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[St Just, 26th February 1794]The deputies of the primary assemblies have come to exercise among us the initiative of terror against domestic enemies. Do you not also have brothers, children, and wives to avenge?
The acts of those defeated by history became infamous for those of their heirs who might be of a mind to repeat them.
Even if they were understood - and Hugo’s ‘1793’ bears witness to this - no situation could lead to their repetition.
Wahnich discusses at some length the role of the various legal instruments of the Terror as institutionalising popular vengeance, reassuring the public that their new and fragile republic would be protected from its many enemies.
I found her argument that the escalation of the Terror occurred when a war mentality took over broadly convincing.
Such was the utter condemnation of the Terror from essentially the moment Robespierre was dead onward through the centuries that explaining why it happened often seems to be equated with justifying it. This leads to an intellectually unsatisfactory tendency I call ‘Robespierre stole my parking space’.
In such cases, histories of the French revolution appear to place sole blame (and the tone is unequivocally blame) on Robespierre for masterminding the Terror, as if no such thing would have happened had he been elsewhere at the time.
In fact, the [constitutionally enshrined] duty of insurrection made each person a watchman who had to either rise up at risk of his life, or take responsibility for the decisions of the national Convention.
Active forgetting is what is effected after the time of foundation, when the notion of the irreconcilable enemy becomes obsolete and intolerable.
And he may have stolen the presidency, but at least he didn’t do so with Russian backing! Anyway, this is a short but dense book largely concerned with the period of 1792 to 1794, seeking to explain how what was retrospectively termed The Terror came to occur.
Although the density is manageable, it merits mention that Slavoj Žižek’s introduction is easier to read than the book itself. This may also be a function of the book being in translation, moreover the subject matter is a tricky one.