Essay by crazyhum June 2010

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Napoleon's hegemony over Europe came very close to being comprehensive, yet his ascendancy was brief. Even in France and his earliest conquests in the Low Countries, northern Italy and western Germany, Napoleon's rule lasted little more than 14 years. This juxtaposition of a sprawling imperial presence across Europe, unequalled before or since, with so short a time span to study, poses the inevitable dilemma. Napoleon's lasting influence on contemporary Europe should not be judged solely on the enduring nature of his positive achievements, but also on the trauma his rule induced in those who endured it. Napoleonic rule had vast and deep repercussions for European society and an important role in shaping the institutions of modern Europe that far outweigh its brevity.

Imperialism one of the greatest forces, for both good and ill, in the modern world. However difficult imperialism may be to define, it is readily acknowledged as a series of phenomena that made the contemporary world much of what it now is. Does the Napoleonic 'episode' confine as it was to continental Europe and driven to so great a degree by military expediency and the whims of one man deserve to be included in the genre of imperialism. Can the tools of modern post-colonial studies be applied to a European empire, however short or long its moment of dominance? Again, we can believe so, and for two main reasons.

First, one man, Napoleon; did not run the empire and those who administered indeed, coerced the lands under his control had a common vision of how society should be. For all his many and varied statements on the subject, Napoleon by and large shared that vision and this made his grand enterprise possible: Napoleon belonged to his own time, and so rallied his own generation around him.

Second, their...