James Poulos: Why Europe Needs Another Napoleon
James Poulos is a columnist at the Daily Caller and a contributor to Ricochet and Vice. He is on Twitter at @jamespoulos.
Nearly 200 years after his death, Napoleon Bonaparte is finally getting the greatest honor our age can bestow: his own theme park. Napoleonland -- stop laughing -- was concocted by a former French minister to rival Disneyland in its immersive fun and totemic cultural status. Shopping! Dining! Re-enactments of the Battle of Austerlitz! Not a bad rehabilitation for an all-conquering megalomaniacal exiled emperor.
Truth be told, there's a serious lesson to be found in the fact that Europe will soon have a Napoleonland -- but never, for instance, a Hitlerworld. Unfortunately, Anglo-Americans are apt to unfavorably compare the head of the First French Empire to the leader of the Third German Reich....
But while both Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler possessed hegemonic ambitions and left ruin in their wake, the contrasts between the two are rich with significance for Europe's future. Hitler, a plebian and civilian, sought to absorb Europe into a political party, not extend it with an empire. Bonaparte, a professional soldier born to Genovese nobles, spread his armies across the continent in a quest for political unity, not racial Lebensraum.
We'd do well to contemplate why the closest modern Europe has ever been to such unity is when it was Napoleonland. As the European Union's paltry political authority heads for the funeral pyre, German economic strength is still no match for the unifying power of historically French ideals and the relative legitimacy of French political leadership.
Yet influential Western commentators are holding fast to the idea that a veritable Fourth Reich of German efficiency is the only way to save Europe. Pro-German prognostications hold sway. In Niall Ferguson's imagining of Europe in 2021, the United States of Europe, which has replaced the EU, is dominated by Germany from a Viennese headquarters. "German officials talk excitedly about a future Treaty of Yalta, dividing Eastern Europe anew into Russian and European spheres of influence," Ferguson writes. Critics call new Europe the "Wholly German Empire." It's Deutschland über alles again, only economics is king....
comments powered by Disqus
- Judith Kelleher Schafer, 72, a historian of slavery and prostitution, dies
- Northwestern celebrates Garry Wills with a book in his honor
- Conservatives go after UCLA's historian James Gelvin
- Laura Hillenbrand writes her masterpieces despite suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- New PBS DVD From Henry Louis Gates Jr. Explores African Influence on the Caribbean