Skip to content

Napoleon - The Propagandist

Brian Crain
Brian Crain
1 min read

I've been reading the book Napoleon - A Life by Andrew Roberts. It's an outstanding book and I've been enjoying learning about the historical events and especially about Napoleon's character.

There are a variety of things that contributed to his meteoric rise to power. There was his unbridled ambition. His extreme work ethic. Intelligence and strategic brilliance. An almost complete lack of fear.

But one thing that took me somewhat by surprise was that Napoleon was a marketing genius and machine. To achieve his aims, he never hesitated to lie or misrepresent his accomplishments. There are countless examples of him being abroad on some campaign and sending back reports about some battle in which his own losses would be cut in half and those of the enemy inflated.

He was even audacious in lying when the audience was aware of it. Early in his career, he was trying to capture the city of Acre in today's Israel. There were many failed attempts and it was clear they were losing. Then he declared to his own troops, who undoubtedly knew how untrue it was:

"A few days more, and you would have captured the Pasha in the very middle of his palace, but at this season the capture of Acre would not be worth the loss of some days"

Another remarkable story was when he was enlisted by Sieyès in a coup against the Directory, which was ruling France. From the moment that this coup succeeded, Napoleon became laser-focused on making sure he would get all the credit and that the interpretation of events would be in his favor:

Although Napoleon's propagandists had been up all night printing the posters and plastering them around Paris, Sieyès and his supporters weren't so energetic. When ... arrived at Sieyès' apartment (...), all he had to show him was a bundle of notes.

His awareness of the power of propaganda and speed of execution were on a completely different level to Sieyès. Shortly after he outmanouvered Sieyès and gained absolute power.