Page Nav





Breaking News


The art of timing and managing

  OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW Starting out in life as a nondescript French seminary-school teacher, Joseph Fouche wandered from town to town for m...


OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW Starting out in life as a nondescript French seminary-school teacher, Joseph Fouche wandered from town to town for most of the decade of the 1780s, teaching mathematics to young boys. Yet he never completely committed himself to the church, never took his vows as a priest-he had bigger plans. Patiently waiting for his chance, he kept his options open. And when the French Revolution broke out, in 1789, Fouche waited no longer: He got rid of his cassock, grew his hair long, and became a revolutionary. For this was the spirit of the times. To miss the boat at this critical moment could have spelt disaster.

 Fouche did not miss the boat: Befriending the revolutionary leader Robespierre, he quickly rose in the rebel ranks. In 1792 the town of Nantes elected Fouche to be its representative to the National Convention (created that year to frame a new constitution for a French republic). When Fouche arrived in Paris to take his seat at the convention, a violent rift had broken out between the moderates and the radical Jacobins. Fouche sensed that in the long run neither side would emerge victorious. Power rarely ends up in the hands of those who start a revolution,

 or even of those who further it; power sticks to those who bring it to a conclusion. That was the side Fouche wanted to be on. His sense of timing was uncanny. He started as a moderate, for moderates were in the majority. When the time came to decide on whether or not to execute Louis XVI, however, he saw that the people were clamoring for the king's head, so he cast the deciding vote--for the guillotine. Now he had become a radical. Yet as tensions came to the boll in Paris, he foresaw the danger of being too closely associated with any one faction, so he accepted a position in the provinces, where he could lie low for a while. A few months later he was assigned to the post of proconsul in Lyons, where he oversaw the execution of dozens of aristocrats. At a certain moment, however, he called a halt to the killings, sensing that the mood of the country was turning-and despite the blood already on his hands, the citizens of Lyons hailed him as a savior from what had become known as the Terror. So far Fouche had played his cards brilliantly, but in 1794 his old friend Robespierre recalled him to Paris to account for his actions in Lyons. Robespierre had been the driving force behind the Terror. He had sent heads on both the right and the left rolling, and Fouche, whom he no longer trusted, seemed destined to provide the next head. Over the next few weeks, a tense struggle ensued: While Robespierre railed openly against Fouche, accusing of him dangerous ambitions and calling for his arrest, the crafty Fouche worked more indirectly, quietly gaining support among those who were beginning to tire of Robespierre's dictatorial control. Fouche was playing for time. He knew that the longer he survived, the more disaffected citizens he could rally against Robespierre. He had to have broad support before he moved against the powernd leader. He rallied support among both the moderates and the Jacobins, playing on the widespread fear of Robespierre--everyone was afraid of being the next to go to the guillotine. It all came to fruition on July 27: The convention tumed against Robespierre, shouting down his usual lengthy speech. He was quickly arrested, and a few days later it was Robespierre's head, not Fouche's, that fell into the basket. When Fouche returned to the convention after Robespierre's death, he played his most unexpected move: Having led the conspiracy against Robespierre, he was expected to sit with the moderates, but 10 and behold, he once again changed sides, joining the radical Jacobins. For perhaps the first time in his life he aligned hirnself with the minority. Clearly he sensed a reaction stirring: He knew that the moderate faction that had executed Robespierre, and was now about to take power, would initiate a new round of the Terror, this time against the radicals. In siding with the Jacobins, then, Fouche was sitting with the martyrs of the days to come---the people who would be considered blameless in the troubles that were on their way. Taking sides with what was about to become the losing team was a risky gambit, of course, but Fouche must have calculated he could keep his head long enough to quietly stir up the populace against the moderates and watch them fall from power. And indeed, although the moderates did call for his arrest in December of 1795, and would have sent hirn to the guillotine, too much time had passed. The executions had be co me unpopular with the people, and Fouche survived the swing of the pendulum one more time. A new government took over, the Directoire. It was not, however, a Jacobin government, but a moderate one---more moderate than the govemment that had reimposed the Terror. Fouche, the radical, had kept his head, but now he had to keep a low profile. He waited patiently on the sidelines for several years, allowing time to soften any bitter feelings against hirn, then he approached the Directoire and convinced them he had a new passion: intelligence-gathering. He became a paid spy for the govemment, excelled at the job, and in 1799 was rewarded by being made minister of police. Now he was not just empowered but required to extend his spying to every corner of France---a responsibility that would greatly reinforce his natural ability to sniff out where the wind was blowing. One of the first social trends he detected, in fact, came in the person of Napoleon, a brash young general whose destiny he right away saw was entwined with the future of France. When Napoleon unleashed a coup d'etat, on November 9, 1799, 

Fouche pretended to be asleep. Indeed he slept the whole day. For this indirect assistance---it might have been thought his job, after all, to prevent a military coup-Napoleon kept hirn on as minister of police in the new regime. Over the next few years, Napoleon came to rely on Fouche more and more. He even gave this former revolutionary a title, duke of Otranto, and rewarded hirn with great wealth. By 1808, however, Fouche, always attuned to the times, sensed that Napoleon was on the downswing. His futile war with Spain, a country that posed no threat to France, was a sign that he was losing a sense of proportion. Never one to be caught on a sinking ship,

 Fouche conspired with Talleyrand to bring about Napoleon's downfall. Alpossessing a jlowing tail, which was remarkable for the thickness and beauty of ifs hair. By the side ofthe weak horse stood a tall strong man, and by the side of the powerful hO"'e a short man oI mean physique. At a signal the strong man seized the tai! of his horse and tried with all his strength to pull it towards hirn, as if to tear if off, while the weak man began to pull the hairs one by one from the tail of the strang horse. The strong man, after tugging with all his might to no purpose and causing the spectators a great deal of amusement in the pracess, finally gave up the attempt, while the weak man quickly and wifh very little trouble stripped his horse 's tai! completely bare. Then Sertorius rose to his feet and said, "Now you can see, my friends and allies, that perseverance is more effective than brute strength, and that there are many difficulties that cannot be overcome if you try to do everything at on ce, but which will yield if you master them liftle by little. The truth is that a steady continuous effort is irresistible, for this is the way in which Time captures and subdues the greatest powers on earth. Now Time, you should remember, is a good friend and ally to those who use their intelligence to choose the right moment, but a most dangerous enemy LAW 35 29:3 to those who rush into action at the wrang one LlFE OF SERTORIlJS, PLlJTARCH, c. A.D. 46-120 Mr. Shih had two sons: one loved learning; the other war. The first expounded his moral teachings at the admiring court of Ch 'i and was made a tutor, while the second talked strategy at the bellicose court of Ch 'u and was made a general. The impecunious Mr. Meng, hearing of these successes, sent his own two sons out to follow the example ofthe Shih boys. The first expounded his moral teachings at the court of Ch'in, but the King of Ch 'in said: "At present the states are quarreling violently and every prince is busy arming his troops to the teeth. If I followed this prig's pratings we should soon be annihilated. " So he had the fellow castrated. Meanwhi/e, the second brother displayed his military genius at the court of Wei. But the King of Wei said: "Mine is a weak state. If I relied on force instead of dip/omacy, we should soon be wiped out. If, on the other hand, I let this fire-eater go, he will offer his services to another state and then 294 LAW 35 though the conspiracy failed-Talleyrand was fired; Fouche stayed, but was kept on a tight leash-it publicized a growing discontent with the emperor, who seemed to be losing control. 

Ey 1814 Napoleon's power had crumbled and allied forces finally conquered hirn. The next government was a restoration of the monarchy, in the form of King Louis XVIII, brother of Louis XVI. Fouche, his nose always sniffing the air for the next social shift, knew Louis would not last long-he had none of Napoleon's flair. Fouche once again played his waiting game, lying low, staying away from the spotlight. Sure enough, in February of 1815, Napoleon escaped from the island of Elba, where he had been imprisoned. Louis XVIII panicked: His policies had alienated the citizenry, who were clamoring for Napoleon's return. So Louis turned to the one man who could maybe have saved his hide, Fouche, the former radical who had sent his brother, Louis XVI, to the guillotine,

 but was now one of the most popular and widely admired politicians in France. Fouche, however, would not side with a loser: He refused Louis's request for help by pretending that bis help was unnecessary-by swearing that Napoleon would never return to power (although he knew otherwise). A short time later, of course, Napoleon and his new citizen army were closing in on Paris. Seeing his reign about to collapse, feeling that Fouche had betrayed hirn, and certain that he did not want this powerful and able man on Napoleon's team, King Louis ordered the minister's arrest and execution. On March 16, 1815, policemen surrounded Fouche's coach on a Paris boulevard. Was this finally his end? Perhaps, but not immediately: Fouche told the police that an ex-member of government could not be arrested on the street. They fell for the story and allowed hirn to return horne. Later that day, though,

 they came to his house and once again declared hirn under arrest. Fouche nodded-but would the officers be so kind as allow a gentleman to wash and to change his clothes before leaving his house for the last time? They gave their permission, Fouche left the room, and the minutes went by. Fouche did not return. Finally the policemen went into the next room-where they saw a ladder against an open window, leading down to the garden below. That day and the next the police combed Paris for Fouche, but by then Napoleon's cannons were audible in the distance and the king and all the king's men had to flee the city. As soon as Napoleon entered Paris, Fouche came out of hiding. He had cheated the executioner once again. Napoleon greeted his former minister of police and gladly restored hirn to his old post. During the 100 days that Napoleon remained in power, until Water100, it was essentially Fouche who governed France. After Napoleon fell, Louis XVIII returned to the throne, and like a cat with nine lives, Fauche stayed on to serve in yet another government-by then his power and influence had grown so great that not even the king dared challenge hirn. Interpretation In a period of unprecedented turmoil, Joseph Fouche thrived through his mastery of the art of timing. He teaches us a number of key lessons. First, it is critical to recognize the spirit of the times. Fouche always looked two steps ahead, found the wave that would carry hirn to power, and rode it. You must always work with the times, anticipate twists and turns, and never miss the boat. 

Sometimes the spirit of the times is obscure: Recognize it not by what is loudest and most obvious in it, but by what lies hidden and dormant. Look forward to the Napoleons of the future rather than holding on to the ruins of the past. Second, recognizing the prevailing winds does not necessarily mean running with them. Any potent social movement creates a powerful reaction, and it is wise to anticipate what that reaction will be, as Fouche did after the execution of Robespierre. Rather than ride the cresting wave of the moment, wait for the tide's ebb to carry you back to power. Upon occasion bet on the re action that is brewing, and place yourself in the vanguard of it. Finally, Fouche had remarkable patience. Without patience as your sword and shield, your timing will fail and you will inevitably find yourself a loser. When the times were against Fouche, he did not struggle, get emotional, or strike out rashly. He kept his cool and maintained a low profile, patiently building support among the citizenry, the bulwark in his next rise to power. Whenever he found hirnself in the weaker position, he played for time, which he knew would always be his ally if he was patient. Recognize the moment, then, to hide in the grass or slither under a rock, as weIl as the moment to bare your fangs and attack.

No comments