Finally, 200 hundred years on, the balance has now decisively, and irrevocably, shifted from a historical perspective that could be subsumed under the title "The Anatomy of Glory" to "A Critical Assessment of Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars" - essentially a re-interpretation of the man, his times, his accomplishments, under-achievements and, yes, not only his failures but also his dictatorship and tyranny.
Napoleon was a product of his age and became synonymous with the age he (very substantially) defined. He was undoubtedly, and extraordinarily, talented in both a military and political sense. He was, though, also a dictator and a tyrant: albeit, often, no more or less dictatorial or tyrannical than many of his peers. He assumed power via a coup. I do not use the word seize as it was clearly, in many ways, incompetent. The coup was supported by (sections of) the military. Napoleon was able to ensure the coup was successful because of the military presence that he could rely on in Paris, France’s capital, the compliance of some, and the inability of others to oppose him. What started as a political coup, ended, after Bonaparte’s (initially unsuccessful) entry into the legislative chamber and (ultimately), the ejection of the deputies, as a military coup. The coup’s success owed as much, if not more, to fortune and the actions of others than to planning and bravery. He manoeuvred himself into position as one of three consuls, then manipulated and isolated the other two consuls ensuring he was “appointed” first consul, then consul for life, with hereditary privileges. There were some trappings of conciliatory rule, for example the restoration, or implementation, of some components of civilian government and religion. But ultimately, all government departments reported to him as the single head of state. He ruled, some say, not autocratically but by plebiscite, but much evidence points to their rigging. But this misses the point. He pronounced and supported equality (it has to be noted for some, not for the many) but not liberty. On a day-to-day basis he was the solitary head of state, despite justifying his rule as "saving the nation" from corruption compared starkly against that of the various preceding “revolutionary” governments. However, his ruthless repression of opposition in French departments, and in the inner and outer Empire, in support of conscription, for example, mark his rule further as a military dictatorship. Napoleon employed military occupation and governorships, the exaction of extraordinary contributions, brutal repression of any opposition and, in some case, the indiscriminate murder of those who tried to resist whether bearing arms or civilians (I call both these latter groups patriots not brigands or banditti). This last point is neither irrelevant nor a digression. Indeed, the labelling of armed opposition (and supporting civilians) as brigands or banditti is, at one and the same time, a very tangible example of the link between history and ideology and ideology in practice There is now an overwhelming corpus of historical evidence that supports the above, not least of which in the most recent biographies (which demonstrate the true nature of the Napoleonic regime) and a growing number of detailed monographs, regional and national studies, setting out, most definitively, the lived conditions of Napoleonic rule in Europe in the first fifteen years or so of the 19th century. These studies clearly demonstrate the reality of that rule for the vast majority of European population. The reader has only to juxtapose these studies with the formerly prevalent “anatomy of glory” approach, to see for themselves that the experiences of the many as opposed to the few were, on balance, extremely negative. Clearly, Napoleon was not solely responsible for an almost interminable 15 years of war that both devastated and brutalised Europe. However, he decided to invade and occupy the Iberian peninsula, and sustained that war for over 6 years, and invaded Russia in 1812. During the retreat from Moscow, he abandoned his army to its fate, only to continue to fight in 1813 and 1814. In these two last campaigns, and in returning to France from Elba, he acted in self-interest and with complete disregard for the consequences - not least for the absolutely unnecessary, additional, hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides.
Broers, Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny
Dwyer, Napoleon: Path to Power 1769 - 1799
Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815
Gueniffey, Bonaparte (translated by Steven Rendall) – I have not read the French original but am assured the translation is a good one, however, I await part two
Roberts, Napoleon the Great
Plus the various articles and chapters in journals and books cited below
Happy new year