Friday, August 1, 2014


It happens every time I've gone to Napoleon's Tomb, and I think that today was my third time. Not so many times, but a powerful experience each time. I start out in the Tomb just thinking it's ridiculous: why should this man whose "humble" wish was that his ashes be buried "amongst be people' have such a megalomaniacal tomb? What's with burying his generals past present and future all around him in the upper part of the chapel? Dear friends are in town and they are here to see it and so we are. Everyone must have their own reasons for coming to see the Great Man - mine is to read and understand more about the things he instituted (and the low relief panels all around the circle of the lower tomb area are all dedicated to his endeavors). One year, it was his institutionalization of public education; another it was his reconciliation of the Catholic church within The State.  This year, it was the Cour des Comptes which is, to the best of my understanding, a means of holding the government accountable for public monies. I think of our current 1%, of lack of regulation, and I start to wonder how a mind like his would perceive hot messes that are countries today and fix them up. Having endured all sorts of small absurdities at the hands on ticket booths and directions, I am deeply appreciative of Napoleon's plans for a pervasive rationality. The metric system, his law code, putting numbers on houses... all of these are small every day things, that he blended and extracted into his greater systems. And so I think what I think when I'm here, which is that, really, he should have gotten a  bigger monument. It's patently absurd (monuments don't get bigger than this), but it's something I wish for every time. Maybe a monument that celebrates how the government shall create a separate entity to ensure that the government is spending the people's money with good will and good intent.  That would be some monument.


  1. Yes, rational government, but (how) do we represent the sexism inherent in his civil code, the desire for central (dictatorial?) control, the dead French and other bodies all across Europe because of his lust for Empire, etc? Did he safeguard or destroy the French Revolution? This is one of my favorite exam questions, precisely because the answer is so tricky.

  2. What a GREAT exam question! Wow wow wow! I would so want to answer that. Maybe something for Oliver's Revolution final in a few months. :-) I agree - I thought about the irreconcilability of all of his work for "le peuple" and his churning through the lives of soldiers (for whom, in turn, he built the incredible Invalides and its still thriving Veterans Administration). We'd need to talk about this, yes?

  3. This (the blog post, of course, but especially these comments!) reminds me of how I feel every time I visit the FDR memorial, which is often. The irreconcilability of the New Deal and the Japanese Internment, just to start.

    (Sorry for all these comments! Obviously, I'm catching up on your blog instead of tackling the mountain of books to my left. I have no regrets)