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 So Quiet! 
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Post Re: So Quiet!
Hmm... how do I put this? ... Do I believe Robespierre was wrong? Yes, but I cannot say I would have done any different in his place. The human will-to-live is a powerful thing, both royalists and revolutionaries fought like hell to preserve themselves. When one is backed into a corner one easily could commit abominations... Things like the Reign of Terror are what happens when people become extremely desperate.

I recall a quote by Saint-Just... "One cannot reign innocently...". I believe that may also apply to Robespierre. He may not have been as extreme as his peers, but merely to have had the power he possessed during this time is enough to make him unclean, for lack of a better word. The only completely innocent thing to do is preserve peace above all else, and die for it, but in all honesty, how many people are capable of such restraint? There are people who have been canonized for less. He and his contemporaries did what any person with less discipline and much passion would do... I hope I am making sense here, as my true knowledge is of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, with my understanding of the revolutionaries basic at best (which is inexcusable, considering their importance...).

I do believe Robespierre was saintly compared to some of his peers, he seemed like an calculating intellectual rather than a bloodthirsty brute, and perhaps has been unfairly scapegoated for some of the atrocities of the Terror simply because he was highly visible during this momentous time (the same can be said for Marie Antoinette, also scapegoated because she was a high-profile person...).

I apologize for my short reply, I am combing my books to try and answer this difficult question of morality.


Mon Sep 17, 2012 11:54 pm
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Post Re: So Quiet!
Madame Vigée-Le Brun wrote:
Hmm... how do I put this? ... Do I believe Robespierre was wrong? Yes, but I cannot say I would have done any different in his place. The human will-to-live is a powerful thing, both royalists and revolutionaries fought like hell to preserve themselves. When one is backed into a corner one easily could commit abominations... Things like the Reign of Terror are what happens when people become extremely desperate.


I am reminded of a scene in 1968's Lion of Winter. Katherine Hepburn is Eleanor of Acquitaine, and after seeing her family collapse in a whirlwind of violence she falls into a tangent: "We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little - that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world."

There is a pregnant pause as her sons gather around her, wide-eyed at the wisdom of pacifism. Peace? Yes, wouldn't it be wonderful if they could seethe their swords and love each other as they were surely meant to?

But then her son Geoffrey speaks up. "Yes," he says, "but while we lay down our arms, what will France do?"

It takes two to have peace.

Well, you know, I modify that statement. Peace will inevitably come when one faction is peaceful and the other is warlike, for once the warlike faction kills the peaceful one, they will have no one left to kill and perhaps they will settle down!

Robespierre, at least, had been trying to cool tempers. We can hardly accuse the man who had been trying to abolish the death penalty as late as February 1793 of planning the Terror from the beginning. This contrast is often used as proof of Robespierre's deterioration; to me, it shows the deterioration of French society. He had been playing at peace, but finally he must have said to himself, "If we lay down our arms, what will the royalists do?" I look at the Terror an arm, as a weapon of war. I believe that we were going to be reading about a Terror in our textbooks one way or another. In Simon Schama's Citizens he tries to maintain that the Terror was on the Jacobins minds from 1789 and that an atmosphere of violence had been planted from the beginning. I agree - but it had also been on the minds of the royalists. The only question was would we be reading about a Revolutionary or Royal Tribunal. The Terror was a weapon lying on the table and it was on everyone's minds. It came down to who grabbed the weapon first.

This doesn't make any side necessarily 'right' but it doesn't demonize any side either; it comes down to your personal ideology, whether you identify with the royalists or Revolutionaries.

See, I don't think Robespierre was wrong in his belief that it was 'them or me'.

I repeat, the White Royalist/Girondin Terror killed more people than the Reign of Terror we are discussing. And while the Reign of Terror will find apologists like myself or Mathiez, I have never encountered an apologist of the White Terror. Perhaps this is because the Reign of Terror was organized in hot blood, and with true enemies - Austrians, English, etc - breathing down the Revolutionaries' necks. There is a practical justification.

The White Terror was in cold blood, a simple act of vengeance and repression. We can read accounts of wealthy comtesses settling themselves out by the country side and watching hundreds of bodies of murdered Jacobins float down the River. Everything is peaceful, everything is wonderful and glorious, aside from the hundreds of murders the government is sanctioning, if not publicly applauding.

Don't tell me that there was no danger. Don't tell me Robespierre was wrong - history proves that he was very much right. Oh he failed to prevent the Royalist Reaction. Ironically, if he had been successful then I would have no way to prove how right he was! You could insist that the royalists had never been conceiving of such violence and I would have to sheepishly agree that there is no evidence but harsh words.

But they did conceive of violence. They did commit violence. It is difficult to maintain the argument that the royalists would never have threatened the Revolutionaries when the royalists, did, in fact, threaten the Revolutionaries and murder them in the White Terror. I think royalist authors are aware of this and so often don't mention the White Terror at all, making it relatively unknown. When they do reference it, usually it's a hasty shove under the curtain, "I know you of Jacobin bias are thinking about the White Terror here, but you can't use that to excuse the Reign of Terror!"

Maybe not to excuse, but to justify.



Quote:
I recall a quote by Saint-Just... "One cannot reign innocently...". I believe that may also apply to Robespierre. He may not have been as extreme as his peers, but merely to have had the power he possessed during this time is enough to make him unclean, for lack of a better word. The only completely innocent thing to do is preserve peace above all else, and die for it, but in all honesty, how many people are capable of such restraint?


I don't think the innocent thing to do is preserve peace when the alternative is to die. Especially when it is not only your life on the line. After coming so far, oops, we gotta defend ourselves!

But someone might get hurt! No Republic for us! The Revolution's over, everyone go home!

...No.

That's not heroism. There was no peace to preserve but for that of the grave. Waving a palm branch around when it is only your own life at stake is fine; you can do with your life as you will. But Robespierre, but Danton, but all of them had more than their own lives to account to. If they were peaceful it would not just be their lives forfeit.

You'd have them surrender the lives of their friends so they don't have to harm their enemies. I don't think Robespierre's friends and supporters would have called that very noble, although I suppose the royalists may have applauded after they finished up their picnic beside the river clogged with Jacobin corpses.

You say to reign innocently means always preserving the peace, even if it means throwing yourself and your friend in irons.

To me, to "reign innocently" according to your definition is cowardice. They wanted liberty and there was a price for that.

Furthermore, when we think of the Terror, I think we fall into the trap of only thinking of how much better it could have been. There's a flip-side to that. It could have been much, much worse. Here's something picturesque. Most historians bring the death-count of the Terror to something between 20,000 and 40,000, depending on whether they are going to count casualties of the Vendean War. That's 40,000 executions in one year.

Monstrous.

But then we look forward a few decades at another attempted Revolution. The Revolution was quatched by the government.

20,000 people died in one day.

Take that as you will. Sometimes there are alternatives, but those alternatives aren't necessarily 'better'. Sometimes the world is unfair and there isn't a peaceful option.

The best we could hope for was a mitigated Terror, which Robespierre did try to do - just beacuse he was largely ignored doesn't change the fact that he tried.

Being that he did try to preserve the peace and that his role on the Committee of Public Safety, if his public interventions are any indication, was to moderate the more radical members, I believe Robespierer could not have done better. Oh, yes, he spoke in support of the Terror, but that's because he did support the relatively lenient Robespierrist Terror as I do - and moreover, do not actions speak louder than words? But if we are going to just use Robesperre's words to condemn him, he actually has several wonderful statements of condemnation of the Terror and pleas for moderation.

“It would be better to spare a hundred guilty people than to sacrifice one innocent.”

“Be merciful to innocence, pardon the unfortunate, show compassion for human weakness.”

“What is all this talk of the guillotine? Citizens, not everyone can understand this yet - people are trying to destroy the Revolution by excesses…When I condemned a mistake I was far from calling for the proscription of the man who had committed it. I merely wanted to point out that, for the moment, he had left the right road. Let us try not to inflate the ranks of the guilty... let us avoid bloodshed. I shall be accused of moderation but remember that we must always act in accordance with what is useful to the Revolution."

“Everywhere acts of oppression and tyranny have been multiplied to extend the system of terror and calumny; impure agents were prodigal in unjust arrests, destructive projects of finance menaced every moderate fortune, and brought despair upon a countless multitude of families attached to the Revolution.”

“Peaceable, unobtrusive men, and men of no account, are tormented, patriots are every day plunged into dungeons without cause…”

“Everywhere the Terror has been put in force: peaceful citizens have been attacked; prejudices have been construed into crimes!’”

“Remember that unless justice alone rules in our Republic – love of equality, love of the fatherland…there begins the arbitrary rule of officials and that the People has changed its masters without changing its final destiny.”

My favorite, perhaps because it was not planned and was spoken off-the-cuff and in the privacy of his own home among friends:

“Blood, blood! They’re going to drown the Revolution in blood, the scoundrels!”

And so they did. If anything, Robespierre's problem was trust: he supported the Terror because he thought that every Republican could be trusted to be as good and noble as Couthon had been in Lyons.

But Robespierre, if everyone was as good and noble as Couthon than Couthon would cease to be remarkable. That said, I don't know how he could have stopped the Hebertists from participating. "Guys, only the Robespierrists are doing the Terror right. I think only Robespierrists should be organizing executions. That sound fair to everyone?"

The charge of dictatorship would then be justified.

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Last edited by Vive on Tue Sep 18, 2012 1:41 pm, edited 4 times in total.



Tue Sep 18, 2012 12:53 am
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Post Re: So Quiet!
Vive write:

Do you think that I don't sometimes roll my eyes at the arrogance of the monarchy? In all honesty, do you think that I don't want to believe Marie Antoinette was the spendthrift whore?

Its a strange thing but i never liked the Queen because I thought her nice or virtuous....she is typical of those people that one loves despite their many faults. I like her cynical sarcastic side that can also be very loving and full of attention to others, her noble carriage bordering on snobbery, she was something that simply cannot exist any more...a real Queen. Its' a kind of nostalgic love, and she is the epitomy of someone slandered, she is the embodiment of cliché, of received ideas, of the great power of heresay. So its' such a voyage of discovery to see what she actually said and wrote, and that airhead let them eat cake image just dissolves into the atmosphere charged atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Paris.

And I still cannot look at a portrait of her or a marble bust without feeling that special connection. And it has stood the test of time.

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Tue Sep 18, 2012 9:28 am
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Post Re: So Quiet!
baron de batz wrote:
Its a strange thing but i never liked the Queen because I thought her nice or virtuous....she is typical of those people that one loves despite their many faults. I like her cynical sarcastic side that can also be very loving and full of attention to others, her noble carriage bordering on snobbery, she was something that simply cannot exist any more...a real Queen. Its' a kind of nostalgic love, and she is the epitomy of someone slandered, she is the embodiment of cliché, of received ideas, of the great power of heresay. So its' such a voyage of discovery to see what she actually said and wrote, and that airhead let them eat cake image just dissolves into the atmosphere charged atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Paris.


Awe, I wasn't trying to say that Marie Antoinette was a paragon of virtue. My contention was really just a confession that if the calumnies were true - all of them, the worst of them - it would make this anachronistic Jacobin's life much easier. As it is, I too fostered an affection for her. Because she wasn't a monster, she was a human being.

And you really don't have to be more than that.

It certainly makes it difficult to draw a line in the sand and declare that this side is 'good' and this side is 'bad' when you have an affection for both Marie Antoinette and Maximilien Robespierre.

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Tue Sep 18, 2012 11:15 am
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