Financial TimesFinancial Times

Populism has given the elites more power than ever

By Janan Ganesh

18 Jul 2023 · 3 min read

To judge by the trailer, Ridley Scott’s biopic of Napoleon will entertain, inspire and extravagantly miss the point. But then so did the paintings of the same subject by Jacques-Louis David. Napoleon wasn’t, or wasn’t just, a conqueror. He was, over and above all else, history’s greatest bureaucrat.

What survives of him isn’t the French empire (which he left smaller than he found it) but the Banque de France, standardised education, prefects who keep French regions in line with Parisian diktat and a Civil Code that still influences jurisdictions around the world. To this day, the adjective “Napoleonic” describes something centralised and perhaps officious, not something martial.

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