The French are desperate for a new Napoleon. Will they get one?

5 months ago 124

The conqueror and emperor consistently emerges as the most popular historic personality in France

Say what you want about Napoleon Bonaparte, but there’s no denying that he was an absolute alpha who can still blow a beret right off the head of a Frenchman. The kind that sorely lacks nowadays in Western leadership roles. Which would explain why a new poll, released just as a Ridley Scott-directed biopic about him hits theatres, has found that 74 percent of French view his actions positively. 

Napoleon blazed a trail of death and destruction, with his army slaughtering millions around the world at a time when empire-expanding sword-measuring contests were all the rage — and he happened to be particularly good at it. But he claimed to do it for France, however misguided and extreme. Which stands in stark contrast to today’s parade of self-interested French politicians in front of the courts for abuse of public office.

Napoleon emerged from the ashes of the French Revolution on the side of the people, then went on to conquer much of the world on their behalf. According to the survey, 40% of respondents consider his top achievement to be his creation of the Napoleonic Civil Code to enshrine the values of the revolution. His contributions to academia were also invaluable, as every country that interested him as a potential military conquest led to detailed scientific, sociological and archeological studies that still serve as references today. 

He’s frequently judged by today’s standards, which is patently unfair. Sure, if you took Napoleon and transplanted him into modern day society — stuck him in a typical office cubicle — he probably wouldn’t fit in too well, what with his penchant for global conquest and his belief that women belong at home. He’d wind up in sensitivity training in pretty short order. But the French are willing to overlook his many flaws because his accomplishments are so spectacular; he singlehandedly hoisted France to the front of the global stage. Yeah, maybe he wouldn’t have done so if he had the mores of “social justice” Bob from accounting or your neighbor who never misses date night with the wife. But that whole debate is moot. And stupid. 

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Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821) as Emperor Napoleon 1 of France reviewing the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard on 1 June 1811 in Paris, France Most French people have positive views of Napoleon’s legacy – poll

Every time someone puts France on the map, they’re rewarded with popularity, as proven by various polls of the top French personalities of all time. Napoleon is consistently in the top spot, followed by figures like Charles De Gaulle, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) and Marie Curie

What do all these folks have in common? Clarity of vision, and courage in the face of adversity — values with which the French personally want to be associated. Unfortunately, one has to go back quite far in order to find their incarnation. 

While Napoleon put France in a prominent spot on the world stage, it was arguably former French President and World War II General Charles de Gaulle that gave it any hope of persisting there. Beyond leading the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation, De Gaulle subsequently ensured France’s post-war independence by kicking the Americans out of the country, refusing their demand for permanent bases, and then keeping France out of NATO to avoid the ultimate fate of ending up under de facto US military command. Always with French independence in mind, De Gaulle then went to Moscow in 1944 to sign mutual assistance agreements, and envisioned the Soviet Union as an important partner for French independence within a vision of Europe that stretched from the Atlantic to the Urals. 

De Gaulle also spearheaded state-backed nuclear energy projects that were so successful that they’ve saved France amid the current EU energy crunch (and to think that current President Emmanuel Macron was on the verge of killing the whole industry in favor of trendy green energy fantasies — the same ones that flopped when Germany realized that it couldn’t power its economic engine with the wind and sunshine after its Nord Stream pipeline network of Russian gas was mysteriously blown up.)  

Jeanne d’Arc was a teenage peasant girl who led the French to victory against the English, then was unrepentant about who she was and what she did when she was burned at the stake in Rouen — for literally having wild visions of French victory, then making them happen.

French-naturalized Pole Marie Curie was yet another French woman who fell outside the conventional role for females in society, winning the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903 and for chemistry in 1911, for her groundbreaking research, alongside husband Pierre Curie, on radioactivity, including the discovery of radium and polonium. Her achievements put France on the intellectual global map. Over a century later though, in 2019, French officials yanked mandatory mathematics from the last two years of the high school curriculum. It was such an unmitigated disaster for numeric literacy and such a looming disaster for French competitiveness on the global playing field that they had to reinstate the courses in September 2023. 

Therein lies the difference between those still admired by the French — despite having long shuffled off the face of the Earth — and those who have since come and gone from power or prominence with little fanfare. A lack of unwavering leadership — foresight, clarity, and determination. 

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Historian Oleg Sokolov takes part in the reenactment of the Battle of Borodino outside the town of Mozhaisk in 2016. © Sputnik / Kirill Kallinikov Infamous Napoleon-obsessed St Petersburg historian who shot & dismembered young lover sentenced to over 12 & a half years in jail

Macron doesn’t have it — although he’s an avowed admirer of De Gaulle. It seems that every French politician fancies himself the second coming of De Gaulle, but very few have the strength to stick to a course of action that serves the French people and nation first and foremost. Instead, they double-deal and play both sides of the court from the middle, trying to serve their EU masters — currying favor with unelected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — or aligning their interests with Washington’s, placing Western solidarity above sovereign national interests. Imagine if Napoleon had done that — sold out France’s ambitions to the whims of his allies and their own agendas. 

Unsurprisingly, the latest Ifop-Feducial poll found that the two current political figures considered to most closely resemble Napoleon are right-wing opposition leader Marine Le Pen and former center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy. It’s hardly a coincidence that both have been criticized recently for speaking out against the French and Western establishment status quo of blindly following anti-Russian US foreign policy on Ukraine — with both favoring immediate peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine and an end to hostilities over prolonged spending on “aid” to keep a conflict going that’s to the net detriment of France and the EU as whole.  

Napoleon came to power with the backing of the people after they had literally beheaded the entire corrupt establishment. Today’s establishment has given itself more than enough rope to ultimately hang itself. One can’t help but notice the parallels. The question is, at what point will the French people have the courage to once again choose the kind of anti-establishment visionary leader on whom they could one day look back and realize they absolutely needed. Until then, they’ll be stuck longing for, and romanticizing, times and figures of greatness.

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