of the Revolution.


Consul Napoleon.

When I was young,’ he said to me; ‘ I was revolutionary from ignorance and ambition. At the age of reason, I have followed its counsels and my own instinct, and I crushed the revolution.

August 29, 1823. — There was but one single man in France who understood how to master the Revolution, and that man was Bonaparte. The King’s Government inherited from him, not the Revolution, but the counter-Revolution….

Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Prince Metternich.

Napoleon was in Paris on June 20, 1792 when the mob invaded the Tuileries, captured Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and forced the king to wear a red cap of liberty on the palace balcony. Bourrienne had met him at a restaurant on the rue Saint-Honoré, and when they saw a heavily armed crowd marching towards the palace, he claims that Napoleon said, ‘Let’s follow the rabble.’ Taking their place on the riverside terrace, they then watched with (presumably well-disguised) ‘surprise and indignation’ the historic scenes that followed. Two days later Napoleon described them to Joseph:

Between seven and eight thousand men armed with pikes, axes, swords, guns, spits, sharpened sticks … went to the king. The Tuileries gardens were closed and 15,000 National Guards were on guard there. They broke down the gates, entered the palace, pointed the cannon at the king’s apartment, threw four doors to the ground, and presented the king with two cockades, one white [the Bourbon colour] and the other tricolour. They made him choose. Choose, they said, whether you reign here or in Coblenz. The king presented himself. He put on a red bonnet. So did the queen and the royal prince. They gave the king a drink. They stayed in the palace for four hours … All this is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent. It is hard to predict what will happen to the empire in such stormy circumstances.

Bourrienne later reported that Napoleon remarked: ‘What madness! How could they allow that rabble to enter? Why do they not sweep away four or five hundred of them with cannon? Then the rest would take themselves off very quickly.’ The humiliation of the royal family on that occasion further lowered the monarchy in Napoleon’s estimation. He supported the toppling of the king but could not understand why Louis XVI had meekly allowed himself to be humiliated. As it was, the royal couple had less than two months of this hazardous liberty left to them.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

We have done with the romance of the Revolution,’ he told an early meeting of his Conseil État, ‘we must now commence its history.’ Napoleon gave the Conseil direction, purpose and the general lines of policy, which have been accurately summed up as ‘a love of authority, realism, contempt for privilege and abstract rights, scrupulous attention to detail and respect for an orderly social hierarchy.

He was not at all embarrassed by the little knowledge he had about the details of general administration. He asked many questions, asked for the definition and meaning of the most common words; he provoked discussion and kept it going until his opinion was formed. In one debate this man, who is so often portrayed as a raging egomaniac, admitted to the aged and respected jurist François Tronchet ‘Sometimes in these discussions I have said things which a quarter of an hour later I have found were all wrong. I have no wish to pass for being worth more than I really am.’

The Conseil discussed an extraordinary range of issues. On the single day of June 17, 1802, to take an example at random, its agenda covered the examination of surgeons; the organization of chemists; the appointment of sub-prefects to important arrondissements; the state of the harvest; Maltese refugees; a draft law concerning the National Guard; responsibility for roadworks; the government of the commissariat; pawnbroking; “larger communes’ accounts; gamekeepers; the chambers of commerce; the law allowing émigrés right of return to specific regions; electoral law; bridge-building in the Ardèche; merging two Corsican departments into one; and demarcating those on the left bank of the Rhine.

Some Conseil meetings lasted eight to ten hours, and Chaptal recalled that it was always Napoleon ‘who expended the most in terms of words and mental strain. After these meetings, he would convene others on different matters, and never was his mind seen to flag.’ When members were tired during all-night sessions he would say: ‘Come, sirs, we haven’t earned our salaries yet!’ (After they ended, sometimes at 5 a.m., he would take a bath, in the belief that ‘One hour in the bath is worth four hours of sleep to me.’) Other than on the battlefield itself, it was here that Napoleon was at his most impressive. His councillors bear uniform witness – whether they later supported or abandoned him, whether they were writing contemporaneously or long after his fall – to his deliberative powers, his dynamism, the speed with which he grasped a subject, and the tenacity “never to let it go until he had mastered its essentials and taken the necessary decision. ‘Still young and rather untutored in the different areas of administration,’ recalled one of them of the early days of the Consulate, ‘he brought to the discussions a clarity, a precision, a strength of reason and range of views that astonished us. A tireless worker with inexhaustible resources, he linked and co-ordinated the facts and opinions scattered throughout a large administration system with unparalleled wisdom.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

A third source of potential opposition was the Church. Bonaparte was well aware of the deep-seated conservatism of the French peasantry in religious matters and he set himself to harness this loyalty for his own benefit by seeking a reconciliation with the Papacy. “The people must have a religion,” he once remarked, “and that religion must be in the hands of the Government.

This was probably the boldest decision of his life and in some ways was one of the heaviest blows he aimed against the Revolutionary settlement. Republican sympathizers in the Council of Ministers, freethinkers in the Tribunate and, most significantly of all, the violently secular partisans in the army, all raised a storm of protest at the proposed Concordat, and Bonaparte was forced to see it through virtually singlehanded. Although the formal treaty was signed with the Papal envoys in July 1801, Bonaparte only dared publish the articles a year later, and even then the matter called for great personal courage and determination. The advantages, however, far outweighed the risks involved. At one blow, the First Consul knocked away one of the Royalists’ most effective propaganda weapons; henceforward the Bourbons could no longer be represented as the sole defenders of the Christian traditions of France. At the same time it assisted the pacification of La Vendée, and improved the Consulate’s relations with Catholic Belgium and Italy.

First Consul also made ruthless use of the executive clauses of the Organic Articles to remove Bourbonist bishops and to turn the ordinary clergy into State stipendiaries and educationalists; he was to find the pulpit a most useful means of disseminating propaganda to the peasantry in the years that followed.

Another source of difficulty in 1800 was the indifferent attitude of many of his senior servants and generals. The men at the top were clearly more concerned with assuring the continuation of their personal careers than in identifying themselves body and soul with their present leader. The preceding ten years had seen heads of government come and go, and many members of the upper-middle classes had become experts in survival after the manner of the Vicar of Bray. The problem of the “trimmers” in high places was tackled with customary Napoleonic zeal and cunning. Determined to make the most of the innate snobbery of the French bourgeoisie, the First Consul instituted an awards system in 1801, the first medals and titles of the Légion d’Honneur being distributed the following May. The proposal faced a new storm of protest from the legislative chambers on the grounds that it threatened to destroy the revolutionary principle of égalité, but the Government forced the measure through in the usual manner under the conviction that “it is with baubles that men are led.” Bonaparte was convinced that any society needs a definite social hierarchy to be truly prosperous and disciplined and he deliberately set out to re-create one in France, but the means to preferment was ability, not birth or station. The coveted white-enamel crosses on their strips of red ribbon proved a useful means of binding men to his service, although the returned aristocracy disdained the new decoration, considering it no substitute for the ancient Orders of St. Louis or St. Esprit. Striving to achieve a stratified French society, Napoleon went a stage further in 1804 when he created the beginnings of a new nobility; at first the greater number of titles were awarded to his family, court functionaries and a few soldiers of distinction, being used to supplement the creation of the Marshalate in the same year. Each of the eighteen marshals was eventually given the title of duke and a large grant of lands and hard cash to enable them to keep up the standards of their new stations in life.

This building of a new social élite undoubtedly represented a departure from the ideal of social equality enunciated by the leaders of the early Revolution….

The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

Yet the sequel to the ‘infernal machine’ showed Napoleon for once outfoxing the fox. He was determined to use the occasion to purge the Left opposition and, despite reluctance from his colleagues, he forced through an extraordinary measure: 130 known republicans were dubbed ‘terrorist’ and proscribed without legal process. They were then either interned or sent to a slow “death in Guyana and Devil’s Island. An enraged Fouché took no more than a few days to bring Napoleon incontrovertible proof that the perpetrators of the ‘infernal machine’ were royalist, not republicans. Napoleon authorized the guillotining of the new batch of prisoners but did not free the deported Jacobins. His cunning emerges in the wording of the emergency decree, which condemned the 130 Jacobins in phrases which referred to the safety of the state in general, not to the Christmas Eve outrage.

Throughout the year 1800 Napoleon proved himself a master at navigating the political shoals, playing off one party against another, now appearing to incline to the Right, now to the Left. He leaked his correspondence with Louis XVIII to the Jacobins to show that he had no royalist sympathies, then purged the Jacobins to reassure the Right.

It will be clear enough from the foregoing that in no sense can Napoleon be considered an heir of the French Revolution and its principles. It is possible to see him as a man of the Revolution “only if one ignores the social and political tendencies of the early years 1789 – 93, to say nothing of the radical phase in 1793 – 94. Those who claim that Napoleon was in tune with Revolutionary principles are forced back on the absurd argument that the Revolution was really about returning to the status quo ante, before the legacy of the American war of 1775 – 83, which almost bankrupted France, forced Louis XVI to tamper with a fragile social fabric. On this view the Revolution was purely an economic and administrative transformation, and Jacobinism was simply the Revolution taking a wrong turning; equality and fraternity and all the rest of it was just so much hot air. Another influential view is that French history is a perennial quest for social order, which is why it is punctuated by bouts of absolutism and Caesarism; the obvious implication is that Napoleon was an organic growth but the Revolution was an aberration.

Napoleon himself always made his position crystal-clear to his intimates. He told them he became disenchanted with the Jacobins very early because they prized equality over liberty. He always favoured the old nobility over the Jacobins and, beyond France, his attempts to introduce even the most basic rights of the Revolution were spasmodic. Outside France, administrative positions in the conquered territories were invariably filled by nobles, which made it impossible to carry out radical agrarian reforms and in turn meant that the peasantry outside France was always lukewarm about him. His apologists say that he favoured the foreign nobility because of the poor level of education outside France, but the truth is that for Napoleon la carrière ouverte aux talents was largely a meaningless slogan. As he once told Molé explicitly, the ideas of 1789 were ‘nothing but weapons in the hands of malcontents, ambitious men and ideologues’.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

3: Master of War.

Among men like these let there arise— there cannot but arise— some vast genius. He will lay hands, as it were, on the knowledge of all the community, will create the political system, put himself at the head of the machine and give the impulse of its movement.

Guibert. Quoted from The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

Better one bad general than two good ones.

General Bonaparte

All wars should be systematic

A good general, good officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, good organization, good instruction and strict discipline make good troops independently of the cause for which they are fighting. But enthusiasm, love of country and the desire of contributing to the national glory may also animate young troops with advantage.

Nothing is more important in war than unity in command. When, therefore, you are carrying on hostilities against a single power only, you should have but one army acting on one line and led by one commander.

The effect of discussions, making a show of talent, and calling councils of war will be what the effect of these things has been in every age: they will end in the adoption of the most pusillanimous or (if the expression be preferred) the most prudent measures, which in war are almost uniformly the worst that can be adopted. True wisdom, so far as a general is concerned, consists in energetic determination.

The conduct of a general in a conquered country is encompassed with difficulties. If he is severe, he exasperates and increases the number of his enemies; if he is mild, he inspires hopes which, since they cannot be realized, cause the abuses and vexations unavoidably incident to war only to stand out in bolder relief. A conqueror should know how to employ by turns severity, justice and leniency in suppressing or preventing disturbances.

It is by the fear which the reputation of your arms inspires that you maintain the fidelity of your allies and the obedience of conquered nations.

Conquered provinces should be maintained in obedience to the conquerors by moral means, such as the responsibility of local governments and the method of organization and administration. Hostages are among the most powerful means; but to be effective, they should be many and chosen from the preponderant elements, and the people must be convinced that immediate death of the hostages will follow violation of their pledges.

Napoleon’s Maxims of War.

Tomorrow at dawn you depart [from St. Cloud] and travel to Worms, cross the Rhine there, and make sure that all preparations for the crossing of the river by my guard are being made there. You will then proceed to Kassel and make sure that the place is being put in a state of defense and provisioned. Taking due security precautions, you will visit the fortress of Hanau. Can it be secured by a coup de main? If necessary, you will visit the citadel of Marburg too. You will then travel on to Kassel and report to me by way of my chargé d’affaires at that place, making sure that he is in fact there. The voyage from Frankfurt to Kassel is not to take place by night, for you are to observe anything that might interest me. From Kassel you are to travel, also by day, by the shortest way to Köln. The land between Wesel, Mainz, Kassel, and Köln. is to be reconnoitered.  What roads and good communications exist there? Gather information about communications between Kassel and Paderborn. What is the significance of Kassel? Is the place armed and capable of resistance? Evaluate the forces of the Prince Elector in regard to their present state, their artillery, militia, strong places. From Köln. you will travel to meet me at Mainz; you are to keep to the right bank on the Rhine and submit a short appreciation of the country around Dusseldorf, Wesel, and Kassel. I shall be at Mainz on the 29th in order to receive your report. You can see for yourself how important it is for the beginning of the campaign and its progress that you should have the country well imprinted on your memory.

Napoleon’s Written Instructions.

What must be the result of an operation which is but partially understood by the commander, since it is not his own conception? I have undergone a pitiable experience as prompter at head-quarters, and no one has a better appreciation of the value of such services than myself; and it is particularly in a council of war that such a part is absurd. The greater the number and the higher the rank of the military officers who compose the council, the more difficult will it be to accomplish the triumph of truth and reason, however small be the amount of dissent. What would have been the action of a council of war to which Napoleon proposed the movement of Arcola, the crossing of the Saint-Bernard, the maneuver at Ulm, or that at Gera and Jena? The timid would have regarded them as rash, even to madness, others would have seen a thousand difficulties of execution, and all would have concurred in rejecting them; and if, on the contrary, they had been adopted, and had been executed by anyone but Napoleon, would they not certainly have proved failures?

Baron Antoine Henri De Jomini.

 Napoleon’s general philosophy of war was basically simple and to the point. Once a state of hostilities existed between France and another power— whether war was formally declared or not was a matter of minor significance— the Emperor set out without delay or hesitation to destroy the enemy’s field forces by all available means and thus break the national will to resist (or so he hoped). The means to the end were to be the shortest and sharpest methods available; all other considerations were to be considered secondary. “There are in Europe many good generals,” he declared in 1797, “but they see too many things at once. I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves.” Here lies the kernel, the central theme, of Napoleon’s concept of warfare: the blitzkrieg attack aimed at the main repository of the enemy’s military power— his army. This realistic, brutal and calculating approach to warfare was a rude break from the more gentlemanly military conventions of the eighteenth-century, but it is revealing that Napoleon drew much of his philosophy from the precepts of Frederick the Great, the famed eighteenth-century ruler and general.

perhaps the most important of all, namely that of unity of command. The Emperor was convinced from an early stage in his military career that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” A split command was anathema to him from as early as 1796. …… but in general terms his desire for a basic simplicity of the higher command framework was impeccable. Unity of command, Napoleon stated with conviction, was “the first necessity in war;  “the commander in chief is the head; he is everything for the army; it was not the Roman army which conquered Gaul but Caesar…. It was not the Prussian Army which defended Prussia for seven years against the three most powerful states of Europe, but Frederick.

The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

IMPERIAL HEADQUARTERS The control, coordination and direction of half a million men presented gargantuan difficulties in the days before radio telegraphy, but the Grand-Quartier-Général of the Imperial Army was a complex and many-sided organization that proved capable of at least reasonable efficiency. Although it never matched the standards of the later Prussian staff system, first created by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the years of Prussia’s rebirth after the cataclysm of Jena, it was nevertheless the first fully comprehensive staff organization to make its appearance.

Napoleon’s headquarters was charged with the task of governing France and the Empire as well as the direction of its huge armies, and consequently there is little wonder that it became a vast organization of varying efficiency. Even in 1805 headquarters numbered more than 400 officers and 5,000 men, but by 1812 it had grown to far vaster proportions, containing no less than 3,500 officers and more than 10,000 men (including clerks and escort troops). How was Imperial Headquarters organized?

First, and by far the most important part of Imperial Headquarters was the Household or Maison, Napoleon’s personal staff organization. Secondly, there was the General Staff of the Grand Army, presided over by Berthier. Thirdly, there was the staff of the General Commissary of Army Stores who looked after all matters pertaining to the acquisition, transportation and distribution of supplies of all sorts.

For example, Napoleon would often insist on being accompanied into the field by key representatives of the Imperial Government, so as to be able to conduct diplomatic and internal business at the same time as military affairs. On such occasions, as in 1812, at least one Secretary of State would accompany the army with his personal staff of assistants; Foreign Affairs was another civil dignitary who merited a separate establishment; the Treasury also habitually sent a sizeable contingent.

The Maison was the true nerve center of the French war effort

Three men held key positions, whether at Court or in the field, and may be regarded as Napoleon’s right-hand right-hand men. Berthier, “small, stout, ever laughing, very full of business,” combined in his person the posts of Vice-Constable, Master of the Hounds, Minister of War and Chief of Staff of la Grande Armée. The Prince of Neuchâtel was Napoleon’s closest subordinate, and his duties were multifarious, although in fact he rarely served as more than a glorified chief clerk. Secondly there was Duroc, Due de Frioul, Grand Marshal of the Palace— the irreplaceable administrator— in charge of the Emperor’s “family” and servants, holding the power of the purse, supervising the organization of the household, serving as the channel of approach to the Emperor’s person for those seeking interviews, and carrying out the slightly less official role of procureur of females for the satisfaction of his master’s appetites. He was humorous and efficient, and Napoleon missed him sorely after his death at the battle of Bautzen in 1813. Thirdly, there was the Master of the Horse, Caulaincourt, Duc de Vicenza, responsible for everything connected with the stables, pages, messenger services and imperial escorts. He aided the Emperor to mount, invariably accompanied him personally, and was expected to carry a map of the area attached to a button of his coat, ready for instant perusal.

A handful of unattached generals was always held available in a cadre for special missions. There were also the official aides-de-camp (almost all of them full generals of the greatest distinction), headed by Mouton, Rapp and Savary; these key personnel were expected to be equally capable of leading a charge, negotiating a treaty or cooking a chicken— in other words to perform any conceivable duty. Each had his own staff of aides and attendants. Additionally, there were a considerable number of orderly officers (12 in 1806) who performed routine messenger duties;

The personnel responsible for the Emperor’s personal well-being under the supervision of Duroc were headed by four valets (the most important being Constant) and his personal bodyguard, the Mameluke Roustam, who helped his master on with his boots every morning and slept across the door of the imperial bedchamber each night. Then there were the prefect of the palace (Duroc’s deputy), the secretaries to the cabinet, a chamberlain, two equerries, four physicians, five surgeons, a paymaster, four pages, two lieutenant quartermasters of the palace and a considerable understaff of butlers, servants and grooms. The really significant part of the Maison was, however, Napoleon’s “Cabinet”—“ the sanctuary of genius,” as Colonel Vachée has accurately described it.  The “Secretary of the Cabinet” (for a considerable time General Clarke) was the formal link between the Emperor’s private and planning staffs, belonging to both institutions.


secretarial; they were expected to write to the Emperor’s rapid dictation and find out various pieces of information at his request. Far more intimately concerned with the daily routine of Napoleon’s official life were the three private secretaries, sometimes called “masters of requests,” who were expected to be within call day and night. Their principal role was again the taking down of dictated orders, but they were also of importance as forming the main channel of direct communication between the Emperor and his ministers.

The innermost nerve center of “the sanctuary of genius” was formed by the personnel of the Emperor’s Topographical Office….department was preeminently the realm of Bacler d’Albe, who served Napoleon with hardly a break from 1796 to 1813, “a little dark man, handsome, pleasant, well-educated, talented and a good draughtsman.” He was probably the most indispensable of all Napoleon’s aides. He was responsible for performing all the staff duties connected with Napoleon’s planning sessions. He was entrusted with the task of amending maps and the maintenance of a large daily situation chart, on which every formation was marked by pins of different colors. This order of battle was always placed on a large table in the center of Napoleon’s office.

Bacler d’Albe was charged with ensuring that everything needful was ready at hand: the dispatch boxes, the field desk, the pair of compasses preset to prick an average day’s marching distance, and the indispensable field library of carnets (Napoleon’s notebooks which contained details of every French unit and enemy formation) and other works of reference. Bacler d’Albe undoubtedly helped the Emperor in his planning to a very real degree.

Whenever he rode out to visit units or command in battle, Napoleon was accompanied by his “little” (or battle) headquarters of hand-picked personnel. This invariably comprised the Chief of Staff, the Master of the Horse, the Marshal-of-the-Day on duty, two aides-de-camp, two orderly officers, an equerry, one page (carrying Napoleon’s telescope), a soldier of the escort (bearing a portfolio containing maps and a pair of compasses), Roustam, a groom and an officer-interpreter. Ahead of the entourage rode two more orderly officers followed by an officer and twelve cavalrymen. About 1,000 yards to the rear came the main escort, usually formed by four squadrons of the Guard Cavalry (one each from the regiments of chasseurs, lancers, dragoons and mounted grenadiers) under the command of a general aide-de-camp. For short distances or on the battlefield the Emperor rode specially trained Arab horses (of which Marengo was the most famous) and every formation down to corps level was expected to keep at least five spare horses available for the use of the Emperor and his immediate entourage should the need arise. His style was careless and unimpressive, but he was capable of hard and fast riding when necessary. For longer journeys he usually rode in a calèche or light carriage, the Master of the Horse riding at one window, the Marshal-of-the-Day at the other.

…army staff comprised three branches: the Private Staff of the Chief of Staff; the Cabinet of the Chief of Staff, and the General Staff itself. The basic duty of all three branches was identical: to transmit Napoleon’s orders to those concerned and to supervise the detailed administration of the army. There was no call for originality of thought or effort; Napoleon decided all, planned all, controlled all. The staff was merely the vehicle for the transmission of command and the provision of data— nothing more.

For normal purposes, the General Staff was split into three divisions, although the allocation of function was not permanently maintained and considerable interdepartmental fluidity was a consistent feature of its operation. Nevertheless, we can say that the first division was generally responsible for supervision of work, the preparation of daily orders, the issue of passwords, the sending of messages, letters and movement orders, the maintenance of muster rolls, all records and general correspondence. The second division was responsible for finding accommodation for the chief headquarters, all matters relating to military security, the provision of food (in conjunction with the Grand Commissary of Army Stores), and the establishment of hospitals. The third was concerned with the handling of prisoners of war and deserters, the control of conscripts and all aspects of military justice. The Topographical Department was always kept separate from these three main divisions and in fact constituted a fourth branch although this was never officially recognized.

What was the Emperor’s routine? He was a hard taskmaster, but drove nobody harder than himself. He was wont to work an eighteen-hour day for long consecutive periods, and was capable of packing an immense amount of labor into the available time. He habitually rose shortly after midnight to read the latest reports sent in by the corps commanders the previous evening, dictated the necessary replies, issued any changes of orders, and then retired shortly before dawn for an hour’s further sleep. By six in the morning he would have dressed and breakfasted, and the main work of the day would begin. First he would summon Bacler d’Albe to consider future movements; next he often granted interviews to important personages desirous of seeing him personally. These matters completed, he entered his office, and went to his desk. There, stacks of carefully sorted documents would be awaiting his attention. Routine business would soon be completed, the Emperor scrawling brief minutes in the margins of reports, dictating a quick letter to one of his secretaries, or simply flinging papers onto the floor if he deemed them unworthy of his attention. More dictation and interviews followed, and by 10: 00 A.M. the new letters and dispatches would be back on his desk awaiting signature. A hasty glance through their contents and a scrawled “N” at the foot of each missive would be sufficient to send most on their way, but when a matter of grave importance was involved, Napoleon would place the document on one side with the remark: “Until tomorrow; night brings counsel.  The routine business of the day completed for the time being, the Emperor would call for his horse and set off accompanied by his “little headquarters” to inspect some unit or visit a corps headquarters. He was firmly convinced of the importance of a commander in chief seeing and being seen. His incessant inspections, reviews and parades gave him the opportunity of gauging the morale of his men and assessing their mettle. These occasions also enabled him to dispense a little more of the hypnotic attraction he could wield at will over almost all his men. The easy familiarity which he permitted the rank and file made him genuinely beloved; the passing word for a “grumbler,” the rough joke with a sergeant, the summoning of the bravest man in the unit to receive an unexpected award— these were the means by which he bound the troops to his service and inspired them to suffer ceaseless hardship and to meet the prospect of disfiguring wounds and death with at least a measure of acceptance. Many of his methods were theatrical, and deliberately so, but they had the desired effect. Every visit would terminate with resounding cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” and his habit of apparently taking the men into his confidence, explaining what he was trying to do and the role he was entrusting to them in the execution of his schemes, served to raise morale and increased the likelihood of success.

After returning from the day’s ride, Napoleon settled down to his desk again to read the latest news and sign more orders, granting interviews or dictating replies as necessary. For further information he drew upon his invaluable carnets, the reports of Savary’s spies and the résumés prepared by Berthier. His perspiring secretaries found it difficult to keep up with the speed of the Emperor’s dictation as Napoleon paced up and down the room or tent, his racing mind devising complicated memoranda and timetables without the least sign of effort. Meals were haphazard affairs; a frugal luncheon was normally taken in the saddle or with the officer of a unit under visitation, and the timing of the evening meal was rarely consistent. However, the Emperor expected food to be ready for him at a moment’s notice, and the Imperial cooks accordingly often found themselves preparing and discarding endless meals, awaiting their master’s pleasure. Had not Duroc’s parsimonious eye been so strict, the surplus food would have found many welcoming mouths, but under the severe regimen of the Grand Marshal of the Palace every chicken was listed and had to be accounted for. The Emperor rarely dined alone…..he usually sat down with Berthier or, in his absence, with Caulaincourt or Duroc; distinguished personages visiting headquarters were invariably summoned to share the Imperial table. His servants recall that Napoleon ate fast— twenty minutes being the average time for a meal— and as often as not in silence; he ate little and drank even less, but was partial to an occasional glass of his favorite Chambertin. Relaxation was rare, Under normal conditions, after a final conference with Bacler d’Albe the Emperor retired to his camp bed about eight or nine o’clock to take four or five hours sleep, the faithful Roustam sleeping across his door. Even then, however, the harassed Household could hardly relax. At any moment an imperious voice might be heard calling for a secretary or an aide to take dictation, and woe betide any individual who was away from his post, even momentarily, when the Imperial summons came at any hour of day or night. Nervous breakdowns were not unknown phenomena among the personnel of the Imperial entourage; the strain of serving a genius was both exacting and ceaseless.

……activity was the most obvious characteristic of the Emperor, both in the field and out of it.

The Campaigns of Napoleon. David Chandler.

In the strategy meeting he allegedly asked Bourrienne where he thought the decisive battle would be fought. ‘How the devil should I know?’ answered his Brienne-educated private secretary. ‘Why, look here, you fool,’ said Napoleon, pointing to the plains of the River Scrivia at San Giuliano Vecchio, explaining how he thought Melas would manoeuvre once the French had crossed the Alps. It was precisely there that the battle of Marengo was fought three months later.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

4: Master of Religion.

I must give the people their full rights in religion. Philosophers will laugh, but the nation will bless me.’ 

Napoleon to Chaptal

It is by making myself Catholic that I brought peace to Brittany and Vendée. It is by making myself Italian that I won minds in Italy. It is by making myself a Moslem that I established myself in Egypt. If I governed a nation of Jews, I should rebuild Solomon’s Temple.

Consul Napoleon.

Napoleon was not irreligious in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not admit that there had ever existed a genuine atheist ; he condemned Deism as the result of rash speculation. A Christian and a Catholic, he recognized in religion alone the right to govern human societies. He looked on Christianity as the basis of all real civilization ; and considered Catholicism as the form of worship most favourable to the maintenance of order and the true tranquility of the moral world ; Protestantism as a source of trouble and disagreements. Personally indifferent to religious practices, he respected them too much to permit the slightest ridicule of those who followed them.

He was also much impressed with the idea of deriving the origin of supreme authority from the Divinity. He said to me one day at Compiegne, shortly after his marriage with the Archduchess, ‘ I see that the Empress, in writing to her father, addresses her letter to His Sacred and Imperial Majesty. Is this title customary with you ? ‘ I told him that it was, from the tradition of the old German Empire, which bore the title of the Holy Empire, and because it was also attached to the Apostolic crown of Hungary. Napoleon then replied, in a grave tone :—’ It is a fine custom, and a good expression. Power comes from God, and it is that alone which places it beyond the attacks of men. Hence I shall adopt the title some day.

Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Prince Metternich.

 Napoleon had no intention of resting on his laurels after Marengo. With his political capital rising, he decided on a gamble which, if it paid off, would significantly deepen his domestic support. ‘The boldest operation that Bonaparte carried out during the first years of his reign’, wrote Jean Chaptal, ‘was to re-establish worship upon its old foundations.’

Asked two decades later whether he had ever truly embraced Islam, Napoleon laughingly replied: ‘Fighting is a soldier’s religion; I never changed that. The other is the affair of women and priests. As for me, I always adopt the religion of the country I am in.

Napoleon respected Islam, regarding the Koran as ‘not just religious; it is civil and political. The Bible only preaches morals.

 Later on that day, presumably after Signorina Grassini had left, two hundred Catholic priests arrived at the palace to discuss theology. Napoleon asked them to allow him to ‘acquaint you with the sentiments which animate me towards the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion’. He made no reference to the view he had expressed to the Cairo diwan less than a year before, that ‘There is no other God but God; Mohammed is his prophet,’ but instead explained that Catholicism ‘is particularly favourable to republican institutions. I am myself a philosopher, and I know that, in no matter what society, no man is considered just and virtuous who does not know whence he came and whither he is going. Simple reason cannot guide him in this matter; without religion one walks continually in darkness.’ Faith, for Napoleon, was an evolving concept, even a strategic one.

Anti-clericalism had been a driving force during the French Revolution, which had stripped the Catholic Church of its wealth, expelled and in many cases murdered its priests, and desecrated its altars. Yet Napoleon sensed that many among his natural supportersconservative, rural, hard-working skilled labourers, artisans and smallholders – had not abjured the faith of their fathers and yearned for a settlement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Consulate they were growing to admire. Any settlement, however, would have to ensure that those who had acquired biens nationaux previously owned by the Church (known as acquéreurs) should be allowed to retain their property, and there could be no return to the old days when the peasantry were forced to pay tithes to the clergy.

…he had promised ‘to remove all obstacles in the way of a complete reconciliation between France and the head of the Church’.

As we have seen, Napoleon himself was at best sceptical about Christianity. ‘Did Jesus ever exist,’ he asked his secretary on St Helena, Gaspard Gourgaud, ‘or did he not? I think that no contemporary historian has ever mentioned him.’8 (He was clearly unfamiliar with Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews which does indeed mention Jesus.) He nonetheless enjoyed theological discussions and told his last doctor, Antommarchi, ‘Wishing to be an atheist does not make you one.’ ‘Although Bonaparte was not devout,’ Chaptal reported, mirroring these ambiguities, ‘he did believe in the existence of God and in the immortality of the soul. He always spoke about religion with respect.

 Despite his own attitudes to the substance of the Christian faith, he was in no doubt about its social utility. ‘In religion,’ Napoleon told Roederer, one of the few state councillors allowed into the secret of the negotiations, ‘I do not see the mystery of the Incarnation, but the mystery of the social order. It associates with Heaven an idea of equality that keeps rich men from being massacred by the poor … Society is impossible without inequality; inequality intolerable without a code of morality, and a code of morality unacceptable without religion.

The idea of God is very useful,’ Napoleon said, ‘to maintain good order, to keep men in the path of virtue and to keep them from crime.’ ‘To robbers and galley slaves, physical restrictions are imposed,’ he said to Dr Barry O’Meara on St Helena, ‘to enlightened people, moral ones.’

 One should render unto God that which is God’s,’ Napoleon was later to say, ‘but the Pope is not God.’

In the course of the next seventeen articles it stated that the Catholic faith ‘shall be freely exercised in France … conformable to the regulations … which the Government shall judge necessary for the public tranquillity’.

There were to be new dioceses and parishes. Ten archbishops (each on a 15,000-franc annual salary) and fifty bishops (10,000 francs each) would be appointed by Napoleon and the Pope together; bishops would swear to do nothing to ‘disturb the public tranquillity’ and would communicate all information about those who did to the government; all divine services would include a prayer for the Republic and the consuls; although the bishops would appoint the parish priests, they couldn’t appoint anyone unacceptable to the government. The Concordat cemented the land transfers of the Revolution; all former Church property belonged to the acquéreurs ‘for ever’.

Napoleon made a number of concessions, none too onerous. The ten-day week was suppressed and Sunday was restored as the day of rest; the Gregorian calendar eventually returned in January 1806; children were to be given saints’ or classical rather than wholly secular or revolutionary names; salaries were paid to all clergy; orders of nuns and of missionaries were reintroduced in a minor way, and primary education was restored to the clergy’s remit.

Napoleon got what he wanted. With the end of the schism, no fewer than 10,000 Constitutional priests returned to the bosom of the Roman Church and one of the deepest wounds of the Revolution was healed.

The Concordat won Napoleon the soubriquet ‘Restorer of Religion’ from the clergy,

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

5: Master of Law and Order.

My true glory is not to have won forty battles … What nothing will destroy, what will live for ever, is my Civil Code.

Napoleon on St Helena

At the end of January 1801, Napoleon inaugurated an ambitious project of legal reform whose consequences would outlast even the Concordat.

 Napoleon instinctively understood that if France was to function efficiently in the modern world, she needed a standardized system of law and justice, uniform weights and measures, a fully functioning internal market and a centralized education system, one that would allow talented adolescents from all backgrounds to enter careers according to merit rather than birth.

His first and most important task was to unify France’s forty-two legal codes into a single system. For this monumental undertaking Napoleon had an invaluable ally in Cambacérès, who had been the secretary of the committee which had been given the task of overhauling the civil law code back in 1792 and was the author of the Projet de Code Civil (1796). ‘If the whole Code were to be mislaid,’ Napoleon once quipped, ‘it could be found in Cambacérès’ head.’ To assist the Second Consul in revisiting this long-overdue reform, a commission was formed of the country’s most distinguished jurists and politicians, including Lebrun, François Tronchet, Félix Bigot de Préameneu and Jean-Étienne Portalis.

Napoleon chaired no fewer than 55 of its 107 plenary sessions, frequently intervening on matters of particular interest such as divorce, adoption and the rights of foreigners. Napoleon’s constant refrain on questions of ‘the general interest’ and civil justice were: ‘Is this fair? Is this useful?’ Some meetings started at noon and went on long into the night. Napoleon involved himself intimately in the entire lengthy and elaborate process of getting the new laws onto the statute books, from the initial debates in the Conseil, the drafting process, the critiques and attempted amendments of various interested parties, through the special committees, the subsequent assaults by special interest groups and lobbyists, and then the parliamentary legislative procedures. Nor was ratification a foregone conclusion: in December 1801 the preliminary bill was rejected in the Legislative Body by 142 votes to 139 and fared similarly in the Tribunate. If Napoleon hadn’t shown his resolute personal support, it could never have become law. Although Cambacérès did the groundwork, it deserved to be called the Code Napoléon because it was the product of the rationalizing universalism of the Enlightenment that Napoleon embraced.

Essentially a compromise between Roman and common law, the Code Napoléon consisted of a reasoned and harmonious body of laws that were to be the same across all territories administered by France, for the first time since the Emperor Justinian. The rights and duties of the government and its citizens were codified in 2,281 articles covering 493 pages in prose so clear that Stendhal said he made it his daily reading. The new code helped cement national unity, not least because it was based on the principles of freedom of person and contract.

Above all, it offered stability after the chaos of the Revolution.

Judges were of course required to interpret the law in individual cases but were not allowed to make pronouncements on principles, so that specific cases could not set precedents, as under Anglo-Saxon common law. Fearing the disintegration of the family as the basic social institution, the framers of the Code gave the paterfamilias almost total power, including over the property of his wife.

Napoleon told the Conseil. ‘Law must do nothing but impose a general principle. It would be vain if one were to try to foresee every possible situation; experience would prove that much has been omitted.’) It guaranteed the equality of all Frenchmen in the eyes of the law, freedom of person from arbitrary arrest, the sanctity of legal contracts freely entered into, and allowed no recognition of privileges of birth. Reflecting the Organic Articles, it established total religious toleration (including for atheists), separating Church and state. It allowed all adult men to engage in any occupation and to own property. Laws had to be duly promulgated and officially published, and could not apply retrospectively.

Article 213 of the Civil Code stated: ‘A husband owes protection to his wife, a wife obedience to her husband.’ Grounds for divorce were restricted to adultery (and then only if the husband introduced a permanent mistress into the family household), conviction of a serious crime, and grave insults or cruelty, but it could also be obtained by mutual agreement so long as the grounds were kept private.A wife could be imprisoned for two years for adultery, while a man would only be fined. A husband would not be prosecuted if he murdered his wife caught in flagrante. The Code protected married and single men from having to support an illegitimate child, or even being identified as the father. It also prevented women from making legal contracts, taking part in lawsuits, serving as a witness in court or to births, deaths or marriages. Wives could not sell produce in markets without their husbands’ permission, and were forbidden to give, sell or mortgage property without their husbands’ written consent. Unmarried women could not be legal guardians or witness wills. In all this, the Code reflects Napoleon’s profound sexism: ‘Women should not be looked upon as bearers of children.

Napoleon believed that ‘bloodletting is among the ingredients of political medicine’, but he also thought that quick and certain punishments meant that large-scale repression could largely be avoided. He almost never indulged in brutality for its own sake, and could be sensitive to people’s suffering. A week after Binasco he told the Directory: ‘Although necessary, this spectacle was nevertheless horrible; I was painfully affected by it.’ Ten years later Napoleon would write in a postscript of a letter to Junot: ‘Remember Binasco; it brought me tranquillity in all of Italy, and spared shedding the blood of thousands. Nothing is more salutary than appropriately severe examples.’78 ‘If you make war,’ he would say to General d’Hédouville in December 1799, ‘wage it with energy and severity; it is the only means of making it shorter and consequently less deplorable for mankind.’

During the Pavia revolt, which spread over much of Lombardy, five hundred hostages from some of the richest local families were taken to France as ‘state prisoners’ to ensure good behaviour. In the country around Tortona, Napoleon destroyed all the church bells that had been used to summon the revolt, and had no hesitation in shooting any village priest caught leading peasant bands. Although his earlier anti-clericalism in Corsica was enough to make him resent what he called la prêtraille (canting priesthood), it was confirmed now by the way in which parish priests encouraged uprisings. Yet it also instilled in him a respect for the power of the Church as an institution, which he realized that he could not wholly oppose. He promised to protect those priests who did not mix religion and politics.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

The provisions of the new Civil Code began to be promulgated in 1802 and the final clauses were published in 1804. Later there would follow a Commercial (1807), Criminal (1808) and Penal (1810) Code. Napoleon’s intentions in framing the Civil Code have been much disputed, but he declared that he genuinely wanted to create a civil society, with a middle range of institutions between the individual and the State; this was needed, he claimed, because the Revolution had introduced a spirit of excessive individualism. His famous declaration in the Council of State was that the Revolution had turned the French into so many grains of sand, so that it was now his task ‘to throw upon the soil of France a few blocks of granite, in order to give a direction to the public spirit.’

The essence of the Code was its eclecticism and its clear intention to benefit the new bourgeoisie, the bulwark of Napoleon’s power. Essentially a compromise between old and new law, between the modalities of pre-1789 and the new circumstances and conceptions of the Revolution

It is sometimes said that the Code was progressive, but such a view does not survive a scrutiny of the various clauses. The propertyless emerged with very few rights at all. The Code proclaimed freedom of labour but did nothing whatever to safeguard workers’ rights; in any labour dispute the word of the employer was to be taken as gospel. Napoleon’s anti-worker stance was in any case overt. By decrees of 1803 and 1804 he placed all proletarians under police supervision, obliged them to carry identity cards, prohibited unions and strikes on pain of imprisonment and charged the Prefect of Police with the arbitrary settlement of wage disputes. Amazingly, in the years of his success Napoleon was not perceived as being anti-labour. The workers supported him because of his policy of low food prices – to ensure which he placed bakers and butchers under state control – and the rising wages caused by a revival of industry. His victories in the field attracted their workingclass chauvinism, so that the proletariat always listened to Bonapartist propaganda rather than the criticisms of the liberal opposition.

The most reactionary aspect of the Code, however, was its treatment of women. Until 1794 feminism and women’s rights enjoyed halcyon days: in September 1792 the revolutionaries enacted a law allowing divorce by mutual consent, with the unsurprising result that for the rest of the 1790s one in three French marriages ended in divorce. The Directory had attempted to reverse the progressive legislation of 1791 – 94, but the death blow to feminist aspirations was dealt by the Code Napoléon.

Some historians have even claimed that Napoleon devised his eponymous code as a kind of infrastructure for the future conquests he envisaged. Centralization and uniformity, after all, would be useful tools for crushing local and national customs. The cardinal purpose of the Code for Napoleon personally was the replacement of ancien régime inefficiency with a streamlined centralized bureaucracy whose main purpose would be raising troops and money. In the rest of Europe the Code could be used for putting Napoleon’s power and that of his vassals beyond dispute. The purpose of destroying feudal privileges was to place all property not entailed at the disposition of his vassal rulers. The hollowness of the Code would be seen later but even in 1802 – 04 Napoleon showed how little it meant, in his governance of Italy. There the estates of deposed princes, émigrés and the clergy provided a steady stream of money, but often the income was in the form of tithes and feudal benefits, officially outlawed by the Code. Where money collided with the Code, Napoleon ignored his own ‘masterpiece’ and took the money.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

His feeling against women who mixed in politics or affairs almost amounted to hatred.

Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Prince Metternich.

6: Master of Coin.

….blocks of 1,000 francs, Napoleon decreed that it had the protection of the Consulate and ensured that his entourage, including Joseph, Hortense, Bourrienne, Clarke, Duroc and Murat all joined the subscription list.The bank would theoretically be independent of the government, indeed the Moniteur had to state before its official launch that it ‘had been wrongly compared to the Bank of England, as none of its capital went to the Government’, but in time this policy was quietly dropped, and the bank did indeed help finance Napoleon’s wars.

In April 1803 the bank was granted the exclusive right to issue paper money in Paris for fifteen years, notes which in 1808 became French legal tender, supported by the state rather than just the bank’s collateral. In time the confidence that Napoleon’s support gave the bank in the financial world allowed it to double the amount of cash in circulation, discount private notes and loans, open regional branches, increase revenues and the shareholder base, lend more, and in short create a classic virtuous business circle.

It was part of the First Consul’s policy’, recalled Laure d’Abrantès, ‘to make Paris the centre of pleasure it had been before the Revolution.’ This was in part to revive the luxury trades – dressmakers, carriage-makers, silversmiths, etc. – at which the French had traditionally excelled; but Napoleon also felt that a revived social life would reflect the solidity of the new regime.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

When he became First Consul, the economy was a shambles: it was widely reported that only 167,000 francs remained in the state coffers. Highway robbery and brigandage were rampant, especially in the south and west, industry, trade and finance were in ruins, there were beggars and soup kitchens in Paris, the navy was non-existent, the desertion rate in the army at epidemic level, and yet Napoleon had to find the means of waging war for another full year.

With his new popularity Napoleon felt confident enough to impose an additional 25-centime tax, which under the Directory would have brought the people on to the streets. Instead they applauded him. By 1801 economic recovery was in full swing. It is true that Napoleon was lucky, whereas the Directory’s rule had coincided with a long period of economic depression. But he had worked hard for his success, which was possible only because he had won the complete confidence of the bourgeoisie. Among his most successful economic measures during 1800 – 02 were the system of direct taxation by central government, which balanced the budget by 1802; a sinking fund to diminish the National Debt by buying back government stocks; a Bank of France which aimed to mitigate the worst effects of the trade cycle by loans, discounts, promissory notes, etc; and a new coinage and payment in cash of government rents.

Napoleon’s economic policy was a classic of state intervention. The Bank of France, which controlled the National Debt, also had the monopoly on the issue of paper currency. It was therefore possible to reform the currency and abolish the worthless assignats. Heavier taxation was avoided by the further sale of national property and the loot from the second Italian campaign. Bonaparte’s policy of state intervention led to an upsurge in both agriculture and industry. Wool production increased by 400%. As far as possible tight control was kept on grain prices, which were kept low and not allowed to find their market level. There were even halting experiments with elementary health insurance schemes and workhouses were modernized. Trade unions, however, were suppressed as ‘Jacobin” “Jacobin’ institutions: all workers had to carry a labour permit on pain of imprisonment.
Yet under this veneer of welfarism Napoleon always feared the common people. Mindful of his early experiences with food rioters, Napoleon had something of a perennial obsession with the price of bread. Suddenly, at the time of the peace of Amiens, the price started shooting up, and rising unemployment served warning that the initial prosperity might be a flash in the pan. For a while Napoleon confronted a grave economic situation, with serious food shortages. After ordering a newspaper blackout on the subject of famine and dearth, Napoleon blatantly used the power of the state to prime the economy. He gave concessions to a financial holding company, which was charged to buy up all the bread in European ports and flood Paris with it. The price soon came tumbling down beneath the danger level of eighteen sous a loaf; famine and popular uprising were averted.

Next he tried reflating the economy by giving interest-free loans to manufacturers provided they took on more hands. Further banks were set up to provide loans in the different industries. The policy worked, and by his brilliant success in handling the economy Napoleon secured a third triumph to set alongside Marengo and the peace of Amiens.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

7: Master of Education.

Napoleon was conservative about primary education, putting it back, as we have seen, in the hands of the clergy, but in secondary education, which began at age eleven, he was revolutionary. In May 1802 he passed a law setting up forty-five lycées (state secondary schools) whose aim “was to produce future soldiers, administrators and technicians. The lycée was his answer to the question of how to create a patriotic, loyal generation of future leaders. All eligible French children were now taught Greek, Latin, rhetoric, logic, ethics, mathematics and physics, and also some of the other sciences and modern languages. Here religion was kept to a minimum: he did not want a secondary system dominated by the Church as that of the Ancien Régime had been. Discipline was strict, school uniforms of blue jackets and trousers with round hats were worn until fourteen, and pupils were grouped into companies with one sergeant and four corporals commanded by the best student, who was called the sergeant-major.

Napoleon was almost poetic about how education was the most important of all the institutions, since everything depends upon it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent on the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment … Men already differ enough in their inclinations, their characters and everything that education does not give and cannot reform … Let us have a body of doctrine that doesn’t vary and a body of teachers that doesn’t die.

Napoleon took his reorganization a stage further when he promulgated a decree calling for the creation of the Imperial University, which would oversee all education in France. All teachers were to be members of one of its five faculties (Theology, Law, Medicine, Literature, and Maths & Physics). He designed a military-style hierarchical structure, with a strong-willed chancellor in Louis Fontanes, the president of the Legislative Body between 1804 and 1810, and below him a Council of Thirty who controlled all French secondary schools and the universities. The Sorbonne had been closed by the Revolution, but in 1808 Napoleon resuscitated it.

Napoleon’s profound sexism emerged in his education provisions as elsewhere. ‘Public education almost always makes bad women flighty, coquettish and unstable,’ he told the Conseil in March 1806. ‘Being educated together, which is so good for men, especially for teaching them to help each other and preparing them by comradeship for the battle of life, is a school of corruption for women. Men are made for the full glare of life. Women are made for the seclusion of family life and to live at home.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

The centralizing trends in economic policy were even more pronounced in public administration, where Napoleon was at the apex of a pyramid. Ninety-eight prefects in each Department answered to him and in turn transmitted orders to 420 under-prefects in the arrondissements, who in their turn controlled 30,000 mayors and municipal councils. The prefects ran the country rather in the manner of the Intendants under the ancien régime. According to a decree of 1802 every département had to have a secondary school and every commune a primary school; in large cities grammar schools or lycées were…

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

8: Master of the Cathedral.

Napoleon was highly conscious of the power of propaganda, and he now made a conscious effort to influence public opinion, which was already heavily in his favour. He began his new career as a press proprietor and journalist by dictating such sentences as ‘Bonaparte flies like lightning and strikes like a thunderbolt.

On January 17, 1800, Napoleon closed no fewer than sixty of France’s seventy-three newspapers, saying that he wouldn’t ‘allow the papers to say or do anything contrary to my interests’. The decree, which wasn’t subjected to parliamentary scrutiny, stated that some ‘of the newspapers which are printed in the departments of the Seine are instruments in the hands of the enemies of the Republic’, and that therefore ‘during the course of the war’ only thirteen newspapers could publish, except those ‘devoted to the sciences, arts, literature, commerce and advertisements’. It further warned that any newspaper that included articles ‘disrespectful’ of the social order, of the sovereignty of the people, of the glory of the armies or of friendly governments ‘will be suppressed immediately’. Napoleon also blocked the circulation of foreign newspapers within France. He believed that any attempt to foster national unity would be impossible if the royalist and Jacobin newspapers were permitted to foment discontent.

After the decree, most journalists stayed in the profession and merely sang a more Bonapartist tune, writing for papers such as the Bertin brothers’ Journal des Débats, Amélie Suard’s Publiciste and the Journal de Paris. Royalist writers started praising Napoleon, not least for his tough law-and-order stances which they had long advocated. The numbers of papers shrank, but overall readership remained much the same.

9: Master of the Masses.

The men who have changed the world never succeeded by winning over the powerful, but always by stirring the masses. The first method is a resort to intrigue and only brings limited results. The latter is the course of genius and changes the face of the world.’

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

By 1804 Napoleon’s grip on France was complete. His power rested on a social basis of support from the peasantry and the upper bourgeoisie or ‘notables’. Normally a single socio-economic class forms the basis of a régime’s power, but the Napoleonic period was an era of transition, with the declining class (the aristocracy) too weak to dominate and the ascending class (the bourgeoisie) not yet quite strong enough. Napoleon held “the ring, so to speak, by a trans-class coalition of peasantry and bourgeoisie based ultimately on the sale of national property. Napoleon was not a man of the Revolution, but it was the economic upheaval of the Revolution that made his autocracy possible.

Yet unquestionably the greatest beneficiaries of the Napoleonic period were the moneyed élite, or upper bourgeoisie, who enjoyed continuous good fortunes from before 1789 to 1815. The big business people and bankers of the ancien régime were also the plutocrats of the Napoleonic empire. Behind them in economic fortunes, but still doing well, were the middle bourgeoisie from politics and administration and the new breed of post-Thermidor entrepreneurs, speculators in national property, colonial produce, assignats and military supplies; men from this stratum often ascended to the upper bourgeoisie through conspicuous success or intermarriage. In Napoleon’s time the foundations for a true bourgeois society, in which money rather than rank was the salient consideration, were laid, although in some ways, as will become clear, the Napoleonic system also acted as a bar on the development of a society dedicated to Mammon alone.

The key to Napoleon’s social and administrative system was the rule of the so-called ‘notables’. These, in a word, were the people in each Department who paid the highest taxes. Typically, the notables were landowners, rentiers and lawyers with an annual income of more than 5,000 francs from real estate. Financiers, merchants and manufacturers joined the ranks of the notables by investing in land their profits from colonial produce or those generated by the boom given industry by new continental outlets. A man who was one of the six hundred most highly taxed people in his Department had a chance of entering the electoral college in the principal towns or being appointed a Senator or Deputy to the Legislature. The amount of land-tax paid was the determinant of a notable, who was often in any case a highly paid official. It did not take much to reach the magic figure of 5,000 francs from real estate when lavish salaries were being paid to officialdom: a Councillor of State was on 25,000 francs a year plus perks, a Parisian prefect received an annual salary of 30,000 francs, a provincial prefect anywhere between 8 – 24,000, an inspector-general of “civil engineering 12,000 and a departmental head 6,000. Even the lower officials were in with a chance of ultimate distinction: a departmental deputy received an annual salary of 4,500, an ordinary solicitor or drafter of deeds 3,500 and a clerk 3,000.

Yet Napoleon was a clever politician who liked to camouflage and obfuscate what he was doing. The most consummate act of mystification was the introduction of the Legion of Honour, instituted on 19 May 1802. To offset his own imperial demeanour and the obvious dominance of the notables and upper bourgeoisie, Napoleon tried to pretend that he was still wedded to the Revolutionary ideal of meritocracy by seeming to introduce a parallel élite based on talent and achievement. There were to be four classes in the Legion: simple members, officers, commanders and grand officers; the highest award was the Grand Eagle. Originally divided into sixteen cohorts with 408 award holders each, the Legion by 1808 contained 20,275 members.

Napoleon’s honours system was a great success, and there was keen competition for the familiar white enamel crosses on strips of red ribbon. Seeing in the Legion the germ of a new nobility “nobility, the returned émigrés hated and despised it, but they were not alone. The Legislature, packed with notables, absurdly opposed the Legion because it offended the principle of inequality; they saw no such offence in the glaring inequality of wealth and property of which they were the beneficiaries. It is a perennial peculiarity of societies to object to inequalities of race, sex, title, distinction and even intellect while remaining blithely untroubled about the most important form of inequality: the economic. A more telling criticism, which few made at the time, was that the honours system was overwhelmingly used to reward military achievement, usually to honour generals.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

Men are moved by two levers only: Fear and self-interest.

Napoleon Bonaparte.


10: Master of France.

Napoleon himself never doubted that he had the moral right to rule France. As he was to write of Julius Caesar, ‘In such a state of affairs these deliberative assemblies could no longer govern; the person of Caesar was therefore the guarantee of the supremacy of Rome in the universe, and of the security of citizens of all parties. His authority was therefore legitimate.’ His attitude to the government of France in 1799 was identical.

Within a week of Brumaire, as a result of the new sense of stability, efficiency and sheer competence, the franc–dollar and franc–pound exchange rates had doubled. By the end of January 1800 100-franc government bonds that had been languishing at 12 francs had soared to 60 francs. Two years later, partly by forcing the tax-collecting authorities to make deposits in advance of estimated yields, the finance minister Martin Gaudin had balanced the budget for the first time since the American War of Independence.

Of all the Consulate’s policies, the one to smash rural brigandage was among the most popular. ‘The art of policing is in punishing infrequently and severely,’ Napoleon believed, but in his war against the brigands who were terrorizing vast areas of France, he tended to punish both frequently and severely.

Napoleon interned and deported suspected brigands, and used the death penalty against convicted ones, who were often called such unedifying names as ‘The Dragon’, ‘Beat-to-Death’ and ‘The Little Butcher of Christians’, and who raided isolated farmhouses as well as hijacking coaches and robbing travellers.

In November 1799, some 40 per cent of France was under martial law, but within three years it was safe to travel around France again, and trade could be resumed. Not even his Italian victories brought Napoleon more popularity.


In March 1800 the Consulate replaced more than 3,000 elected judges, public prosecutors and court presidents with its own appointees. Political opinions don’t seem to have been the deciding factor so much as practical expertise, as well as Napoleon’s keenness to sack elderly, corrupt or incompetent lawyers. It took seven months for the system to run smoothly again due to the backlogs, but thereafter the delivery of justice was improved.

He insisted that his prefects provide him with systematic statistical data, ordering them to make extensive annual tours of their departments to glean first-hand information. He would later describe them as empereurs au petit pied (mini-emperors). Boniface de Castellane-Novejean, prefect of the Basses-Pyrénées, summed up the prefect’s task as to ‘make sure that the taxes are paid, that the conscription is enacted, and that law and order is preserved’. In fact he also had to impound horses for the cavalry, billet troops, guard prisoners-of-war, stimulate economic development, deliver political support for the government at plebiscites and elections, fight brigands and represent the views of the department, especially its elites, to the government. Only in areas in which Napoleon wasn’t interested, such as the relief of the poor and primary education, was much power left with the departments.

In less than fifteen weeks Napoleon had effectively ended the French Revolution, seen off the Abbé Sieyès, given France a new constitution, established her finances on a sound footing, muzzled the opposition press, started to end both rural brigandage and the long-running war in the Vendée, set up a Senate, Tribunate, Legislative.

A recent study of Rouen during the Consulate concluded that Napoleon’s most popular measures to have been the Concordat, the defeat of brigandage and the guaranteeing of the land-ownership rights of the acquéreurs, in that order.

Napoleon the Great. Andrew Roberts.

Napoleon now had dictatorial power in all but name. The people of France had agreed to one-man rule as they desperately wanted peace, stability, consolidation and an end to uncertainty. The royalist resistance, backed by the British, was degenerating into chronic banditry. The Catholic Church was in schism, with anti-revolutionary priests regarded as enemies of the people and pro-revolutionary clerics regarded as traitors by the faithful. The army was badly equipped even while shady military suppliers made fortunes. The Directory had scotched the snake of Jacobinism but not killed it, and seemed violently opposed to liberty, equality and fraternity despite all the blood that had been spilled since 1789. General relief was palpable when a man on horseback appeared with clear-cut goals, a man wedded to authority, hierarchy and order, a realist and a reconciler. The people of France – or enough of them to make the difference – were impressed by Napoleon’s sureness of touch and cared little if he flouted constitutional niceties. Historical necessity, it seemed, had produced Napoleon. No one yet realized that his genius was of the kind that needed constant warfare to fuel it and that all the hopes vested in him were illusory.

Napoleon. Frank McLynn.

The opinion of the world is still divided, and perhaps will always be, on the question, Whether Napoleon did in fact deserve to be called a great man ? It would be impossible to dispute the great qualities of one who, rising from obscurity, has become in a few years the strongest and most powerful of his contemporaries. But strength, power, and superiority are more or less relative terms. To appreciate properly the degree of genius which has been required for a man to dominate his age, it is necessary to have the measure of that age.

Now, as in our opinion, this was really the state of things, we are in no danger of exaggerating the idea of Napoleon’s grandeur, though acknowledging that there was something extraordinary and imposing in his career.


The vast edifice which he had constructed was exclusively the work of his hands, and he was himself the keystone of the arch. But this gigantic construction was essentially wanting in its foundation; the materials of which it was composed were nothing but the ruins of other buildings; some were rotten from decay, others had never possessed any consistency from their very beginning. The keystone of the arch has been withdrawn, and the whole edifice has fallen in. …Such is, in a few words, the history of the French Empire. Conceived and created by Napoleon, it only existed in him; and with him it was extinguished. 

Memoirs of Prince Metternich. Prince Metternich.


38 thoughts on “A STEEL-cameralist Manifesto Part 1: Caesar Himself.

  1. I’ll bite:

    “In war, success is not cumulative.”

    Is war then some kind of binary? Doesn’t feel quite right. It seems possible to take territory via military action and control it as de facto sovereign, but then again my opinion on such matters is extremely skewed by strategy video games. In WW1 was the whole goal not to scrap for each trench line? What could be more cumulative then that?

    Overall, really optimistic about this series.



    1. In victory lies the seeds of defeat.

      Caesar triumphed over everyone – he had reached the pinnacle of power – yet his victory was what brought him down.

      Same with Napoleon. He won battle after battle after battle; in Russia, he took Moscow, but the Russians had learned how to beat him; the Russians lured him in, then when he had extended himself, when he pushed himself and his army to the point where it could not go on anymore, the Russians attacked.

      As one person put it: “think in terms of battles not skirmishes; think in terms of campaigns not battles; think in terms of the entire war and not in campaigns; finally, think in terms of peace and not war.

      As Luttwak correctly says “strategy is paradoxical.”


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