Written by Vladimir Moss



     If Napoleon lost the war for the domination of Europe, in some important ways he won the peace. “Napoleon left behind a political legend that quickly developed into a potent myth among liberal writers, politicians, army officers and students, who were encouraged by his own turn (whether genuine or not) to liberal ideas during the ‘Hundred Days’ before Waterloo in an attempt to broaden his support. Very much aware of the weakness of his situation, Napoleon had gone to some lengths to reassure the world that his dreams of conquest were over, and the French that he would respect the rights and liberties of the citizen and no longer behave like an imperial dictator. He continued in the same vein in his writings in exile before his death. In subsequent decades the legend of the ‘liberal Emperor’ gained still further in potency. ‘During his life,’ remarked the writer François René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), ‘the world slipped through his grasp, but in death he possessed it.’ In France, ‘Bonapartism’ came to stand for patriotism, universal manhood suffrage, the sovereignty of the nation, the institution of an efficient, centralized, bureaucratic administration that dealt equally with all citizens, the periodic consultation of the people by its government through plebiscites and referendums, and an implicit contract between Frenchmen and the state that provided social order and political stability, national pride, and military glory. Not so far removed from Republicanism, Bonapartism differed from it by its greater emphasis on strong leadership and military prowess. But like Republicanism, it struck deep roots in significant parts of the French population…


     “… For many people outside France, too, the cult of Napoleon stood for the achievements of the Revolution, translated into purposeful reform after the excesses of the terror in the early 1790s. Irish republicans and Polish nationalists looked to Napoleon for inspiration in their political struggles. The Venezuelan liberator of large swathes of South America from Spanish rule, Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), admired Napoleon so much that he had made the journey to Milan to see his hero crowned King of Italy. In China and Madagascar, Napoleon was worshipped by some as a god…”[1]


     “One of the most remarkable and panoramic descriptions of the battle of Waterloo,” writes Sachs, “unfolds in The Charterhouse of Parma, a novel written in 1839 by Marie-Henri Beyle – better known by his nom de plume – Stendhal – who had been attached to the French army off and on throughout Bonaparte’s rule as first consul and reign as Emperor Napoleon I… Early in Charterhouse, Fabrice del Dongo, the novel’s impetuous young protagonist runs away from his aristocratic, ultraconservative father’s home to serve Napoleon; he observes the battle that puts a decisive end to his hero’s career; then wonders how he can possibly make something of himself now that the revolutionary-imperial adventure has been snuffed out. And the same predicament dominates the lives of the wholly different young male protagonists of Stendhal’s two other, earlier, fictional masterpieces, The Red and the Black and the unfinished Lucien Leuwen. All three characters seem to be consciously or subconsciously obsessed with one question: What do we do, now that Napoleon is gone and all the enthusiasm-engendering excitement is over?


     “Stendhal, who was born in 1783, was curious about how the Napoleonic era, viewed as a bygone epic, would affect post-Waterloo youths, because he knew so very well what the emperor’s reign – which he called ‘the despotism of glory’ – had meant to young people of his own generation. He had witnessed and subscribed to the initial idealism, to the notion that France’s mission was not only to repulse the armies of the foreign monarchies allied against the forces of the Revolution but also to liberate all of Europe from the tyranny of absolutism. As the wars dragged on, however, he had seen those ideals subverted, reduced to hollow, meaningless slogans and used as an excuse for conquest, with all of its accompanying devastation. Later, in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat, Stendhal became one of the first literary figures to perceive the relationship between the death of the Revolution and the flowering of Romanticism – Romanticism understood as a sublimation of the liberating principles of a revolution that had first exploded across Europe and then imploded on itself…”[2]




     We know from the Holy Scriptures that world history will culminate in the seven-year reign of the Antichrist. Therefore it must be a major aim of historians to discern how history is moving in that direction, and what are the major landmarks in that process, and in particular the most significant forerunners of the Antichrist. In the two millenia that have passed since Christ, Napoleon must rank as the most significant type of the Antichrist that has yet appeared on the stage of human history.


     First of all, the Antichrist, as the Holy Fathers teach us, will come to power at the end of a period of chaos, bringing his kind of order to the chaos. Similarly, Napoleon reached the summit of power at the end of the eighteenth century at the conclusion of a period of anarchy, the French Revolution, as the bringer of order to revolutionary chaos, of peace after revolutionary war – or so it was hoped.


     Secondly, the Antichrist will honour the Jews and Judaism, and will be hailed as their Messiah. Similarly, Napoleon convened the Jewish Sanhedrin for the first time since the first century, invaded the Holy Land, and was hailed as the Messiah.


     Thirdly, the Antichrist will subdue the Gentile nations around him. Similarly, Napoleon, having established his despotic power in France, set out to conquer the rest of Europe. The Antichrist will also fiercely persecute the Christians who do not accept his authority. Napoleon did not persecute the Christians as such, and claimed, hypocritically, to die as a member of the Catholic Church. But he insulted the Pope, made his church in France a department of state, and conquered the Papal States. Moreover, he was anathematized in 1806 as the Forerunner of the Antichrist by the Russian Orthodox Church, and killed hundreds of thousands of Russian Christians.


     However, Napoleon was not the conventional despot, ruling by force and fear. He masked his despotism very cleverly with democratic slogans and pretensions, creating the myth of the “liberal Emperor”. And, a master of propaganda and psychology, who understood and exploited the passions and weaknesses of all those with whom he came into contact, he won the hearts and minds of many millions of his subjects to such an extent that he was almost worshipped as a god. Indeed, it is this almost magical capacity to seduce people that marks him out especially as a forerunner of the Antichrist, whose magical powers are emphasized by the Holy Fathers. 


     This capacity was noted especially by Tsaritsa Elizabeth, Empress of Russia. As she wrote to her mother when her husband, Tsar Alexander I, was still under Napoleon’s spell: “You know, Mamma, this man seems to me like an irresistible seducer who by temptation or force succeeds in stealing the hearts of his victims. Russia, the most virtuous of them, has defended herself for a long time; but she has ended up no better than the others. And, in the person of her Emperor, she has yielded as much to charm as to force. He [Alexander] feels a secret attraction to his enticer which is apparent in all he does. I should indeed like to know what magic it is that he [Napoleon] employs to change people’s opinions so suddenly and so completely…”[3]


     He was both a seducer and a ruthless destroyer. There were numerous stories of his charm and kindness to those loyal to him, and he had the natural human passions of love for women and children. (But you could say the same about Stalin). And yet there was a steely coldness at the heart of his “good deeds”. “A man such as I,” he told Metternich, “does not concern himself much about the lives of a million men.” (Stalin said something similar. For him the death of millions was “a mere statistic”.) 


     Madame De Staël wrote: “I had the disturbing feeling that no emotion of the heart could ever reach him. He regards a human being like a fact or a thing, never as an equal person like himself. He neither hates nor loves… The force of his will resides in the imperturbable calculations of his egotism. He is a chess-master whose opponents happen to be the rest of humanity… Neither pity nor attraction, nor religion nor attachment would ever divert him from his ends… I felt in his soul cold steel, I felt in his mind a deep irony against which nothing great or good, even his own destiny, was proof; for he despised the nation which he intended to govern, and no spark of enthusiasm was mingled with his desire to astound the human race…”


     Thus for De Staël he was a “Condottiere without manners, without fatherland, without morality, an oriental despot, a new Attila, a warrior who knew only how to corrupt and annihilate.”


      Hegel also saw this antichristian, man-god quality, but in a more positive sense (Germans such as Hegel and Goethe were, if anything, even more seduced by him than the French). Just before the Battle of Jena in 1806, he saw Napoleon riding through the town on horseback, and wrote: “I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it.”


     A “world-soul” – an Alexander, a Caesar, a Napoleon, a Hitler, a Stalin - has to conquer the whole world. The mastery of one nation, even the greatest, will not satisfy him. In order to affirm and justify his quasi-divine essence, he has to compel the assent and/or worship of all men. In fact, he has to become not only aman-god, but the Antichrist, the ruler of the world instead of Christ. And if, as Dostoyevsky pointed out in The Brothers Karamazov, universal brotherhood in the worship of one man is the innermost desire of all men, then those who do not worship the one true God, the God who became truly man, will inevitably be deceived into worshipping the man who claims to be god through “the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders” (II Thessalonians 2.9)..


     Man’s oldest dream has been to acquire immortality and divinity. For Satan said to Eve, while offering her the forbidden fruit: “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.4-5). Napoleon partook deeply of the forbidden fruit and reached a peak of glory unattained by any man before him – but dealt more death to the human race than any man since Genghis Khan. And he died in lonely misery, chained to a rock in the South Atlantic, like Prometheus, for having stolen the divine fire… He forgot the other words of Holy Scripture: “I said: Ye are gods, and all of you the sons of the Most High. But like men ye die, and like one of the rulers do ye fall” (Psalm 81.6-7).


August 7/20, 2022.


[1]  Sir Richard Evans, The Pursuit of Power. Europe 1815-1914, London: Penguin, 2017,  p. 13.

[2] Sachs, The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1924, London: Faber & Faber, 2010, pp. 66-67.

[3] Tsaritsa Elizabeth, in Alan Palmer, Alexander I, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974, p. 148.

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