Napoleon the Great?

A debate with Andrew Roberts, Adam Zamoyski and Jeremy Paxman

‘There is no immortality but the memory that is left in the minds of men.’ – Napoleon Bonaparte 

How should we remember Napoleon, the man of obscure Corsican birth who rose to become emperor of the French and briefly master of Europe? As the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo approached in 2015, Intelligence Squared brought together two of Britain’s finest historians to debate how we should assess Napoleon’s life and legacy. Was he a military genius and father of the French state, or a blundering nonentity who created his own enduring myth? Was his goal of uniting the European continent under a common political system the forerunner of the modern ‘European dream’? Or was he an incompetent despot, a warning from history of the dangers of overarching grand plans?

Championing Napoleon was be Andrew Roberts who will argue that if any ruler deserves the epithet ‘the Great’ it should be Napoleon. Not only did he revolutionise warfare, but he transformed Europe by retaining the best parts of the French Revolution – equality before the law, religious toleration, and the end of feudalism. He founded the first modern code of law (the Code Napoleon), instituted the excellent Lycée-based education system, and created a new aristocracy based on talent.

By contrast, all mention of Napoleon as ‘great’, ‘hero’, ‘villain’ or ‘monster’ has Adam Zamoyski running for the hills, bemused why – in his opinion – this rather ordinary man excites such passion in otherwise level-head intelligent people. Zamoyski argued that Napoleon is credited with creating civil institutions which were in fact the work of others. He perpetrated some of the greatest military blunders in history, including the disastrous invasion of Russia. He brought about his own downfall through a mixture of incompetence and megalomania. It’s understandable why the French cling to their poetic myth of Napoleon’s ‘greatness’ but to Zamoyski no self-respecting Brit, let alone an historian, should fall for the flim-flam of this shameless self-publicist. 

Queen Elizabeth I vs Queen Victoria

Intelligence Squared presents the battle of the queens. Both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria set their stamp firmly on their era but which was the greater monarch?

On one side stood Philippa Gregory, bestselling author of the Tudor Court series of novels. She made the case for Elizabeth I, with widely acclaimed actor Fiona Shaw bringing this most majestic and flirtatious of rulers to life with readings from her speeches and letters. In the other corner was Daisy Goodwin, writer of last autumn’s hit ITV series Victoria, who will argue the case for her heroine. Award-winning star of stage and screen Greta Scacchi revealed the determination and wit of this most human of monarchs by performing extracts from Victoria’s diaries and personal missives. Chairing the proceedings was celebrated historian and television presenter Dan Jones.

Neither Elizabeth nor Victoria grew up expecting to be queen, and each had to struggle to assert herself in a man’s world. As Gregory will argue, Elizabeth managed this by her shrewd intelligence, playing off the men in her court against each other and refusing to dilute her power by marrying, despite the intense pressure of her advisers. As Catholics and Protestants fought wars across Europe, she averted bloodshed in England by consolidating the Protestant revolution begun by her father Henry VIII, expressing her religious tolerance with the famous words, ‘I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.’

Goodwin made the case that Victoria was not just a great queen but an icon for our own times. Not only did she save the monarchy after a succession of dissolute and incompetent Georgian kings; by embracing marriage and motherhood, she set an example that our own queen and royal family have followed to this day. Her popularity was such that when in 1848 revolutionary uprisings toppled monarchies in France, Austria, Italy and Poland, Victoria’s throne remained secure.

 

Between You and I – The English Language is Going to the Dogs

The English language is going to the dogs. “Between you and I” is just one of the howlers those of us with linguistic sensibilities have to endure. The distinctions between words such as ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, and ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ are disappearing. Americanisms such as ‘gotten’, ‘different than’ and ‘can I get..?’ abound. Every office resounds with horrible new jargon such as ‘going forward’, ‘deliverables’, ‘touch base’ and ‘heads up’. Infinitives are split, participles dangle. Language is based on established practice and rules. When the rules are continually (and that isn’t continuously) broken, the language suffers and those who care suffer too.

That’s the line taken by the so-called sticklers in this debate, but they are mistaken according to laissez faire linguists. English wasn’t set in stone by 19th-century grammarians — the kind who decreed it’s wrong to split an infinitive in English just because you can’t in Latin. Language changes but that doesn’t mean it’s in decline. Traditionalists may argue that digital technology has a pernicious effect on language, but in fact children who text a lot have higher rates of literacy. And it’s hard to deny that Facebook, Twitter and email have enriched the expressiveness of our language: ten years ago who could have written “OMG he’s RTd my selfie!!”

Christopher Hitchens And Tony Blair Debate

Christopher Hitchens And Tony Blair Debate at ‘The Munk Debate for Religion’. The death of Christopher was a great loss for humanity, atleast I miss him in the debates.

Christopher Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was a British author, literary critic, and journalist who spent much of his career in the United States and became an American citizen

A noted critic of religion and an antitheist, he said that a person “could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct,” but that “an antitheist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there’s no evidence for such an assertion.” According to Hitchens, the concept of a god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilisation. Hitchens wrote an antireligion polemic, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which was a New York Times bestseller. Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 from complications arising from oesophageal cancer.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a British Labour Party politician, who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007. He now runs a consultancy business and performs charitable work. Blair was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. Blair led Labour to a landslide victory in the 1997 general election, winning 418 seats, the most the party has ever held. The party went on to win two more elections under his leadership: in 2001, in which it won another landslide victory, and in 2005, with a reduced majority.

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