Talking Point with Thierry Lentz: A national tribute? Check! Now the Année Napoléon can really take off

Author(s) : LENTZ Thierry
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And so it was, on 5 May 2021, that the head of the French State in person paid a double tribute to Napoleon I: firstly, in his speech at the Institut de France, and secondly, in his presence at the Invalides.

That being said, it would indeed have been frustrating and inexplicable for it to have been otherwise.

Talking Point with Thierry Lentz: A national tribute? Check! Now the Année Napoléon can really take off
Thierry Lentz © Editions Perrin 2020

The speech and the laying of the wreath at the Emperor’s tomb crowned and also legitimised (if such a thing were needed) the major efforts made in this bicentenary by the French State via its institutions, whether cultural, museal, prefectural or other. You could almost say that, because of the pandemic, the bicentenary was launched by its climax, because though other events had already taken place, these ceremonies have obviously not had the same lustre. We will, however, remember that, like Georges Pompidou in 1969 and Alexandre Millerand before him, in 1921, Emmanuel Macron made a speech. (link in French).

Nor was it one that calls for any particular criticism. Better still, given that from the outset he tackled the difficult questions, the president was then able to develop an in-depth vision of Napoleon’s work and, thank heavens, to recognise the freedom of historians to pursue their subjects. All those who wanted him not to speak, or even to support the attempts to erase Napoleon from our memories and our history, went to a lot of trouble for nothing. This is excellent and welcome.

The French president is an astute observer of the currents running through our society, and he understood that the majority of French people did not want the Napoleonic era swept under the carpet, regardless of the fact that it is also very much a subject of debate.

In just one afternoon were swept aside some extremely inept proposals (such as “we should return Napoleon’s body to his family”) and political condemnations (such as “you shouldn’t celebrate the man who put the French Republic in a coffin”). The referee has made his decision. We all hope that the doctrine he has laid down will remain fixed, not to be revised in the future for the sake of expediency.

Whilst this is all well and good, we cannot quite yet say that we are free of the nonsense, like the temptations of ‘Cancel Culture’ arriving here in France and other fashions from across the Atlantic; indeed, post-modernity is so deeply rooted in certain minds that you don’t even have to suggest that something be “deconstructed” before certain folk have already put themselves at its service. The affair of the horse skeleton dangling over Napoleon’s Tomb at the Invalides is a case in point, mentioned below here. We are by no means out of the woods and must remain on our guard.

If there are disagreements, that’s great. If we need to do some more research, that’s fine too. But we are not going to give up on something that is a part of our very being.

In less than two weeks now here in France, we will be able to start commemorating in person. We must thank the radio and television stations, the social network managers, the magazine and book publishers for having worked so hard to make the wait so delightful. The time has come to release the coil that has been wound up tight for too long. Not long now and we can rush to the exhibitions, the conferences, the talks, and all the other different events that will (finally) flick the switch on our Année Napoléon.

Bring it on.

Thierry Lentz
Mai 2021

Thierry Lentz is director of the Fondation Napoléon.

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