Napoleon The Great?

Lucy

October 09, 2014

Our Tutorfair representatives were present last night at the Intelligence² sell-out debate on ‘Napoleon The Great?’, chaired by Jeremy Paxman and held in advance of the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

We ooo’d and ahh’d at the case put by Andrew Roberts - soon to feature on BBC2 with his series on Napoleon - and at the very witty Count Adam Zamoyski, who debunked Napoleon and had us in stitches.

This epithet of ‘The Great’ is all very well, but as Adam Zamoyski pointed out, Alfred The Great spent most of his time hiding in the marshes of Athelney. To describe Napoleon as Great just because he was selected as the General most likely to succeed in bringing order after ten years of Revolution (according to Zamoyski) seems… a little excessive.

We couldn’t quite work out to what extent Napoleon was actively involved in devising the Code Napoléon. Roberts reminded us that Napoleon attended 50% of the Code meetings, whereas Zamoyski said that his contribution was quirky, at best.

The influence of the Code Napoléon has, however, extended to some 40 countries around the world where it has been adopted, in contrast to our common law system. To what extent is the Code a good thing for those countries who now adhere to it?

We went into the debate thinking “Yeah, we’re for Napoleon The Great, and we like Roberts, so that’s good”. But we came out thinking “Well, what do we really mean by Great? Was Stalin Great? What about Chairman Mao? And Lenin? Was Chavez Great?"

We eventually agreed with Zamoyski that Napoleon doesn’t deserve such an epithet - not even his stature would merit it - Napoleon got to where he did because he happened to be in the right place at the right time…

Both author’s books are now on sale:

Andrew Roberts - ‘Napoleon The Great’

Adam Zamoyski - ‘Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution in the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848’

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