The Corner

Nap & The Cons

I do think there is a distinctly conservative view of Napoleon–and it is almost entirely negative. It recognizes the French emperor as the tyrannical spawn of the French Revolution (one of the most un-conservative events in history, and the occasion for Edmund Burke’s most important writing). Paul Johnson’s excellent book on Napoleon sums things up this way: “The great evils of Bonapartism–the deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda to apotheosize the autocrat, the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power–came to hateful maturity only in the twentieth century. … We have to learn again the central lesson of history: that all forms of greatness, military and administrative, nation and empire building, are as nothing–indeed are perilous in the extreme–without a humble and contrite heart.” Well put, and totally accurate.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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