Despot, noun. A ruler with absolute power and authority. The word has come to have a connotation of a dictatorial-style government. On the other hand, an enlightened despot has the implication of one man who is ruling for the people. While it can still be considered absolutist, because of the absence of a system of checks and balances, the enlightened despot is generally someone whose interest lies in the people he rules, and not in his own advancement. Napoleon, in some circles, has come to be considered an enlightened despot. The claim is made that his conquering of territories was not to increase his own power, but rather, to liberate the people conquered. Revisionist history may try to show Napoleon in a better light, that of an enlightened despot, but a hard look at the facts shows that Napoleon was simply a dictator, only trying to gain more power for himself.

Those who subscribe to the "Napoleon as an enlightened despot" theory say that Napoleon carried out the ideals of the French Revolution to their most extreme point. He liberated people all over Europe from restrictive governments. He set up a blockade against England in order to protect the economies of the nations of the Continent. Domestically, he wiped out feudalism and serfdom with the Napoleonic Code. This freed thousands of peasants from the trials of feudal dues, and the other obligations of the feudal system. Napoleon also created the Concordat of 1801 with the Catholic Church, allowing Catholics to practice their religion freely in France. Having appeased the poor, and the Catholics, Napoleon also created the Bank of France, uniting the state with the rich nobles.

Looking at all Napoleon's accomplishments during his reign, he appears to be a fine ruler, with the interests of his people, along with the interests of the rest of the world, at heart. Perhaps this view of Napoleon is only scratching the surface. Maybe his intentions are not quite so pure, but truly, more self-serving. Another view of Napoleon is that he is a power-hungry dictator, looking to conquer first western Europe, then the world. To do this, he knows he needs the support and the loyalty of the French people, in order to have the strength to take over other lands. The Napoleonic Codes gained him the support of the peasants, the Bank of France the support of the rich nobles, and the Concordat the support of the Catholics, as well as a great deal of influence over the Catholic Church.

Outside of France, Napoleon pushed his power to the limit. He sent his troops through Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, conquering each one of them, marching all the way through western Europe, up to Russia, where eventually he was stopped. Napoleon's sole interest was in gaining more land, which, to him, equaled power. Rather than liberating the people, he put them under the rule of another government, in many cases more stringent than the last. He also enacted a strict embargo on England, blockading them with his ships, and essentially, causing the War of 1812. This move was made to keep England busy, so they wouldn't interfere in his attempts at conquering the rest of Europe. It was also a bit of a slap in the face to a country with whom France had always had an extensive rivalry.

Revisionists often try to paint Napoleon in a better light than he deserves. On the surface, he can appear like an enlightened despot, truly concerned about doing what is best for the French people, as well as the rest of the world. If you look beyond that, though, you can see that Napoleon's true agenda was to gain power for himself, not caring at all for anyone else.

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