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The Napoleonist Syndrome is a psychological complex, or character disorder, underlying the attachment shown by members of a combatant country to the enemy leader, Napoleon.

It may be extended to cover parallel switches of allegiance in more modern times.


Nineteenth-century examplesEdit

During the 1790s, there was considerable sympathy outside France with the ideals of the French Revolution; but a decade later, after Napoleon had come to sole power, active sympathisers were much reduced in numbers:[1] the collapse of Beethoven's Napoleonist Family romance, on hearing of Bonaparte's coronation as emperor, is a prime example of the change.[2] Those Napoleonists that remained, however, came from all sides of the political spectrum - ranging from Queen Caroline to Radicals like William Hazlitt - something that has prompted a psychological explanation of their underlying motivation.[3]

The common factor in that syndrome is taken to be an ambivalent relationship to the parent or parent of origins, leading to a rejection of national authority, and its projection abroad.[4] The argument is particularly convincing in the case of a group of Radicals including Leigh Hunt and William Godwin, as well as Hazlitt - all the sons of dissenting ministers, whose religious beliefs they had rejected but whose influence on them remained substantial nevertheless.[5] Their common revolt against their fathers led to a counter-identification with the heroic figure presented by Napoleon[6] - his Promethean challenge to the existing order[7] seeming to offer a stark contrast to the narrow authoritarianism represented both by their own fathers, and by the British royal family.[8]

Literary analoguesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad and Dangerous People? (Oxford 2008) p. 210
  2. ^ M. Solomon, Beethoven Essays (Harvard 1988) p. 78-9
  3. ^ E. Tangye Lean, The Napoleonists (1970) p. 377
  4. ^ Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad and Dangerous People? (Oxford 2008) p. 210
  5. ^ A. L. Rowse, History Today 21 (1971) p. 146
  6. ^ L. Hudson, The Way Men Think (Essex 1993) p. 44
  7. ^ J. Christopher Herold, The Age of Napoleon (NY 1965) p. 112-3 and p. 197
  8. ^ J. A Howk, William Hazlitt (1977) p. 237
  9. ^ G. Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (Penguin 1967) p. 29-30
  10. ^ D. Magarshack, Intro, Crime and Punishment (Penguin 1976) p. 14
  11. ^ D. Lessing, The Golden Notebook (Penguin 1973) p. 302-4