What could Napoleon Bonaparte have about punk?
The literal translation of punk, it’s rascal, thug. What Napoleon was in his youth. And throughout his life, he will keep this transgressive side, rebellious to authority, whether local, national, European. Even in his coronation, there is a punk side: Napoleon brings Pope Pius VII to Paris, which even kings would not have dared. He summons the highest spiritual authority of his time to finally give him a secondary role in the ceremony. You could say that makes him a bad guy, I think that has something remarkable about it. This side, “everything that precedes me: trash”, “the world is me”. It’s pretentious, it shows total disrespect. But it’s punk.
What remains of Napoleon among our contemporary heads of state?
First of all, the desire to be Napoleon. And the one who seems to want it the most is Vladimir Putin. This image of a solid statesman, these photos of him on horseback, sometimes shirtless… Now, as to who really looks more like Napoleon, it’s difficult… I would say perhaps Barack Obama, for his conquest power. Obama is a Chicago lawyer out of nowhere, from a minority background, with a first and last name that may seem bizarre and he will build his victory on that difference, with the help of a brilliant political communicator, David Axelrod . Napoleon saw a little the same thing when he arrived at the military school of Brienne in the Aube, then in Paris. We make fun of his name, his accent, his Corsican origins … His charisma starts from this difference. And then there are also their wives.
The parallel between Josephine and Michele Obama is obvious. Josephine is the one who introduces the young Corsican to the high society of Paris. Michelle Obama will help her husband in the same way. I remember that anecdote (reported in an article by Marie Claire, “Michelle Obama, from First Lady to icon”, Editor’s note) : Barack Obama would have told him, about a suitor: “If you had married him, you would own this restaurant today.” “ She would have answered him: “No, if I had married him, he would be president. ” Napoleon and Barack Obama are also alike in the post-exercise of power. After his two terms, Obama has kept this “cool” image of a man you want to shake hands with. His record can be debated, but there is a certain nostalgia for the providential man. From the exile in Saint Helena, Napoleon, who is nothing more, fights against what he fears above all: oblivion. He is afraid of becoming the loser that he was, in his younger years. For him, it is not conceivable that his name and his work leave with the bathwater. And this last battle, against oblivion, he wins. As Chateaubriand will say: “After having undergone the despotism of his person, we must undergo the despotism of his memory. “
In France, no head of state has anything of Napoleon?
With General de Gaulle, the parallel is easy. When the soldier decides to disobey his hierarchy, he knows his history in France. He knows that Napoleon Iis was born in Italy, during the first campaign. But de Gaulle will always have a certain distance from Napoleonic history. He did not want us to associate “great Charles” too much with “little Napoleon”…
The one that most reminds me of Napoleon is François Mitterrand. You only have to see the staging of their death, the masks (upon the death of François Mitterrand, Paris Match published a photo of him on his deathbed, accompanied by the image of Napoleon’s mask, Editor’s note). Mitterrand’s famous phrase, “I believe in the forces of the spirit and I will not leave you”Bonaparte could have pronounced it. Both have this ambition, this obsession, to survive their own death. Let us not forget either that Mitterrand made Margaret Thatcher cry (during the Fontainebleau summit in 1984, editor’s note). This is a Napoleonic act! When Bonaparte won Austerlitz, the English Prime Minister, William Pitt, died a few weeks later. Napoleon and Mitterrand also share a builder side. Rue de Rivoli, the Champs-Élysées for the first; the Grand Louvre (formerly the Napoleon museum…), the National Library of France, the Opéra Bastille for the second. This aspect, the last presidents of the Ve Republic do not have it.
Yet we have often compared Nicolas Sarkozy or Emmanuel Macron to the Emperor …
Physically, we find some similarities, yes. There is also the energetic temperament, the ambition. But I think the parallel ends there. The Napoleonic myth does not hold only on propaganda speech, but also on facts. What made him excessively popular was bringing France to the top of the world. Today, in the midst of a health crisis, with lack of material and innovation, the French still have the feeling that their country holds the upper hand? I’m not sure of it.