Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Sunshine for Napoleon"

One of the most annoying phenomena in scholarship is the worship of certain historical figures to such an extent that it amounts to idolatry.

Such figures are worshiped to such an extent that they become omnipotent figures who can do no wrong and if they fail its always someone else's fault.

A particularly striking example of this idol worship is the slavish Stalinist suck up involved in Napoleon worship.

Portrait of Napoleon by David

Now Napoleon was indeed a very great man just has many others have been great. What is perplexing is the refusal to recognize the hubristic, brutal features of his life and reign. It is all too easy to find suck ups concerning as for example collected in Geyl's Napoleon For and Against. Which stands has a monument against Hero worshiping "scholarship". Stalin was subjected to a truly repellent amount of sycophantic "journalism". Everything he did was subject to praise. His considerable atrocities, denied, excused dressed up has "right". And like Napoleon he was characterized has surrounded by evil enemies who betray the infallible "leader". Of course these "traitors" are responsible for any mistakes made by the great Leader.

Another aspect is that such sycophancy is the identification of the Leader with the nation and any attack or disagreement, in fact anything less than full, unhesitating support of the infallible leader is "treason". It never seems to occur to such people that opposition to the leader is in fact in the interest of the nation and that the leader may be sacrificing the nation to his selfish ambitions.

A related aspect is the notion that the interest of other peoples don't matter and can be dismissed as unimportant. Thus we learn that Alexander I, growing opposition to the Continental System, which was royally screwing up the Russian economy and Government revenues, is characterized has a "betrayal". The idea that Alexander I or in fact any leader or state in Europe was in any sense duty bound to sacrifice all his interests and the interests of his people to the "infallible", Napoleon and any hesitation in not obeying Napoleon in everything was "betrayal" is a very interesting vision of leaders responsibilities to their various peoples.

And it goes hand in hand with hypersensitive reactions to any criticism of the great man for whom the only "fair" criticism is sycophantic hero worship and suck up.

I was recently reminded of this when I reading a edition of Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon. In which someone had written comments practically all of them of the suck up variety. There was for example a few complaints about the authors occasional negative comments about Napoleon. (The comments which concerned Napoleon's ambition, ruthlessness, cruelty etc., are in my opinion entirely fair.) There were also occasional comments about "English Gold" by our writer in the margins. This indicates that the author has read the common literature concerning Napoleon that alleges that opposition to Napoleon in Europe was the result of the English government bribing other governments. That these other governments might have legitimate grievances / interests against France and or Napoleon is of course unthinkable. And the various English government's have by definition no legitimate interests against France / Napoleon and are a force for evil; thwarting the good, virtuous Napoleon in a contest between the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Thus any opposition to Napoleon is the result of wicked base motives, and not from either "Good" principles and / or reason that can be deemed "legitimate".

It is my opinion that the Hero worship of Napoleon was and is one of the firm foundations for the support and adulation of Dictators, Dictatorial regimes and the crimes committed in their names.

Pierre Cloutier