For Napoleon, the ideals of the French Revolution were simply a means to an end, and that end was his own personal power. The Corsican general had no hesitation in using revolutionary rhetoric to convince others that he was sincere in continuing with the traditions of 1789. In reality, however,...
For Napoleon, the ideals of the French Revolution were simply a means to an end, and that end was his own personal power. The Corsican general had no hesitation in using revolutionary rhetoric to convince others that he was sincere in continuing with the traditions of 1789. In reality, however, Napoleon proceeded to establish a dictatorship which had all the trappings of ancien regime monarchy and under which "liberté, égalité, fraternité" were notable for their absence.
After Napoleon crowned himself—literally—in 1804, many felt that he had betrayed the principles of the Revolution, especially its republicanism. Once safely ensconced on the throne, Napoleon set about establishing his own court, creating numerous titles of nobility. Despite obvious parallels with the ancien regime, Napoleon's new aristocratic elite was based on service and loyalty to the new Emperor—not, as in former days, on noble blood and ancient lineage.
Throughout Napoleon's reign, he built upon a number of important political legacies bequeathed to him by the Revolution. One example would be the centralization of the French state. This allowed Napoleon to concentrate greater power in his own hands and diminish the possibility of some kind of regional revolt against his regime, such as had happened during the Revolution in the Vendée.
More importantly, Napoleon used the principle of exporting the Revolution as a means to acquire more territory and glory for France. In its early stages, the French Revolution was seen as a great liberating movement dedicated to freeing the oppressed masses of Europe from cruel, repressive tyrants. Yet, in due course, as the French revolutionary forces invaded neighboring countries, they quickly turned into repressive occupiers, depriving the indigenous populations of the very same universal rights for which they themselves had fought.
As Napoleon gobbled up more and more territory, he made no pretense that he was motivated by revolutionary principles. However, he still paid lip-service to these principles by removing monarchs and dissolving the Holy Roman Empire, which had stood for over 1,000 years. But this was less due to any desire for inherent republicanism on Napoleon's part than a desire to make sure that politically reliable people were in charge of lands conquered by his rampaging armies.
In general terms, it is possible to suggest that Napoleon combined certain elements of both the ancien regime and the French Revoltion to create a completely new synthesis, one that was neither wholly one thing or the other.