NAPOLEON BONAPARTE AND THE RIGHT OF NATIONS TO SELF-DETERMINATION – 2015-4

Against european solidarity of the great powers

Summary

Tigran R. Yepremyan

Key words – Napoleon Bonaparte, European System, nation, self-determination, sovereignty, liberty, equality, Armenians, the Congress of Vienna, legitimacy, equilibrium.

The article comparatively examines the new paradigm in international relations based on the French revolutionary ideas and sifted by Napoleon Bonapart. The armies of the Revolutionary France were transforming Europe in accordance with the republican values and the universal principles of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité. In this context the goal of Napoleon’s policy of exporting the French Revolution was the creation of commonwealth of European sovereign nations, which was to supersede ancien régime and sovereign monarchs, based on the European equilibrium. His policy marked an important step towards the formation of the right of self-determination of nations. The Napoleonic structural and institutional reforms promoted the rise of the national ideologies and the modernization of European societies and states into modern nation-states. Thus, the Napoleonic period marked the transition from the ancien régime to the modern era.

The French Revolution was the first great pan-European social upheaval, which had a secular logic, thus affecting also the neighbouring Islamic world.

Moreover, its ideas caused a great schism between Christianity and states affecting the very basis of group cohesion and creating new patterns of loyalty and new paradigms of identity formation. Thus, the ideas of French Revolution found their reflections also among the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Particularly, the Greek and the Armenian elite of Constantinople, who were familiar with the Western culture, were linguistically and intellectually prepared to accept the revolutionary ideas. The idea of liberty in the Ottoman context acquired a new political content becoming the war-cry of the national liberation struggles of the oppressed people against the Ottoman despotism. The idea of equality due to the corporative structure of the Ottoman society found itself in a different context having little effect when appealing to the individuals, but getting profound response while appealing to the ethnic or religious groups. Thus, the idea of equality was raised from individualistic level to the interethnic level and found its expression as equality between nations, which was later raised to the right of self-determination of nations.

The Napoleonic “Grand Empire,” which was stretching from Holland to Poland and from Spain to Balkans, represented a conglomeration of three groups of territories: annexed lands, conquered countries, and allied countries. Conditionally we call this as the Napoleonic System of International Relations, where the ideas of national sovereignty, liberty and fraternal equality were recognized at least in the ideological sense. Remarkably, Napoleon’s European policy had a profound influence on both ideological and structural unification of Europe. The creation of administrative and legal uniformity, economic unity, and the territorial reorganization in various parts of Europe helped to stimulate national aspirations.

In contrast to the Napoleonic system the victorious conservative powers gathered in Vienna for the refoundation of Europe made their decisions based on the principles of équilibre, légitimité and compensation trying to stop the general transformation. Thus, Napoleon’s concept of the integration of European nations was replaced with the great powers’ Concert of Europe. However, Napoleon’s victories and the French hegemony over Europe proved the supremacy of the French nation-state and sent a clear signal to the European rulers that modernization of state apparatus based on the French model was indispensable if they wanted to survive and to continue playing a decisive role in the international arena.

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