Monday, December 21, 2009
(fm the BC thread "Year end thoughts")
While Napoleon did anticipate many of the techniques used by authoritarian regimes since the 19th century he did so before the ideological categories that underpin those regimes were developed. Personally he probably believed himself to be a revolutionary Liberal. He had started as a Jacobin and recoiled from the irrational excesses and incapacity to govern of the Terror. His Empire was in his vision an aristocracy of merit, coupled with bureaucratic efficiency. The centralizing power of the State had been anticipated by the later Bourbons under the Intendant system.
Historically the greatest enemy of monarchy was the aristocracy, who controlled the peasantry. Kings, or emperors from before the time of Rome, would ally with the commercial middle class, such as the Intendants were drawn from. When these alliances break down, as happened in England in the 17th century and France in the 18th century, a crisis can occur. France was unusual because the peasants in most areas were opposed to the old nobility, who had been deliberately weakened and separated from their communities by the royal policy.