The Economy of GloryFrom Ancien Regime France to the Fall of Napoleon

The Economy of GloryFrom Ancien Regime France to the Fall of Napoleon

Robert Morrissey

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226924588

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This work traces the roots of the “economy of glory”– where glory and recognition function as recompense, as a kind of “moral money”– back to Antiquity and follows its ideological development in Old Regime France, its implementation under Napoleon, and its resonances in nineteenth-century French literature. Enlightenment thinkers come to see the political economy of glory as a powerful alternative to the liberal vision of a commercial economy based on the profit motive. Offering the promise of reconciling a whole series of contradictory values– virtue and interest, collective welfare and individual ambitions, equality and distinction, republican and aristocratic ideals– the economy of glory becomes a cornerstone of Napoleon’s attempts to overcome the divide separating the Old Regime from post-Revolutionary France. It also provides a new reading of Las Cases’s Memorial of Saint Helena depicting Napoleon’s daily struggle against his “jailer” Hudson Lowe on this tiny, god-forsaken island, and explores how the deposed emperor refashioned glory to fit the dimensions of ordinary life and to make of himself an everyman figure. After the Napoleonic episode, glory became a master-theme of nineteenth-century French literature. Balzac, Stendhal, Chateaubriand, and Hugo all explore its attractions and pitfalls. Understanding the underpinnings, history, and workings of the economy of glory provides fundamental insights into French culture and identity.