While preparing to comment on various volumes in this series, I have struggled with determining what would be of greatest interest and assistance to those who read my reviews. Finally I decided that a few brief excerpts and then some concluding remarks would be appropriate.
On Johnson's approach to his subject: "It is one of the contentions of this book that Bonaparte was not an ideologue but an opportunist who seized on the accident of the French Revolution to propel himself into supreme power....He believed in his stars, like the ancient Romans he admired (insofar as he admired anyone). He felt he had a destiny, and most of his life he was confident in it. But, sure as he was of what destiny intended for him, he nonetheless was determined to wrest it from events with his own brain,arms, and will." (Page 7)
Bonaparte and the French Revolution: "Bonaparte would not have possessed the ruthless disregard of human life, of natural and man-made law, of custom and good faith needed to carry it through without the positive example and teaching of the Revolution. The Revolution was a lesson in the power of evil to replace idealism, and Bonaparte was its ideal pupil." (Page 29)
On Bonaparte "declension": "There are material reasons for [it]. But there was a metaphysical reason, too, embracing the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual dimensions. He had once been `a man whose time had come.' In the second half of the 1790's, Bonaparte was an embodiment, all over Europe, of the protest against the old legitimists, their inefficiency, privileges, obscurantism, and misuse of resources, above all the talents and genius of youth. Thus he prospered and conquered. By 1813, however, he was out of date. His time had gone." (Page 140)
These brief excerpts correctly indicate how Johnson correlates information about an especially turbulent period in late-18th and early-19th century European history with his own analysis of arguably the most influential, indeed most disruptive (if not most destructive) figure at that time. It is Johnson's conclusion that "bonapartism" -- with its deification of force and war, the all-powerful centralized state, the use of cultural propaganda to apotheosize the autocrat, the marshaling of entire peoples in the pursuit of personal and ideological power -- "came to hateful maturity only in the twentieth century, which will go down in history as the Age of Infamy." From Johnson's perspective, mankind failed to learn from the example of Bonaparte "the central lesson of history: that all forms of greatness, military and administrative, nation and empire building, are as nothing -- indeed are perilous in the extreme -- without a humble and contrite heart."
Hopefully these brief excerpts and comments will encourage those who read this review to read Johnson's biography. It is a brilliant achievement.
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