Napoleon Bonaparte remains one of the most significant political figures in European history. His domestic political style was relatively aggressive, whereas his expansionist ambitions caused the start of a major military campaign, called the Napoleonic Wars. Being an excellent military strategist, he pursued similar strategies in the battlefield and in politics, which is why his political style is best described as a military dictatorship.
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A military dictatorship is a form of government that has several distinctive characteristics. First, it is usually formed by an overthrow of the previous government. Second, the leaders of the new government generally come from the armed forces and have a substantial support both of the citizens and of the military. Moreover, this form of government is autocratic, has a substantial degree of control over the country’s people, and can maintain its power through an extensive show of force. Finally, due to the military government’s need for the control of its position, the existence of other political parties and bodies is severely limited.
The history of Napoleon’s rule demonstrates all of the above characteristics. Napoleon Bonaparte came to power during the French Revolution, after overthrowing the Directory in a 1799 coup d’état. The Directory was widely criticized for its ineffectiveness and corruption, whereas Napoleon’s military victories in other countries granted him a reputation of a successful leader with a strong vision of the nation’s future. Napoleon began his military duty at an early age and quickly rose through the ranks after the start of the Revolution, reaching the title of an army general at the age of 24. His military career was mainly characterized by famous victories, such as the Siege of Toulon. It was due to his victory at Toulon that he was offered a place as the commander of the improvised forces in defense of the Convention in 1975. According to biographers, this experience became the key to Napoleon’s future military strategies as he realized the true power of the artillery. Nevertheless, in the coup of 19 Brumaire, when Napoleon came to power, the use of force was limited as Napoleon had a lot of support from the military leaders and the public. During his years in service, Napoleon has managed to win important political allies, such as the French former foreign minister, who pressured one of the Directors into resigning his authority, and General Jean Victor Marie Moreau, who ensured the lack of resistance of the last two Directors remaining in power.
Some of the Ancients became firm opposers of Napoleon’s claim of power; however, most of them were placated by an extensive show of military force or by Napoleon’s strategic decisions and alliances. The public, on the other hand, was mainly supportive of the new leader as he was useful in solving some of the country’s most pressing issues – for instance, in his first years on the throne, he centralized the government and introduced various reforms in education. Moreover, his policy was strongly supportive of the enlightenment movement – for instance, by improving the policies concerning the country’s scientific institutions. He has also introduced the Napoleonic code, which resulted in a major development of the French legal system.
Overall, Napoleonic rule fits the description of military dictatorship. Napoleon came to power after overthrowing the previous government and reducing the number of political bodies; he was also a famous military leader by that time and had a substantial support of the armed forces, as well as the approval of the public, which helped him to stabilize his political position. Lastly, Napoleon reached and maintained power through a heavy use of his military alliances, which is also characteristic of the military dictatorship system.