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Books Worth Re-reading

The Mind of Napoleon: A Selection of His Written and Spoken Words

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways

  1. On the human heart – the fact is that men almost never act in natural conformity to their characters but from a momentary secret passion that has taken refuge in the farthest recesses of his heart (fear / self-interest are the underlying motives of all behavior)
  2. On the political order – do you know what I admire most in the world? It’s the total inability of force to organize anything. There are only two powers in the world – the power of the sword and the spirit…In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the spirit
  3. On the art of ruling – my character possesses all those qualities that are capable of strengthening my power and deceiving those who imagine they know me. A true master of politics is able to calculate, down to the smallest fraction, the advantages to which he may put his very faults
  4. On law and social order – man is entitled by birthright to a share of the earth’s produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence
  5. Napoleon accepted peace from the outset. Cosmic problems stimulated his fancy without causing him unrest. God, to him, was the solution of a sociopolitical problem, and in religion he saw the mystery of the social order – little time for metaphysics or ideologies, a true man of action
  6. How can there be a state without any religion? Society cannot exist without inequality of fortune, and inequality of fortune cannot exist without religion
  7. In Spinoza, each thought is a step to another thought; in Napoleon, each thought is a step to an action
  8. Luck is the ability to exploit accidents. A series of great actions is never the result of chance and luck, always the product of planning and genius
  9. Napoleon had ruthless consistency and the ability of his mind to apply what he’d learned in any problem with almost instantaneous results. My policies are the result of meditation and strength
  10. Work, I was built for work. I have known the limitations of my legs, I have known the limitations of my eyes, I have never known the limitations of my working capacity
  11. Tirelessness, concentration, and speed – these were the characteristics of his mechanism
  12. I know that men have always been the same, that nothing chan change their nature. It is from the past that I will draw my lessons in order to shape the present
  13. Destiny is carried out, fate is suffered
  14. A revolution can neither be made nor stopped
  15. I am a poet in action
  16. What is a theory? Mere nonsense if you want to apply it to human masses
  17. I was sure of being understood by the last drummer boy
  18. Each looks through his own prism, which often misleads him
  19. There is little merit in copying or imitating
  20. Silence often produces the same effect as wisdom
  21. I see further into the future than others
  22. I always lived 2 years ahead of the present
  23. I start out by believing the worst
  24. One must have the will to live and be willing to die
  25. I had few really definite ideas, and the reason for this was that, instead of obstinately seeking to control circumstances, I obeyed them, and they forced me to change my mind all the time. Thus it happened that most of the time, to tell the truth, I had no definite plans but only projects
  26. He who fears to lose his reputation is sure to lose it
  27. History I conquered rather than studied: that is to say, I wanted from it and retained of it only what could add to my ideas, I spurned what was of no use, and I seized upon certain conclusions that pleased me
  28. Frederick was great above all at moments of crisis. This is the highest praise that can be given his character
  29. Liberty is a need felt by a small class of people whom nature has endowed with nobler minds than the mass of men. Consequently, it may be repressed with impunity. Equality, on the other hand, pleases the masses
    1. This is an incredibly deep insight – the French motto of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality was deconstructed by Napoleon – he understood he could do away with liberty and fraternity, but appealed to the masses’ desire for equality
  30. When custom and reason are at odds, custom always wins out
  31. One should never attempt to forbid what one lacks the power to prevent
  32. Avoid everything that might give false ideas of the truth
  33. We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it. They must be guided without their noticing
  34. I always went along with the opinion of the masses and with events. I always paid little attention to individual opinions and a great deal to public opinion
  35. What do I care for the opinion of drawing room gossips? I don’t listen to them. For me, only one opinion counts – that of the rich peasants. All the rest is nothing
  36. Absolute power has no need to lie: it is silent. Responsible government, on the other hand, being obliged to speak, dissimulates and lies shamelessly
  37. This famous division of labor, which in our age has brought mechanical pursuits to perfection, is absolutely fatal to the perfection of intellectual production. The quality of a production of the mind is in direct ratio to the universality of its creator
  38. I am sensitive only to the forcefulness of thought
  39. My policies are frank and open, because they are the results of long meditations of strength
  40. True politics is merely the calculus of combinations and of chances
  41. The policies of all the powers are inherent in their geography
  42. Great men are never cruel without necessity
  43. You must know that I am not in the least afraid of committing an act of cowardice if it were useful to me
  44. A true man never hates. A man made for public life and authority never takes account of personalities; he only takes account of things, of their weight and of their consequences
  45. Force is the law of animals; men are ruled by conviction
  46. Men who have changed the world never achieved their success by winning the chief citizens to their side, but always by stirring the masses
  47. Between meditating an action and carrying it out, you must put an interval of 3 years
  48. I know all of Caprara’s defects: I recommend him to you
  49. The great art of governing consists in not letting men grow old in their jobs
  50. The art of choosing men is not nearly so difficult as the art of enabling those one has chosen to attain their full worth
  51. The art consists in making others work rather than in wearing oneself out
  52. War – an immense art which comprises all others
  53. When an enemy army is in flight, you must either build a golden bridge for it or stop it with a wall of steel
  54. As a rule it is easy to find officers, but it is sometimes very hard to find noncomissioned officers
  55. We should do as the Spartan did: the generals ought to mess with the ranks
  56. Napoleon said that war consists of nothing but accidents and that a commander, though he must always adjust himself to general principles, should never overlook anything that might enable him to exploit these accidents. The vulgar would call this luck, but in fact is is the characteristic of genius
  57. My great and most distinctive talent is to see everything in a clear light
  58. I shall be credited with great profundity and subtlety in things which perhaps were simplicity itself
  59. The French people has two equally powerful passions which seem opposed to each other but which in fact derive from the same sentiment – love of equality and love of distinctions. A government cannot satisfy those two needs except by being exceedingly just. In its laws and actions, the government must be the same for all; honors and rewards must be given to those men who, in the eyes of the government, are most worthy of them
  60. My son should read much history and meditate upon it: it is the only true philosophy
  61. Greatness has its beauties, but only in retrospect and in the imagination
  62. I had a taste for founding, not for owning

What I got out of it

  1. His bias for action, ability to simplify things, fickleness were amazing to read about and I found it interesting that he described in himself a lack of ambition, but more being in the right place at the right time and being perfectly suited for what he did. Not ambition, but natural gifts, he couldn’t help but do what he did