We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Strange folk, the French

A Napoleonland theme park is being planned. I find it hard not to see this as being rather like “Hitlerland” but with more elegant looking clothing.

29 comments to Strange folk, the French

  • RAB

    I thought the already had one? Anyone who has ever been to the site of the Battle of Waterloo, would be had pressed to figure out that Wellington ever existed. The place is swimming with Napoleon tat, Key rings, mugs, bookmarks, busts and not a pair of Wellies in sight! ;-)

    “The 1815 Battle of Waterloo, in which the Duke of Wellington ended Napoleon’s rule in France, could be recreated on a daily basis with visitors perhaps even able be able to take part in the reenactments.”

    Live ammunition please!

  • RW

    The Asterix theme park was, according to colleagues when I worked in Paris, quite good. In particular the Druid Panoramix’s (ok, Getafix in English) grotto was used by companies like France Telecom to showcase and market test bits of technological wizardy.

    What can they showcase in a Napoleon park? French plans for dominating Europe? Is this still the future? Are they still doomed to fail? Answers please to the Elysee palace, remembering that sarkozy is short on humour.

  • RRS

    It is perhaps an attempt to recapture a mythic Virtue (Courage??); something like a balding man grasping at fallen hair escaping in the sink. He can’r put it back where it was, but at least he has a sense that he still has it.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I remember a trip, many years ago, to Les Invalides, in Paris. Full of amazing material about Bonaparte’s campaigns, his armies and the uniforms and equipment they all had. I can also recommend Fontainbleau, south of Paris. The old chateau was used by Boney and has lots of his old things, as if he had just walked out of the room.

    I wonder how many tourists from, say, Russia, would want to go to this theme park, or for that matter, anyone who comes from near Jena, Austerlitz, Wagram, Waterloo, Salamanca, Vittoria, and of course, that spot of open, rolling countryside near Brussels?

    I think one reason why it is considered okay to have a themepark about this man is that as far as many French people are still concerned, he was not a monster in the way of a Hitler or Stalin, although his military campaigns took a terrible toll on Europe. He was quite a cultivated man and obviously, highly intelligent. His story still fascinates.

    Of course, Britain has its Nelson “theme park” – HMS Victory. And there is Apsley House in London, once home to the Duke of Wellington.

  • M. Thompson

    He’s the most influential person to come out of France in the past 250 years. Very few people have stood astride history in such a manner.
    -Code Napoleon
    -Louisiana Purchase
    -Being able to get into and break others alliances at will.
    -The last great general to personally command without a staff.

    He’s at least a Magnificent Bastard (in a fashion similar to Rommel) anyhow.

    Let them have their small cultural victories.

  • Alsadius

    Hitler is reviled mostly for his massacre of civilians. That’s something Napoleon never did – by all accounts, he was far nicer on the civilian population than his predecessors, and did a lot of very popular things(like legalizing religion). The whole “conquering Europe” schtick was the same, but most people regard war as fair game, and think that someone who accomplished so much at it is impressive, even if they’d prefer it hadn’t happened.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Napoleonland? Worse than a crime, a blunder

  • Antoine Clarke

    Napoleon captured Moscow. And my ancestor who went along came back.

    I think you’ll also find the Poles took a rather better view of Napoleon than of Hitler.

    Just saying…

    But I did ROFL at this quote:

    Other curious potential attractions include a ski run through a battlefield “surrounded by the frozen bodies of soldiers and horses” and a recreation of Louis XVI being guillotined during the revolution – the precursor to Napoleon’s rise to power.

    “It’s going to be fun for the family,” he Mr Jégo told the Times.

  • Antoine Clarke

    Seriously, Napoleon was reviled for a number of years after 1815 and by Parisians since he put down a protest by firing grape shot into the crowd (of course this would tend to improve Napoleon’s standing OUTSIDE Paris…).

    Mérimée (author of the better known to English speakers novel, Carmen), in his 1841 novella Colomba, describes the post-1815 restoration when supporters of Napoleon were hounded and in some cases lynched.

    Somewhere in the 1830s Napoleon’s reputation turned, to the point where in 1848, his nephew could win a presidential election.

    I don’t know the details, but I think a big part of this is due to the larger than life character of Napoleon, and some of his lasting achievements: the restoration of sound, gold money, the codified legal system and the scientific results of the Egyptian expedition.

    Here’s a thought: without Napoleon taking archeologists to Egypt in 1799, the Rosetta Stone might not have been found. We might not be able to read hieroglypics any more than Etruscan script.

  • At last, an amusement park free of those “You must be taller than this sign to go on this ride” signs!

    Hmmm. Do we get field marshal batons with our tickets?

    (the Samizdata editor sayz “LOL” :-D )

  • ErisGuy

    by all accounts, he was far nicer on the civilian population than his predecessors

    Certain inhabitants of Spain will beg to differ with you, as Goya attests, though I take your point. Napoleon is more like Alexander or Caesar than Stalin, Mao, or Hitler.

    So: when comes the Genghis Khan theme park? I need an excuse to visit Ulan Bator. (I once walked past a Mao-themed restaurant in Melbourne. Imagine how thrilling that was.)

    Should we live in a world without heroic cultural icons? Or without their celebration? The dream of a world with amusement parks dedicated to Curie, Poincare, Pasteur, and Pascal cannot be made real. Human nature won’t allow it.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Not too sure about the “more elegant looking clothing.” The Nazis did uniforms very well and if the civilians were, on average, a bit grubby, the average civilian in Napoleon’s time was even grubbier (but unrecorded by photography).

    And as far as Napoleon-the-evil-invader goes, I don’t see a lot of moral difference between Europeans invading other Europeans and Europeans invading an already populated North America. Which actually worked out pretty well for all concerned.

  • Should we live in a world without heroic cultural icons?

    If those cultural icons brought war and horror to millions across Europe in order to impose a collective political order, then yes I would rather we live without them or at least be very very cautious in how we ‘celebrate’ their contributions to history.

    …and Europeans invading an already populated North America. Which actually worked out pretty well for all concerned.

    Can you point me at some native American source who thinks that from their perspective the arrival of waves of conquering Europeans “worked out pretty well” for the indigenous population of North America?

  • The French are strange folk – their penchant for eating pig’s innards is but one thing that makes them so – but having worked in a French company dominated by Frenchmen for the last year, I find them as individuals to be highly pleasant. I’m sure this is partly to do with the selection process of my employer and the fact that my colleagues are “international” French (ability to speak English is a prerequesite for assignment to Nigeria, and most have spent a lot of time working abroad), but even so I found – like people do with Americans, and I did with Russians – that the individuals are completely different from the collective persona of the nation.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Can you point me at some native American source who thinks that from their perspective the arrival of waves of conquering Europeans “worked out pretty well” for the indigenous population of North America?

    Posted by Perry de Havilland at January 21, 2012 03:44 PM

    Not without overcoming an bad case of weekend laziness. But I suggest that today’s victims of Aztec sacrificial blades, inter-tribal violence, and untreated disease, who – quite incidentally – aren’t victims of those things because Europeans took over, might grudgingly admit to some profit.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Were the red Indians (yes, I really am that unreconstructed) indigenous?

    Did they have a concept of property rights?

  • Jacob

    I’m not English, and am always amazed by the biased reaction of some English people (like Perry) to Napoleon.
    Napoleon was an outstanding person, a great General, and quite liberal for his time, a great administrator and statesman, the author of code Napoleon which is the basis of the present day French law system.
    As one who did some wars and some empire building – he was no different from all other leaders at the time. It surely is amazing to hear Englishmen condemn wars and empire-building.
    And it should be remembered that France was attacked by the European powers, who wanted to suppress the revolution. The first Napoleonic wars were defensive wars.
    Yes, he should be seen more like Alexander the Great or Caesar, so the comparison to Hitler is quite shockingly wrongheaded.
    That is not to say that his warmongering and appetite for conquest wasn’t megalomaniacal and ruinous, in the end, for France as much or more that for the rest of Europe.

    He was a leader with many facets. He was quite liberal in his outlook, contrasted to the absolute monarchs in France and other European countries (except England).
    Napoleon is a Hero in France. Perry should try to overcome his peculiarly English nationalist and narrow point of view.

  • Perry should try to overcome his peculiarly English nationalist and narrow point of view.

    Complete and utter bollocks. Have you heard me approve of England’s empire? And what on earth makes you think the Code Napoleon was a good thing? That you assume criticism of French imperialism must indicate I support English imperialism and English nationalism says nothing about me but speaks volumes about how you see things.

  • And on the subject of the French, this amused.

  • Jacob

    Code Napoleon recognized and encoded that all men are free and have equal rights under the law and freedom of religion. These principles were a huge advance in the absolute monarchies that ruled Europe at the time.
    As a side note: Napoleon gave equal rights to Jews, for the first time in French history, and maybe in European history.

    Maybe you’re not an English nationalist, but your appraisal of Napoleon is very narrow and one-sided. The man was a genius, and not an utterly and totally negative or demonic one.

    I have encountered this negative attitude toward Napoleon in several English sources.

  • The man was a genius, and not an utterly and totally negative or demonic one.

    Most of histories conquering ‘great men’ were geniuses, and generally psychopaths as well.

    And the reason English people tend to loath Napoleon was that English liberties, which for the most part were far better enshrined that those on the Continent, were largely the product of a process of Common Law, suggesting that the horrors of the Napoleonic War and the imposition of a top-down institutionalised universally conscriptive system was hardly the rational path to a better political order. The levée en masse was what ‘universal freedom’ looked like under the the rule of Revolutionary France. It was obvious what Napoleon was to the English even then.

  • Jacob

    I can well understand why an Englishman, ore anyone else might dislike Napoleon. As I said, he had his dark side, mostly as a magalomaniac and rubble rouser. On the other hand – maybe he was pushed by the European powers, who feared he might overturn the aristocratic and absolutist rule of the monarchs. He was never accepted as a legitimate ruler by the Europeans, including the English, so maybe war was his only option. But – he also loved war, no doubt about that.

    I don’t know to what extent individual rights and liberties were protected in England in 1800, but on the continent, the Code Napoleon represented progress towards individual rights (at least as a declaration of intent). There were no liberties on the Continent before Napoleon.
    One can also understand why the French loved him – he brought liberties to the French – that is – he consolidated some of the liberties that the Revolution tried to secure. So it’s strange that you can’t understand why the French would love him.

  • So it’s strange that you can’t understand why the French would love him.

    Introduction of that vilest of institutions: mass conscription… and millions of dead Frenchmen in Russia and elsewhere? That not reason enough?

  • Antoine Clarke

    Napoleon was a lot of things, some of them admirable.

    Onthe other hand he was, worshippers take note, an insider trader: made sure he and his family owned large shareholdings in the Banque de France before giving that bank the monopoly of currency emission (at least it was gold-backed). The Bonapartes made a killing out of Banque de France shares.

    Given the tools of the 20th, Napoleon could have been a very nasty dictator. And he reintroduced slavery to Haiti.

    As for the Jews, not so. Before the year 1000, Jews were pretty well left alone in the Frankish territories, which is why there were prosperous communities.

    Religious freedom (except for Catholics) was a major feature of the French Revolution. I don’t think Napoleon can be given credit for what was already in place.

  • Dale Amon

    Just an historical side note on Native Americans. They were much more developed culturally than many on this side of the Atlantic know, or for that matter many on their own side of the Atlantic.

    The Spaniards introduced diseases that ripped through the Indian populations and destroyed civilizations that had lasted centuries… and I am talking about North America. There were large settlements that the Spaniards visited that were long gone by the time the areas were explored by English settlers who found the survivors of the diseases effectively recovering from a dark age.

    The Iroquois Nation was exceedingly advanced and had very good legal codes, rights for women to hold property, and many concepts of governance that folk like Benjamin Franklin saw as admirable and worthy of emulation.

    The big mistake the Iroquois made was to side with the British against the US. Had they not done so they would probably still be a nation controlling much territory on both sides of the US/Canadian border.

    I have visited Iroquois lands and camped over night in the local medicine man’s backyard and had breakfast with he and his family. Lovely folk.

  • veryretired

    Napoleon is interesting in the same way a film about the lion is interesting—one realizes that one is watching a terribly dangerous amoral actor completely in tune with its environment as it goes about slaughtering anything it can catch.

    But why begrudge the French their hero? After all, he is the perfect gallic model—grandiose, murderous, and ultimately futile.

    Anyway, the guy who mentioned the height signs way up the thread wins this one hands down. SWMBO thought I was having an attack when I started laughing out loud and choking on my coffee.

  • Rob

    Waterloo – the only recorded instance in history when Germans were late?

    (BTW I do know the reason why they were late)

  • Jacob

    “But why begrudge the French their hero?”
    Sure,
    Napoleon beat the European powers that tried to invade France to quelch the revolution.
    He brought pride and glory to France, even if it was short-lived.
    Napoleon drove away the English which controlled France in 1815 (before he was beaten at Waterloo).

    The French will always worship and adore someone who beats the English.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Jacob reveals the French bias there. Perhaps Napoleon was good to the average French person, and perhaps the laws did need to be modernised, but he should have stopped there! And did he really need to make himself Emperor to do any of that?
    As others have pointed out, Napoleon never had any appeal for the British, because Britain was ahead of France on all these things- and while they had press gangs, they did not have conscription. They had the industrial revolution, and so didn’t need any uncivil revolution.
    Dale, the Iroquois would have supported the British because the British wanted to leave some land for the Indians to hold as their own. The Americans always wanted to keep expanding, and would have found some excuse to take the lands anyway! History shows us this what they did.