In what ways did the career and policies of Napoleon fulfill, destroy, and /or move beyond the ideas of the French Revolution? 

Expert Answers
rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Napoleon came to power by overthrowing the so-called "Directory," a revolutionary government beset by inflation and corruption and opposed by Frenchmen from the right and the left. Napoleon was a highly successful revolutionary general, and very popular in France. Some historians view his coup as the end of the Revolution, because it led to his dictatorship and ultimately to his reign as Emperor. But some also argue that through his actions, Napoleon fulfilled and even extended the French Revolution. This answer would explain both positions.

Napoleon's rise to power reversed whatever democratic trends were left as a legacy of the first five years of the French Revolution (though it should be noted that many of his actions were approved by a plebiscite of French voters.) He also abolished or restricted many liberal reforms, including freedom of the press, which had emerged during the Revolution, and he reestablished the Catholic Church, reversing what many revolutionaries considered their most important achievement. The Code Napoleon, instituted after his rise to power, also curtailed the rights of women, who had made significant gains during the Revolution. Most obviously, his assumption of the title Emperor marked a return to a monarchical form of government, if not the reactionary Bourbons that ruled before the Revolution.

At the same time, Napoleon personally believed in many of the reforms that the Revolution had established in French society. His Code Napoleon was an effort to reform the complex system of unequal laws that had survived the Revolution. He did not allow the legal privileges to the nobility that had characterized France under the old regime, and in fact he did much to allow Frenchmen to rise to positions of power and leadership through merit rather than birth (as he himself had done). Even though, as mentioned above, he allowed for the establishment of the Catholic Church, he also extended religious freedom to the nation's Protestants and Jews. Also, Napoleon's armies carried many of the Revolutionary ideas with them as they ranged across Europe, and if Napoleon did not establish republican government everywhere he went, the presence of French troops helped to destabilize the old order, especially in the German states. 

Maybe the simplest way to put it is this: Napoleon allowed and even extended the French Revolutionary achievements that allowed him to promote a powerful state, and eliminated those which, in his assessment, stood in the way of this process.