Napoleon: the transition from enlightened despots to modern dictators.

Essay by arussianniteCollege, Undergraduate February 2005

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        An absolute monarch or ruler of a people can be what one considers an enlightened despot, or a ruler that makes good laws and promotes human happiness with them. It has been said about the great conqueror and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte that he is the last of the enlightened despots, but others say he is the first of the modern dictators. There is substantial evidence to argue both sides in this dispute, but it is more true to say that Napoleon was the transition between the two. Louis Bergeron, historian, argues that Napoleon was the last of the enlightened despots, while the historian Cobban argues that he was the first of modern dictators. Martyn Lyons believes that he was just the continuation of the French revolution.

        Napoleon Bonaparte was he last of the enlightened despots because he preserved the ideals of the despots before him. Napoleon stated "My policy is to govern men as the great number wish to be governed.

That, I think, is the way to recognize the sovereignty of the people." This principle is a direct principle of enlightened despots, the code of equality. He governed in this manner because he wanted his people to support him when it came time for war. Many policies of Napoleon seem to many of us as Bergeron puts it, "rigid and oppressive" but in the time those were the exact tactics that Napoleon used to swiftly rise to power. Another strategy Bonaparte used to get the support of the people was nationalism, for the first time in over a decade he made French people proud to be French. After years of civil war he made it an honor to serve under the French flag. All of these strategies come directly from Enlightenment ideals, thus making Napoleon Bonaparte an enlightened despot.