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by William H. Benson
August 17, 2000

He was born Napoleon Bonaparte on August 15, 1769 to Italian-speaking parents living in Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean, but it was in and through France that he achieved control of all of Europe. And he did that by the time he was 35 years old, and in so doing he became without a doubt the greatest military genius of all time.
At the military academy in Paris he attended while a teenager, he learned that he could be rebellious to authority and indifferent to the feelings of the other students and still “win”, for he could not stand to lose. Sure, he ended up friendless and alone, but relationships did not matter to him. Power was what he wanted. He admitted, “There is only one thing to do in this world and that is to keep acquiring more and more power.”

As a young general he lived life at full throttle in a hypomania frenzy, working 16 hours every day, riding horses until they dropped dead under him, hustling his armies at breakneck speed to battle after battle. While others fell away from fatigue, he kept charging on and on.

Napoleon saw the whole battle in his mind before he actually entered into it; his particular genius was to find his opponent’s weak point and then throw his entire army’s strength at that point until the opponent broke. The equilibrium was then tipped in his favor, and at that point he took complete advantage of the enemy’s relapse. Again and again he did this, and soon controlled all of Europe.
He was the first person diagnosed with a Napoleon complex–an egomaniac with a deluded opinion of himself. When he wanted something, he was extremely charming, convincing, and hypnotically captivating, and then people would give him whatever he requested.

At his own coronation as Emperor of France in 1804, he took the crown from the Pope’s hands and placed it upon his own head and then forced the Pope to fall to his knees and kiss Napoleon’s ring. Then, the 35-year-od Napoleon placed another crown upon Josephine’s head.

He took his armies wherever he wanted–to the pyramids of Egypt and even to Moscow. The world belonged to him.
But it was the British led by the Duke of Wellington who finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, and they immediately placed him in exile on an island, St. Helena, off the coast of West Africa where he lived for six years until dying from cancer at age 51. And all of Europe breathed a sigh of relief.

Prince Talleyrand said of Napoleon, “His career is the most extraordinary that has occurred for one thousand years. He was certainly great, an extraordinary man. He was clearly the most extraordinary man I ever saw and I believe the most extraordinary man that has lived in our age, or for many ages.”

Could humanity endure another Napoleon this century? Probably not. The world’s nuclear arsenal in the hands of a neo-Napoleon would doom millions, perhaps billions, of people. Personality and character often turn the course of human events, and the legal safeguards in place today which prevent a Napoleon from grabbing power could quickly crumble before someone so charming and so powerful. The tyrant, that larger than life person who promises everything, can convince the masses to follow him and that is usually into battle or a fenced-in camp.

Two weeks ago Anna Quindlen, the Newsweek columnist, suggested a trend. “Voters use their impressions of a candidate’s personality to choose a president.” ‘I don’t know why, I just like the guy’ is their reason for voting for him, rather than his voting-record, his achievements, or even his political philosophy. The cult of the personality dictates who gathers voter approval. Charm wins elections these days. She may be right.
The danger in all this so-called personality cult is apparant. If you combine this fixation on personality by the masses with a neo-Napoleon upstart, then conditions are extremely ripe for a demagogue to grasp for power, disregard the conventions of law, and soon he will be crowning himself emperor. It has happened before.