Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2010
The idea of the Old Regime did not disappear from France with that first ‘ending’ of the Revolution that was the Napoleonic regime. No doubt, the Consular reorganisation effectively neutralised the historical content of the Old Regime by drawing liberally upon many of its elements within the context of a post-revolutionary edifice, beginning with the appropriation of the political authority by a single individual. All that the Bonapartist monarchy retained of the ‘before’ and ‘after’ 1789, helped the French to forget their taste for, and even their memory of, the great rupture. Moreover, the French responded by giving a quasi-unanimous approval to the new administrative state, which they would not renounce during the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, even as emperor, Bonaparte remained a vulnerable sovereign; the offspring of his own genius and his military victories, he was infinitely more fragile than the state he had created. On the day in 1814 when he laid down his arms before the European coalition, his son disappeared with him and his ephemeral realm. But he had expected this, had even proclaimed it in 1813, at the beginning of his ruin: ‘After me, the Revolution, or rather the ideas that made it, will recover their course. It will be like a book from which one takes the marker, to resume reading the page at which it had been closed.’
It was the Restoration which recreated or rediscovered the opposition between Old Regime and Revolution. The French king took up his script at the very place where his brother lost his thread in 1789.