This past week, I attended a lecture titled, “Napoleon and the Cult of Glory”, given by David A. Bell of Princeton University. The presentation was very informative in explaining Napoleon’s life, his rise, and his downfall, as well as how many of his leadership-based characteristics compared to the qualities of other notable men of power around the same period in history.
During the lecture, Bell described the many characteristics attributed with powerful figures, which accounted a great deal for why Napoleon was elected as a leader, gaining enough power to eventually crown himself emperor. Such characteristics included being virtuous in a classical manner, having mental or physical strengths which convey masculinity, being ready to fight and die in battle or having some other intense military glory, the ability to be a “father” of one’s own country, and having a personal connection with ordinary citizens, causing one’s “celebrity” status to flourish. Napoleon was successful in conveying these characteristics, and therefore, was seen as a powerful, revolutionary figure. Considered to be a hero of France, he was able to win the hearts of many people during his rise to power.
Prior to the lecture, I was aware of Napoleon’s rise to success and his eventual fall and exile, following the Battle of Waterloo, but I was unaware of the specific aspects involved in his quest for power. Such aspects included the fact that Napoleon had many of the traits of leaders previously described, most notably, his authority that was both personal and charismatic. Glory was also a very important principle of his ideals and campaign, making his “Cult of Glory” the binding incentive of the French people to his regime. The Cult of Glory, though, was a cult of militarism, and because Napoleon could not provide the war and victory necessary for such glory to occur, his fall from power soon began. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the novel ideas and unique characteristics that helped him to gain success and recognition were the same elements that caused his eventual downfall.