- Collaboration and Resistance in Napoleonic Europe: State-Formation in an Age of Upheaval, c. 1800–1815
This collection of essays on the rich diversity of Europe’s Napoleonic past stem from the 2001 Wiles Colloquium at Queen’s University, Belfast. The essays share a common focus on the nexus of state formation, reform, and resistance to it during the Napoleonic era. Rather than emphasizing administrative structures, [End Page 221] these studies explore the local level and day to day functioning of the state and its relations with social networks and provincial political cultures. Michael Rowe provides a useful introduction emphasizing the centrality of war and military mobilization as the defining experience of Napoleonic Europe. He raises many important questions about the short and long term nature of state modernization, a theme which John Brueilly further develops. He also raises the question that in such a diverse political, economic, and social landscape as early nineteenth century Europe, what difference did Napoleon make to broad transitions in European society?
The first two essays explore the sources and limits of support that the Imperial government faced on the local level in France. Malcom Crook examines public participation and engagement in plebiscites and contrasts relatively high levels of participation in southwest and eastern France with low turnouts in the west, especially the commercial seaports which were devastated by the war. Written comments on plebiscites also provide insights into the nature of popular support, as proponents acclaimed Napoleon’s ability to bring peace, stability, and religious peace to France, whereas his critics complained about his arbitrary power and the demise of political representation. Alan Forrest explores the limits of popular support as he highlights Napoleonic expectations of local notables to work for the regime, in particular to enforce conscription, taxation, and military order, and illustrates that these were the very issues that divided imperial society. Most local leadership was unwilling to associate themselves with these policies, underscoring that local interests preceded state demands.
The problem of social control and policing the periphery within the Italian départements réunis is explored by Michael Broers. He concludes that although the French gendarmerie seemed to bring stability to the hinterlands, problems of French governance—conscription and the French Concordat—deprived the regime of traditional sources (the Church) of indirect social control, illustrating the limits of the French administration vis à vis local political culture. Similarly, John Davis features inherent contradictions in the Napoleonic system by contrasting the rhetoric of reform to the colonial realities of local administration in the Kingdom of Naples. He uncovers the fiction of rational and competent reforms under both Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat’s “modernizing” administrations.
The two essays on Napoleonic Germany feature the Confederation of the Rhine. Andreas Fahrmeir emphasizes differences within the membership of the Confederation and attributes its instability to these inherent regional differences rather than to opposition against Napoleon. In fact, he emphasizes that Napoleon’s administrative intervention harnessed existing reformist trends and thus generated little resistance. John Breuilly explores the dual theme of collaboration and modernization, and distinguishes between state reform and state modernization. In the Rhinebund structural transformations in Napoleonic administrations did not create modernization, but rather the possible conditions for it depending on each member state’s territorial growth or contraction. The rational sovereign institutions targeted as state reform, however, were ultimately designed to expand Imperial government control to the point of despotism.
The theme of resistance is predictably addressed in essays on Spain and Russia. [End Page 222] Charles Esdaile, however, challenges the traditional narrative of guerilla struggle against the oppressive French. He explores the internal divisions within the Spanish militias which were radicalized by poverty, the destruction of the war, and corruption among the Spanish elites. He argues the populace had little desire to participate in anti-French campaigns as their lives were conditioned more by local ties, poverty, and social divisions. Similarly, Janet Hartley’s overview of the 1812 war in Russia underscores that anti-French...