Front Page Titles (by Subject) 149.: Napoleon I and His Russian Campaign - Judgments on History and Historians
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149.: Napoleon I and His Russian Campaign - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Napoleon I and His Russian Campaign
The whole world was dreadfully disarranged, to the point of an unprecedented state of violence. But this is what Napoleon wished to complete and then leave to his son. Everything was to be so firmly established that even the son’s mediocrity would not have done any harm. In this there was at work a giant egoism, devoid of any moral scruples as soon as goals were at stake. The absolute sense of power was the decisive thing, accompanied, to be sure, by a tremendous personality, but still degenerating into a gambler’s passion. The furies of the sense of power were imagination and impatience, but not madness, certainly not Roman imperial madness, which arises from hedonism and fear of conspirators. Within the scope of his great, false goals Napoleon acts not only rationally, but with genius, to the extent that the false ends do not rub off on the means. His intelligence and energy were not on the decline; in the campaigns of 1813 to 1815 he often appears in his full stature. Nevertheless, there were moments of weakness. But the false political goal quite frequently and in decisive situations brings perdition to the field commander, and in the Russian campaign this is the case from A to Z. He feared adverse effects on the rest of Europe if he did not capture Moscow, but rather took up winter quarters in Vilna, Vitebsk, or Smolensk. And even when he had Moscow, nine-tenths of which was burned, it became his undoing all the more because he wanted to preserve the semblance of possession for as long as possible.
The Russian campaign is the most foolish thing that Napoleon decided upon in his passion and then carried out with the most colossal intellectual and material resources. Even if one grants him his mission to rule over all of Europe, he should not have done this. To be sure, Thiers believes that if Napoleon had persistently continued the Spanish war and the Continental system instead of the Russian campaign, he would have subdued England and thus disarmed Europe, too. That way he would have gained time as well as the sense to make at the peak of his power the sacrifices necessary to make his regime bearable and therefore permanent as well.
But it was precisely in the Spanish war that the crime was avenged. Napoleon had a distaste for this war; it no longer was a pleasant subject for his imagination. He could not get quite stubborn about such matters; he did not want to go there himself again after his brief visit in 1808–1809. Besides, what others have, or are supposed to have, already spoiled has no attraction for people such as Napoleon who like to undertake new things but not to straighten out something that has been botched. His sense of military artistry rebelled against this.
Of course, employment and financing for the army could have been found in Spain just as well as in Russia. The marshals and the common soldiers would certainly have liked to stay at home, and the remaining, ambitious components of the army were not even a secondary cause of the Russian campaign. At any rate, this sort of thing was amply counterbalanced by the fact that every war aroused the hopes of the dissidents at home and with Napoleon’s life put everything in doubt.
The most plausible idea may be that Napoleon was plagued by the idée fixe that after his possible early death Alexander would be at the head of a coalition against the French power. However, Napoleon could have frustrated this in another way, by humane and even friendly treatment and consolation of Prussia, Austria, and Sweden.
It is an entirely vain question what he would have done with Russia if he had succeeded to the extent of occupying Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other places, and perhaps forcing Alexander to flee to Kazan or Astrakhan. For Alexander was much safer with flight than surrender. To be sure, Napoleon misjudged him as well as the Russians.
He believed that he had all princes in his net, because they were afraid of the democratic inclinations of their peoples (which was the case in Austria); but he would not hear of these peoples’ despair and rage which were directed against him and which had to sweep along the princes, depending on the circumstances. In general, he no longer put up with any alternative proposals to his plans.
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