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This Week in History

May 13-19, 1804:
Napoleon Becomes Emperor of France

May 2012

Obama, Cheney, Hitler, Napoleon think alike

Because of the very short historical memory of the present generation, aided, of course, by lying history books, we concentrate most of our columns on the positive developments in the history of the United States, which can serve as object lessons in terms of what must be done today. But this week, we are directing our attention to a nodal point in the development of the most dangerous enemy we face today, modern imperial fascism.

The crucial event we reference, is the May 18, 1804 decision by the French Senate, to proclaim Napoleon Bonaparte the Emperor of France. That decision was followed by his actual crowning, with the blessing of the Pope, in December of that year.

Without understanding Napoleon, it is impossible to know what fascism is, or to comprehend how the corruption which he represented, has come down to us in the present day.

Napoleon came into prominence as an aide to a prominent French reactionary financier, Paul Barras, in the wake of the French Revolution. That bloody upheaval, which began as an attempt to replicate the American Revolution on European soil, was hijacked by British and other oligarchical agents, so that it turned into an orgy of class warfare and blood, with the main forces of "left" and "right" both committed to a bestial notion of man. As the "right" took over in 1795-96, Napoleon rose in rank in the Revolutionary French Army, and soon began leading expeditions of imperial plunder, beginning in Northern Italy, and then expanding to Egypt.

Napoleon's ambition was no secret. He modelled himself upon the Roman Caesars, with a view to conquering the world as a source of loot, and to conquering the absolute loyalty of the population of France. Thus, when he returned from Egypt in 1799, he seized power through maneuvers in the Assembly, but then quickly proceeded to establish a system of plebiscites, whereby the masses were compelled—by action of secret police terror—to ratify his increasingly autocratic power.

The years of Napoleon's rule were characterized by his imitation of the rule of the Roman imperial Caesars. He moved to conquer southern Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Spain, Austria, and finally, Russia. His soldiers were "rewarded" with loot from his expeditions, and France was filled with the objects he had stolen. Law was rewritten according to the Roman imperial formula, then called the Napoleonic Code, and a "neo-classical," or perhaps, better, Romantic, style imposed on all popular art and culture. Even the churches were brought to heel, through Napoleon's insistence on establishing concordats, which gave him, as representative of the French state, the right to pass on all decrees, appointments, and the like. In effect, France became dominated by a quasi-Roman Pantheon, where all religions were subsidiaries of the state.

Napoleon also declared that his imperium would be hereditary.

Yet, by his appeal to the "glory" of France, and by providing continuous campaigns for the Army, Napoleon built a popular fascist base within his country, which was then supplemented by a massive system of spies and enforcers, who did not hesitate to ensure that "traitors" were rooted out. Frenchmen were turned against each other, just as they were turned against other nations. Wealth was defined not as the product of labor power, but as plunder that could be consumed. Authority was established on the basis of power and force, implemented by a privileged bureaucracy, not by reason or deliberation.

If that paradigm sounds familiar to you, it should, because such a fascist ideology is precisely what is being promoted in the United States today.

Napoleon, like other fascists in history, did not end up well, of course. His arrogance, combined with the inherent flaws in his ideology of war and economy, resulted in his being outwitted and defeated in his Russian campaign in the winter of 1812, and then later in Austria and Germany. Paris finally fell in March 1814, inducing Napoleon to flee to the island of Elba, but his own insane delusions led him to attempt a return to power in 1815. He was defeated soon after, and sent to the prison island of St. Helena, to die a miserable death.

But it is not just the leader of a fascist movement who suffers. The wave of destruction throughout Europe was immense, and the mental destruction has not been overcome to this day. Until Napoleon and his fascist ideology are extirpated from popular culture, there is a danger it will drive us to a far worse disaster today.