Did Napoleon preserve the French Revolution or did he destroy it?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Napoleon was unquestionably the product of the French Revolution, which opened the door for a man of talent and ambition like himself to rise to remarkable heights. In many ways, he continued it by building his power on the structure of the revolutionary state. He also eliminated many aspects of the ancien regime once and for all, most conspicuously refusing to restore the old aristocracy. He reformed the French law code, incorporating a host of revolutionary reforms. He also established educational reforms, including the creation of meritocratic lycees.

On the other hand, when he was in power, he rolled back many of the reforms of the Revolution, including the rights of women and basic protections for civil liberties. He anointed himself emperor and established his family members as hereditary monarchs of sovereign European nations. In this sense, he completely eviscerated the liberal reforms of the revolution. Many have argued that his policies of state consolidation in service of war anticipated the twentieth century fascist state. One could say that of France under the Terror as well, but it was Napoleon that organized it around a cult of personality almost unprecedented in European history, and ultimately antithetical to the reforms of the Revolution.

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