The Terror, or How to Screw up a Revolution with Progressive Thought

The execution of Robespierre and his supporters on 28 July 1794. Note: the beheaded man (6) is not Robespierre, but Couthon: Maximilien Robespierre (10) is shown sitting on the cart, dressed in brown, wearing a hat, and holding a handkerchief to his mouth. His younger brother Augustin (8) is being led up the steps to the scaffold.

I was struck when a comment was made on a forum I frequent that in effect said that the blood that ran in the streets after the French revolution was an expression of anarchy. It is a statement that really ground my teeth because the truth of the matter is, the mass murder that followed the deposing of King Louie XVI was the opposite of anarchy.

The use of the guillotine and hangings from lamposts in France were lawful tools used by Maximillion Robspierre and his merry band of Montegnards during “The Terror”. FAR FAR FAR from lawless, The Mountaineers (as we might call them in English) as a caucus ruled France and passed many laws – most of them death warrants for their enemies.

Their bitter rivals were the anarchists, or the liberals that sat on the “left” of the National Convention. The Convention was overwhelmed by the Jacobin aligned Montegnards for a good while, and Robspierre led them with inspiring speeches about the progressive France they were building as he sent women and children to their deaths in a carnival of blood taking place in the largest square in Paris: The Place du la Concorde… a Roman Republic style delight for the amusement of the masses.

Here are a few sample of quotes from Mr. Robspierre concerning his governments bloodthirsty policies:

“The goal of the constitutional government is to conserve the republic; the aim of the revolutionary government is to found it… The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the enemies of the people but death… These notions would be enough to explain the origin and the nature of laws that we call revolutionary … If the revolutionary government must be more active in its march and more free in his movements than an ordinary government, is it for that less fair and legitimate? No; it is supported by the most holy of all laws: the salvation of the people.”


“The Terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible.”

All in all well over 15,000 people were beheaded or strung up on a lamppost at the orders of the “most holy of laws” enacted by the National Convention in Paris, far more were killed across france under lawful order. Each of the drops of blood spilled were by men enforcing law, most of the drops spilled were bled from anarchists that opposed these men… the Montegnards ran out of royals and aristocracy from the Ancien Regime in a matter of a few weeks.

Political rivals filled out most of the executions for the rest of the year but in the end the Terror ended with Robspierre, himself, sentenced to the Razor of Paris. When the anarchists finally organized and arrested him they made short work of the matter and they did so literally in the name of Liberty.

After that, France was in a better place for a while thanks to the libertarian and anarchistic albeit not as organized Parisians sick to death of their new, lowborn and bloodthirsty psuedo-king. Eventually, the ur-fascists came back into power despite the freedom lovers; notably a man named Fouche was spared being executed with Robspierre because of a public break he made with him (conveniently right as Robspierre started to teeter in power).

Fouche lived through the arrests that ended The Terror and rejoined the Convention despite his close affiliation and actions in The Terror. Later, all of France would rue the day they did not finish off the progressive mass murderer. Fouche became the man that formed the late night death squads and agent provocatuers that later all contemporary secret police would emulate to control their populace.

One notable leftist who served in the Convention (or Assembly as it were) a few decades (and a few revolutions) after The Terror was a man named Frederic Bastiat, and he wrote an interesting book called, “The Law”. It is a really good read and considered a lynchpin in true liberal thought.

Bastiat would have told progressives today:

Progress is NOT what you can make society do with the power of violence through government. Progress, true progress, is what your civilization can accomplish without mass executions or strings of bondaged slaves making it go.

Contemporary progressives, most of them have no idea their philosophic roots. Men like Robspierre, who himself was called, “The Incorruptable”, were paragons of progressive thought.

It is no surprise to me, it may be to you, that the champions of progressive ideology in the US, those who filled Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, and then the Bull Moose party, were largely KKK. There are mountains of newspaper stories from the 20s and 30s with the Klan electing progressive after progressive until FDR crowned their achievements.

I too am for progress. But I know, in my heart, and in my mind, and I understand from a studious approach to understanding history, that “progress” in the hands of government, is always a bloody mess either fast bloody mess like the Terror or slow miserable death like the Dark Ages.

However… if you place the freedom to progress in the hands of an anarchist you get things like Wikipedia and Linux. Who knew?

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