Thursday, May 27, 2010

We Can Thank Napoleon For That

My initial interest in Napoleon was due to a reference to him in Arnold's Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg. I ended up purchasing Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon, a mammoth volume of 1200 pages that details the strategies the famous (infamous) general used in each and every battle. What interested me was trying to take Napoleon's strategic thinking in war and applying it to modern business, as Ries & Trout had done with Clausevitz in their bestseller Marketing Warfare.

Napoleon was a brilliant general, but his influence off the battle field was also significant. Here are a few notes about Napoleon that can't be overlooked.

First, he was the first (or among the first) to use the media to forward the ideas of the government. In other words, the press became Napoleon's mouthpiece, a stratagem used by politicians to this day. The media beats the drum, the young boys go off to war. According to Holtman, "The greatest importance of Napoleon's propaganda is that he was the first to use the machinery of government in a systematic fashion to control public opinion--and that he used it positively to formulate favorable as well as to prevent unfavorable opinion. He was the forerunner of all twentieth-century dictators--none of whom would try to force through a program for which he did not have public support." Napoleon affirmed that censorship "is necessary if political propaganda is to achieve its purpose."

Second, Napoleon believed that "religion should be in the hands of the state. He understood that religion was a powerful influence on people, but it need to be organized for the purpose of systematic surveillance. He also knew the importance of posturing for the purpose of winning the hearts of the people. "I was a Mohammedan in Egypt, I shall be a Catholic here, for the good of the people. I don't believe in religions," he said.

Third, he was pro business and industry, not because he believed in Capitalism per se, but because unemployment has a dampening effect on the attitudes of the masses and a leader's popularity. Since France was almost continuously at war during Napoleon's reign, a strong economy was necessary to fund this war effort.

Fourth, education in France was set up so that it was under centralized control. Education the manner by which the State maintained influence and power. In the past half century we have seen education as a battle ground here in America as well, with charter schools, private schools and home school movements all striving to escape from under the thumb of government run education.

Fifth, Napoleon was famous for all the laws he had written into the fabric of life. While in exile at the end of his career, he declared that all his genius in battle would be forgotten as a result of his loss at Waterloo, but that his most enduring achievement would be his Civil Code. The Napoleonic Code was a systematized set of laws that "cemented the ideas of freedom of person and of contract (including the right to enter any occupation), equality of all Frenchmen, and freedom of civil society from ecclesiastical control." In addition, "the family once again became the most important social institution."

All this serves in stark contrast to what preceded his rise to power, a period of anarchy and chaos known as the French Revolution.

When we look at the civilized world as we know it today, much of it was shaped by ideas first implemented by this long dead general whose leadership to a continuous revising of the maps of Europe. For better or worse, though long dead his influence is with us today.

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