Some of history’s greatest rulers such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and Joseph II have been considered to be enlightened despot. One of these was also Napoleon Bonaparte. They ways by which Napoleon has been considered to be a despot are through his economic policies, religious and educational policies, and the Code Napoleon.
The term “enlightened despot” has been used to describe many great rulers, but it might be misinterpreted. The word “enlightened” means to be influenced by the values and ideas of the Enlightenment. Also, the word “despot” is defined as to exercise dictatorial authority. Considering the definitions of these two words, the term “enlightened despot” would be defined as a person who believes to be influenced by the ideas of Enlightenment and exercises authority similar to that of a dictator.
Napoleon had many accomplishments through his economic policies, such as establishing the Bank of France and reorganizing and centralizing tax collection. He also established the Continental System, which attempted to block England from continental trade. Napoleon also put into effect the Berlin Decree in 1816, which prohibited trade with England. In 1807, the Milan Decree was passed which stated that any ship which traded or even been stopped by the British Navy was to be confiscated. French manufacturing was wholly unable to makeup for the loss of British goods. Soon afterwards, the French manufacturers and merchants began to resent the restrictions. Napoleon regarded his allies and conquered territories as a source for raw materials, conscripts, and a market for French goods. Eventually, Napoleon’s economic policies contributed to his fall.
Religious and educational policies were also part of Napoleon’s accomplishments, which lead for him to be the greatest enlightened despot. One of the religious policies was the Concordat of 1801, which gave the Catholic Church special status. The Concordat also gave power to the government to nominate bishops who then had the power to appoint the priests. One of Napoleon’s educational policies was the establishment of the Lycées, which were state run elite secondary schools. The curriculum was to glorify Napoleon and teach obedience. He also founded the École Polytechnique, which was an engineering school.
The final way by, which Napoleon became a despot, is through his Code Napoleon. It codified and reconciled the customary law of northern France with Roman law of the South. The Code Napoleon also provided equality of all before the law, religious freedom, and “freedom of work,” which reaffirmed the Le Chapelier law banning workers’ associations. A benefit of the Code Napoleon was that workers were not allowed to strike and were required to carry passports that could be checked by government officials or employers. Napoleon could be considered a sexist because the
Code stated that a woman’s income would pass to her husband’s family and not to hers. Another thing was that women workers’ wages did not belong to them; instead it belonged to their husband. Napoleon said, “In France, women are considered too highly. They should not be regarded as equal to men. In reality they are nothing more than machines for producing children.” This is an example of Napoleon’s discrimination towards women, which also relates to him being an enlightened despot.
Rulers such as Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and Joseph II have all been considered to be enlightened despots, but Napoleon Bonaparte is known to be the greatest enlightened despot until today. In a pattern similar to other despots, the people of France loved Napoleon at first, but enough they began to hate him. The ways through which he became the greatest enlightened despot are economic policies, religious and education policies, and the Code Napoleon. Only time will be able to show us if there a greater enlightened despot than Napoleon Bonaparte.