The Temptation of Terror
What might Robespierre, “The Incorruptible” have been thinking after he attempted suicide only to leave the job unfinished? The man who managed the Terror of the French Revolution succeeded only in shattering the jaw that had enabled his rabble-rousing speeches. He then faced the very mobs he had impassioned. But in the end, they hustled him to the guillotine.
Thomas Carlyle described Robespierre’s last moments:
"All eyes are on Robespierre's Tumbril, where he, his jaw bound in dirty linen, with his half-dead Brother, and half-dead Henriot, lie shattered; their 'seventeen hours' of agony about to end. The Gendarmes point their swords at him, to shew the people which is he. A woman springs on the Tumbril; clutching the side of it with one hand; waving the other Sibyl-like; and exclaims: 'The death of thee gladdens my very heart, m'enivre de joie;' Robespierre opened his eyes; 'Scelerat, go down to Hell, with the curses of all wives and mothers!' -- At the foot of the scaffold, they stretched him on the ground till his turn came. Lifted aloft, his eyes again opened; caught the bloody axe. Samson wrenched the coat off him; wrenched the dirty linen from his jaw: the jaw fell powerless, there burst from him a cry; -- hideous to hear and see." The truth is that the architect of the Terror perished deluded, still thinking of himself as incorruptible -- perfect in vision and actions. A reconstructed death mask shows him as he was in real life, pockmarked and malevolent; not at all the handsome, blemish-free young man portrayed done by propagandists of the time.
Sic semper tyrannis, be it Robespierre still shouting curses at the “corruptibles” he wished to exterminate or his ideological heir Stalin, who, while dying of a stroke and lying in his own urine, still was convinced he was invincibly incorruptible. Both believed themselves justified in exterminating enemies in order the perfect revolution be achieved. Theirs was a righteous persecution for a righteous cause. As Robespierre stated, “Terror is nothing more than justice, prompt, secure, and inflexible. It is therefore an emanation of virtue.”
The demand for complete purity actualized by terror always turns lethal.
No one can ever live up to the ideals required of the incorruptible citizen or the perfect comrade. Any given person is guilty as charged by the more discerning and the unpolluted radicals, qualified as they believe themselves to be to deliver the sentence of death; death to enemies real or perceived being seen as the necessary gateway to utopia.
How did Robespierre and his allies attain the power to deliver death sentences to whomever they wished?
They succeeded the way the Left has always succeeded and still succeeds.
They jettisoned the structures of the society in which they lived, destroying the old institutions (rather than reforming them), and substituting new ones they had dreamed up. Their new structures were intended to destroy the old foundations of state and Church while giving the revolutionaries the power to dispose of their enemies.
Together with his allies, Robespierre developed a legal basis for the Terror.
The “Law of Suspects” ordered the arrest of persons suspected of opposing the revolution. It was followed by a “Decree on Emergency Government,” which ditched the French Constitution and individual rights. Completing the coup was the Law of Frimaire, which essentially handed over all power to Robespierre and his comrades ensconced in the Committee for Public Safety. Topping off the whole was the attempt to create a substitute for Catholicism, one that demanded allegiance to the new state religion honoring the “Supreme Being.”
The Committee of Public Safety’s The Law of Suspects became a template followed almost to the letter by the Left in the Democratic Party, as well as much academia and the media. Robespierre was quite clear about just who “suspects” were:
“The following are deemed suspects:
i. those who, by their conduct, associations, comments, or writings have shown themselves partisans of tyranny or federalism and enemies of liberty;
ii. those who are unable to justify, in the manner prescribed by the decree of March 21st, their means of existence and the performance of their civic duties;
iii. those to whom certificates of patriotism have been refused.”
The Committee also included civil servants not aligned with the Revolution as well as well all members of the aristocracy (their extended families included) who did not constantly demonstrate “their devotion to the Revolution.” Any who had fled France in 1789 were deemed enemies.
If there were additional enemies, the newly established “Surveillance Committees” would be responsible for drawing up “lists of suspects, with issuing warrants of arrest against them, and with placing their papers under seal.”
Have the tactics of the Left changed since the establishment of the Terror’s dictatorial Committee for Public Safety? In fact, it is abundantly clear that all aspects of Robespierre’s new order were and still are part and parcel of the agenda of the Left wherever it is found.
Isn’t it clear the rule of law in America is increasingly disposable when it comes to mob and media “justice” and the decrees of secret committees and tribunals which are authorities unto themselves? This is to say nothing of sanctuary cities whose leaders have essentially established duchies with their own set of rules.
Title IX was and still is used to deny due process to college and university men accused of assaulting women. Similar in-house tribunals have proliferated throughout academia at large.
Workplace show trials for inappropriate behavior or speech have long been standard, with sensitivity seminars dictating elaborate codes of conduct and language. Transgressors are either fired or forced to repent.
Secret examinations and punishment doled out by a few in power in academia have resulted in cases like that of Canadian teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd. She was berated and interrogated for showing a few minutes of a Jordan Peterson tape in which he protested against anyone being forced to use transgender pronouns.
Without the rule of law and due process to establish the guilt or innocence of the hundreds of powerful men who are accused of sexual assault, who is to know just who is really guilty?
When the media and the mob rule, no one is exempt from accusation and condemnation. Mass hysteria is no impartial judge of the facts.
John Keke’s excellent article in City Journal, “Why Robespierre Chose Terror,” notes the results of mass hysteria. He quotes J.M. Thompson:
“The result of this climate of hysteria was Robespierre’s Decree of the 22nd Prairial. It expressed in principle the views of the whole Committee. The Committee was fanatical enough to approve, and the Convention powerful enough to enforce, as a New Model of Republican justice . . . a law which denied to prisoners the help of counsel, made it possible for the court to dispense with witnesses, and allowed no sentence except acquittal or execution; a law which, at the same time, defined crimes against the state in such wide terms that the slightest indiscretion might bring one within the article of death. To any right-minded or merciful man such procedure must seem a travesty of justice.” (Italics mine.)
The basis of Robespierre’s ideology was not reason or facts but angry passion, an ideological anger that justified the execution of many innocents in order the perfect Revolution be established. He never looked back, not even at the end. He never asked if he was wrong because he thought his vision was incorruptible. He did not ask if terror should overrule facts, because facts might get in the way of quickly actualizing the revolution. He would make the world fit his vision by any means necessary.
Does the above not also characterize the Left in all its manifestations?
How ironic that in America, the sexual revolution begun in the 60s, based on passion and the freedom to exhibit passion in any time and way as long as the thin reed of “consent” was leaned on, now has turned in on itself. But that is what happens when rage is the basis of justice. That is what happens when extremes of feeling completely replace the rule of law based on reason and revelation.
When the ideological fever rises to a temperature similar to that of the Terror, guilt or innocence does not really matter -- in fact, the very concepts have been drowned out by the screams of the mob. Only raw emotion and power matter. Only ideological purity matters.
Perhaps, knowing the fate before him would be one of the living dead no matter what he did or didn’t do, that is why Dan Johnson, a lawyer in Kentucky accused of sexual assault, committed suicide.
Perhaps Johnson knew, as did Robespierre at the end, the verdict of the mob would be death -- of one kind or another, be it actual or a living death.
We don’t know for sure.
But death in one form or another is always what happens when mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The current hysteria must be opposed and halted. The rule of law and due process must be re-established. Otherwise, we may find the country taking a path to The Terror -- American style.
Fay Voshell is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. Her thoughts have appeared in many other online magazines. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.