A note from America’s diary: “My power proceeds from my reputation…”

This could be note from America’s diary:

My power proceeds from my reputation, and my reputation from the victories I have won. My power would fall if I were not to support it with more glory and more victories. Conquest has made me what I am; only conquest can maintain me.

Friendship is only a word; I love nobody … I know perfectly well I have no real friends. As long as I remain what I am, I shall have as many as I need so far as the appearance goes. Let the weak whimper, that’s their business, but for me, give me no sentiment. I must be firm, have a stout heart, or else leave on one side war and government.

In fact this is from Napoleon’s diary,  30 December 1802.  From The Corsican: A Diary of Napoleon’s Life in His Own Words, by R. M. Johnson (1910), a composite of Napoleon’s writings.

What an eerie correspondence between his words and the American spirit of today.  Truly worth pondering.

Two changes were made in the text: “weak” substituted for “women” and “I” for “men”. 


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

Other notes from the past on the FM site:

  1. Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
  2. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 7 July 2008
  3. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  4. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  5. Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 August 2008
  6. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009
  7. A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military, 7 August 2009
  8. Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009

13 thoughts on “A note from America’s diary: “My power proceeds from my reputation…””

  1. I don’t personally know any heads of major corporations or banks, but I have some experience in country clubs and other places where similakr people hang out, and I believe this is the general attitude of those on the top. Part of being on top is showing that you ARE on top, by the closed you wear, the limousines you’re driven to work in, the disdain you demonstrate for those below you, and so forth. Part of America’s power is its image of dominance, and part of that is its military power. Not just its passive military potential, but its actual use. As a Bush administration figure said (paraphrase): “sometimes we have to knock some crappy little country up against the wall to show who we are.”

  2. “No it’s from President Petraeus 2012.”

    The analogy fails. Reason: Courvoisier has been the “Brandy of Napoleon.” Where, precisely, can we obtain the “Opium of Petraeus”?

  3. As a further note, Napoleon himself therefore misunderstood his own situation.

    If, in fact, his reputation depended upon his winning victories, then neither his successful return from Elba following his post-Moscow defeat nor the subsequent emergence of Napoleon III following his Waterloo defeat would have been possible.
    Fabius Maximus replies: These things do not work like toast popping from your toaster. Napoleon’s was fatally wounded by his defeat in Russia, the rest merely the working out of that. I don’t see the relevance of Napoleon III to this. It was just an echo.

  4. I don’t see the relevance of Napoleon III to this. It was just an echo.

    Napoleon’s reputation survived despite these defeats such that Napoleon III could bank on it to rise to power.

    Napoleon managed to secure tremendous support within France despite his reverses.

    As a humorous aside but also for a taste of how remarkable his support continued to be read Richard Whatley’s 1819 essay Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte. In this masterpiece Whatley replied to arguments that Christ never existed by using those same arguments to assert that Napoleon never existed. Eg:

    Nay, there is this additional circumstance which renders the contradiction of experience more glaring in this case than in that of the miraculous histories which ingenious sceptics have held up to contempt. All the advocates of miracles admit that they are rare exceptions to the cource of nature; but contend that they must needs be so, on account of the rarity of those extraordinary occasions which are the reason of their being performed. “A miracle,” they say, “does not happen every day, because a Revelation is not given every day.” It would be foreign to the present purpose to seek for arguments against this answer; I leave it to those who are engaged in the controversy, to find a reply to it; but my present object is, to point out that this solution does not at all apply in the present case. Where is the peculiarity of the occasion? What sufflcient reason is there for a series of events occurring in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which never took place before? Was Europe at that period peculiarly weak, and in a state of barbarism, that one man could achieve such conquests, and acquire such a vast empire? On the contrary, she was flourishing in the height of strength and civilization. Can the persevering attachment and blind devotedness of the French to this man be accounted for by his being the descendant of a long line of kings, whose race was hallowed by hereditary veneration? No: we are told he was a low-born usurper, and not even a Frenchmanl Is it that he was a good and kind sovereign? He is represented not only as an imperious and merciless despot, but as most wantonly careless of the lives of his soldiers. Could the French army and people have failed to hear from the wretched survivors of his supposed Russian expedition, how they had left the corpses of above one hundred thousand of their comrades bleaching on the snow-drifts of that dismal country, whither his mad ambition had conducted them, and where his selfish cowardice had deserted them? Wherever we turn to seek for circumstances that may help to account for the events of this incredible story, we only meet with such as aggravate its improbability. Had it been told of some distant country, at a remote period, we could not have told what peculiar circumstances there might have been to render probable what seems to us most strange; and yet in that case every philosophical sceptic, every free-thinking speculator, would instantly have rejected such a history as utterly unworthy of credit. What, for instance, would the great Hume, or any of the philosophers of his school, have said, if they had found, in the antique records of any nation, such a passage as this? — “There was a certain man of Corsica, whose name was Napoleon, and he was one of the chief captains of the host of the French; and he gathered together an army, and went and fought against Egypt; but when the king of Britain heard thereof, he sent ships of war and valiant men to fight against the French in Egypt. So they warred against them, and prevailed, and strengthened the hands of the rulers of the land against the French, and drave away Napoleon from before the city of Acre. Then Napoleon left the captains and the army that were in Egypt, and fled, and returned back to France. So the French people took Napoleon, and made him ruler over them, and he became exceeding great, insomuch as there was none like him of all that had ruled over France before.”

    Fabius Maximus replies: While NIII’s appeal to regain France’s former glory was one element in his rise to power, it was widely seen as an echo — a somewhat comic or poignant one — even at that time. Nor did it bring him anything remotely like NI’s power in France — and nothing in Europe outside France.

  5. When asked about presidential ambitions, Petraeus quoted William T. Sherman “If nominated, I would not run, and if elected, I would not serve.” Even though Sec. Gates will remain a fixture of the defense establishment, as he has for the last few decades, he will not seize power, and neither will any other professional soldier. If indeed there is an attempt to subvert the office of the president from within the bureaucracy, it will not come from the DoD. The closest we got was when a high-ranking official in the FBI undermined Nixon as ‘deep throat’.

  6. Ironically, Napoleon’s defining strategy was to choose one’s battles wisely, to never engage his enemies where they were strong, but rather to select a contest he knew he could win, plan assiduously, and then win big. The result was a reputation for invincibility, which became a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. Where’s the U.S. version of that?

  7. It was said of Napoleon I, that when he marched through a city, “he looked as if he wished to rive new war material out of the wombs of the mothers”. (quote, “War, Peace, and the Future: A Consideration of Nationalism and Internationalism, and of the relation of women to war.”, by Ellen Key)

    The quote reminds me of “Back to School: Military Recruiters Increasingly Targeting High School Teens“, Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now!, 4 Sept 2009.

  8. “Ironically, Napoleon’s defining strategy was to choose one’s battles wisely, to never engage his enemies where they were strong, but rather to select a contest he knew he could win, plan assiduously, and then win big.”

    Until that ‘land war in asia.’ Oops, missed it by THAT much.

  9. unfortunately, we have forgotten this solid rule. victory brings credibility and respect. defeat brings contempt. this is one of the reasons that AQ sees us as a paper tiger. we don’t start with victory in mind nor do we pursue it ruthlessly.

  10. The saying, “Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala,” is a reminder to live one’s life as Husayn did on Ashura, with total sacrifice to Allah and for others. This saying also signifies “We must always remember, because there is suffering everywhere”.

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