12a. The Napoleonic Empire in Europe



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nterpretation D: This historian picks out some positive impacts of Napoleon on Europe.

The French lost nearly all of the goodwill and enthusiasm of their subject populations, but the surprise

would be if they had not. Empire-building and modernization rarely proceed on the goodwill of subject

populations. Nor did the French loss of goodwill erase all benefits of ‘French cultural imperialism’. This

was particularly true of areas which had been occupied since the 1790s, but it also held true for more

recent acquisitions like Illyria and Dalmatia. The French presence tended to flush out the old regime.

Even the downsides which were military recruitment, conscription and policing all helped to lay the

foundations for a centralized state – a difficult point to concede if our only focus is the hatefulness of

the French occupation. No less a critic than Germaine de Staël recognized ruefully that the peoples

of Europe obstinately considered Napoleon as the defender of their rights. The Napoleonic legacy

became associated with progressive forces in nearly all states and nations that had known the French

presence. Reformist and revolutionary causes after 1815 in Italy, France and Germany were selfconsciously Napoleonic. As for Poland, the fluttering light of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw dominated all

subsequent Polish history, not only in laws and institutions but in the national imagination. The Polish

national hymn still sings of Poles living up to ‘us and Napoleon’.


From: Steven Englund, Napoleon, a Political Life, published in 2004


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