In This Review

Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship

Napoleon and His Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship
By Isser Woloch
352 pp, W. W. Norton, 2001

This well-written volume gives the reader a guided tour through the institutions set up by Napoleon after his 1799 coup. Although devoid of real power, they were useful for Napoleon in co-opting vast numbers of notables who exchanged their support for prestigious positions. Woloch shows how such officials, mostly moderate revolutionaries, allowed Napoleon to pose as an heir of the French Revolution even though he had very little sympathy for its original aims. Woloch compares these men to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during President Lyndon Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War. On one hand, they did not resign as his imperial adventures abroad and his authoritarianism at home grew worse.

On the other, they sometimes succeeded in preventing greater excesses and repressiveness, thanks to the complex procedures of the bureaucratic Napoleonic state. Woloch also underscores the dilemmas that these men faced when the Bourbon throne finally came back amid great turmoil: temporarily ousted by Napoleon after his brief exile on Elba, the monarchy was restored for good only after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The instructive story of how to survive regime change was to repeat itself many times in France between 1815 and 1945.