Wednesday, June 22, 2005

France owes more to Talleyrand than Napoleon

Former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte -- Napoleon I -- in exile on Elba, blaming Talleyrand and Fouche for his predicament, said: "If I had hanged Talleyrand and Fouche, I would have been still today on the throne." When the news reached Talleyrand, he said: "Napoleon, instead of hanging me, should have listened to me."

But how could a megalomaniac listen to anyone else for advice? What Talleyrand said is true, if Old Nap had listened to him, Talleyrand could have kept him in power for decades in a Europe at peace. But as we all know, Napoleon constantly rejected Talleyrand's proposals for making peace with his defeated neighbors.

Talleyrand was ahead of his time regarding many European issues. At the Congress of Vienna he strived for the creation of a strong and independent Poland, although this was not to allowed at that time. He foresaw future Prussian aggression theatening European peace, and helped foster a German federation to counter Prussia's militancy. It was only the stupidity of yet another Napoleon who declared war on Prussia in 1870, that fatally weakened this effort to contain German aggression. Talleyrand felt France's natural ally in Europe was England and opposed the brutal policies of autocratic regimes like Russia and Austria. Compared to this, what did Napoleon stand for? Not much beyond self-glory.


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