Portrait of Germaine de Staël

Madame de Staël argues that Napoleon was able to create a tyrannical government by pandering to men’s interests, corrupting public opinion, and waging constant war (1817)

Found in: Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)

One of Napoleon’s most persistent critics was Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) who sheltered many liberal opponents of the regime in her salon at Coppet in Switzerland. In one of the first histories of the French Revolution she identifies the ways in which Napoleon manipulated power to establish his tyranny:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

It is generally after long civil troubles that tyranny is established, because it offers the hope of shelter to all the exhausted and timorous factions. Bonaparte said of himself with reason that he could play admirably upon the instrument of power. In truth, as he is attached to no principles, nor restrained by any obstacles, he presents himself in the arena of circumstances like a wrestler, no less supple than vigorous, and discovers at the first glance the points in every man or association of men which may promote his private designs. His scheme for arriving at the dominion of France rested upon three principal bases—to satisfy men’s interests at the expense of their virtues, to deprave public opinion by sophisms, and to give the nation war for an object instead of liberty.