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"Napoleon admired the courage of the Vendée insurgents, but he wanted them to fall into line"


FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - In a play confronting Napoleon with posterity, Guillaume Bernard and Corentin Stemler depict the Emperor's attitude towards the Vendeans.

Corentin Stemler is an author and director.

He also devotes himself to the show as a volunteer actor at the Puy du Fou.

He published with Guillaume Bernard, historian of law and institutions,

L'empereur et les Brigands.

The theater of history

(New Latin editions, 2021, 112 p., € 10).


- Your book features a dialogue confronting Napoleon with his posterity, through the character of the “Reader”.

How do you explain that the Emperor is still the subject of so much interest and controversy today?

Corentin STEMLER.


The stature!

He who was General of the Revolution, First Consul of the Republic and then Emperor of the French was undoubtedly one of the most important statesmen in the history of our country.

Even if he failed to entrench the regime he set up, he did, at least for a time, carry the colors of France, which in Europe was feared and respected.

He therefore embodies a desire for power and greatness that is effectively satisfied.

The negative aspects of his reign, because he was not stingy in human lives, were forgotten to keep only the positive sides: he favored, for the benefit of the State, the reconciliation of the French who had been torn apart, in particular by the anti-Catholic policy of the Revolution (spoliation of Church property, civil constitution of the clergy and deportation or execution of priests who refused to submit to it).

The current criticisms leveled at Napoleon are, as a rule, anachronistic or dictated by the ideology of deconstruction.

Our approach is resolutely the opposite: we have to understand history, which we cannot do without, because it has forged our identity and our institutions.

A people that has no past has no future.

Obviously, this does not preclude taking a questioning or even critical look at our history, without putting it on trial.

Why did you choose to write a play?

Would you like to reconcile the historical discipline in this way with its literary and narrative dimension?

We structured and wrote this dialogue with four hands.

My co-author, Guillaume Bernard, historian of institutions and political ideas, aspired to explore other forms of expression than those he usually practices.

This book is therefore the fruit of a meeting between an academic and a lover of theater and spectacle.

In Vendée, Bonaparte put an end to the disorder by signing the peace of Montfaucon-sur-Moine with the leaders of the insurgents.

Then he set about revitalizing and rebuilding this territory which was exhausted by nearly ten years of conflict.

It was he who founded La Roche-sur-Yon, which was originally called Napoleon-Vendée.

Corentin Stemler

As for the substance, we have adhered to the greatest scientific rigor. Once the work was completed, we entrusted the proofreading to eminent representatives of the two “camps”: Thierry Lentz for Napoleon and Reynald Secher for the cause of the Vendée. As for the form, we have chosen that of the theater because we believe that literature and the spectacle are means of transmitting knowledge and emotions to an audience that academic works might put off. In fact, the two disciplines answer each other: through the spectacle, through emotion, it becomes possible to transmit a message to the public. In addition, the dialogue promotes dialectics and avoids Manichaeism. We are convinced that works like the Puy du Fou or television historical reconstructions like, in the past, “

The camera explores time

”effectively contribute to the rooting of a people which is all the more necessary today as the social body becomes atomized.

History is thus caught between two fires: the disappearance of the feeling of belonging and the “cancel culture”.

They are, in fact, two facets of the same reality.

To be appreciated, the story must be told: it is always necessary to contextualize the facts and explain the issues.

We wanted to tell Napoleon by taking as a narrative angle his position vis-à-vis the Vendée wars in which he had not participated but which were still present in people's minds when he came to power: they were, moreover, one of his first concerns of government.

The main subject of the play, as its title indicates, is Napoleon's relationship with the Vendée rebels, whom the authorities at the time called “brigands”. This is a little-known aspect of the Emperor's action ...

Upon coming to power, in the last weeks of 1799, Bonaparte sought to make peace with the Catholics. And he succeeded; which neither the Thermidorian Convention nor the Directory had succeeded in doing. The question was essential because religious freedom was at the heart of the Vendée dissent. Bonaparte put an end to the deportation of refractory priests and he no longer required an oath that could thwart the faith. Since, moreover, the First Consul ensured the peaceful enjoyment of national property to their purchasers, he rallied the partisans of the Revolution and its opponents to his regime.

In Vendée, Bonaparte put an end to the disorder by signing the peace of Montfaucon-sur-Moine with the leaders of the insurgents.

Then he set about revitalizing and rebuilding this territory which was exhausted by nearly ten years of conflict.

It was also he who founded the town of La Roche-sur-Yon, which was originally called Napoleon-Vendée.

Napoleon implemented a policy of reparation and compensation in Vendée.

But it was in order to make her forget.

Corentin Stemler

By refusing to recognize the atrocities suffered by the Vendéens, Napoleon gave up breaking with the revolutionary period, explain yourself.

Is this enough to close the debate making Napoleon a continuator of the Revolution or, on the contrary, a gravedigger of his ideals?

This is obviously not the only reason, even if it is symptomatic. Napoleon effectively implemented a policy of reparation and compensation in Vendée. But it was in order to bring her into line. To make her forget. Even if he admired the courage of the Vendeans, he did not recognize the legitimacy of their insurrection. Otherwise, it would have been to recognize the criminal character of the acts committed by the Revolution and the Republic.

Moreover, it was Bonaparte himself who proclaimed himself the continuator of the Revolution.

Certainly, some may reproach him for having stopped the permanent escalation which is intrinsic to the revolutionary phenomenon.

But, it took root in its principles (legislative sovereignty, human rights attributes, spoliation constituted by national property, abolition of professional communities, etc.).

In addition, the First Consul prevented that, bogged down, become largely unpopular, the Republic is not overthrown.

He undoubtedly stabilized the Revolution.

You make Napoleon a champion of modernity, against the Ancien Régime.

However, this is not necessarily the image that our contemporaries have of him.

How to explain this discrepancy?

By putting an end to the domination of the parliamentary body which, under different names (National Assembly, Legislative Body, Convention), had reigned since June 1789 and giving preeminence to the executive, Bonaparte then Napoleon appeared, wrongly, as renewing with the old France. However, he endorsed the fundamental shift of the Revolution which consisted in the reversal of the articulation of the sovereign judicial and legislative functions.

The main function of the classical powers like the King of France was to judge, to restore the harmony broken by the action of men which allowed, thanks to judicial (jurisprudence) and social (custom) experience to identify the registered rules. in the order of things. Modern powers, for their part, claim to establish rules resulting from the will of men: they are legislators. They reduce justice to the application, to specific cases, of general and impersonal rules determined a priori, in an abstract and rationalist manner. This Napoleon extended. His institutional and legal work is in perfect line with the ideology of the Enlightenment.

In the play, Napoleon is astonished that anti-revolutionary thought could have survived when it "should have disappeared with the progress of reason".

Today, the supporters of anti-revolutionary thought do not seem very far from the Napoleonic heritage.

How are these different currents of thought on the Right articulated?

As Frédéric Bluche demonstrated, Bonapartism was a center by synthesis: it took, on the right, the idea of ​​authority (of the father of the family, the head of the company, the head of state) and left that of equality.

While liberalism (Orleanism in the 19th century, Macronism today) is a center by rejection of extremes (socialism on the left, legitimism on the right).

"The Reader" is called upon to defend the logic of the Vendée insurgents.

But he does not hesitate either to pay homage to Napoleon and to recognize his qualities as a statesman.

Corentin Stemler

However, the political spectrum has known, since the Revolution, a shift from left to right identified by Albert Thibaudet and which he called the sinistrogyre movement: the new political forces appeared by the left of the political spectrum and, because of their developments, have pushed to the right those that existed before them. This is how liberalism found itself on the right, in the 20th century, in the context of the East-West confrontation and we could see in Gaullism an epigone of Bonapartism. Since the 1990s, my co-author, Guillaume Bernard, would tell you that the balance of power has been reversed and a “right-handed” movement has taken place. What is certain is that liberalism could have been "on the right" on the political spectrum but that ithas never been "right-wing". It is therefore incompatible with classical thought, except that they temporarily make an alliance against a common enemy like Soviet collectivism.

On the other hand, Bonapartism and its offspring draw at least part of their ideological software from genuinely right-wing thought.

There are therefore possible connections.

We show it in the play: "The Reader" is called upon to defend the logic of the Vendée insurgents.

But neither does he hesitate to pay homage to Napoleon and to recognize his qualities as a statesman and the strength of the

“granite masses” of

which he was, in political and social institutions, the instigator.

From a political angle, our play is the dispassionate and loyal dialogue between two rights: between the social Catholic right and a right which has sought and perhaps still seeks itself, which hesitates between modernism and classicism.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2021-06-22

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