Napoleon. Symbol for an Age

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Erica Guerrero
Essay 1: Napoleon. Symbol of an Age
Sep. 25, 2012
Professor Benkert

Napoleon: "Enlightened Despot" or Founder of the Modern State

Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most well known leaders in history. When you say Napoleon Bonaparte, most people know who you are talking about. Napoleon is mostly known for his reign as the Emperor of France, and his Napoleonic Wars that earned him a reputation as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. During his reign as Emperor, many argue that he was the founder of the modern state. Martyn Lyons, a history professor at The University of New South Wales who specializes in Napoleonic history, agrees. Lyons claims that some reasons Napoleon is the founder of the modern state were adopting merit based promotions and codifying laws, which shaped the new state that emerged from the French Revolution (Lyons 1994, 77). While this is only one aspect for Lyon's argument, others suggest that Napoleon was also an enlightened despot who became everything he sought out to destroy. Louis Bergeron, historian and author of many books including France Under Napoleon, claims that although at first, Napoleon generally kept with the philosophies of the French Revolution, he also used many of the principles of the revolution to benefit himself and progress to absolute power (Bergeron 1981, 75-76).

The debate of whether Napoleon is an enlightened despot or a founder of the modern state has proven difficult to evaluate since there are valid arguments and supporting evidence for both perspectives. In one aspect, he can be seen as enlightened dictator who contradicted the principles of the revolution. In another aspect, he can be seen as a liberator of people and a unifier of the French nation. I will argue that Napoleon Bonaparte was more an enlightened despot than a founder of modern state using his coronation, the Civil Code, and him as a dictator who scarified millions of lives as examples for my...
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