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01-06-2021, 19:07   #1
A Tyrant Named Miltiades!
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France: The Reign of Terror

Am curious to see what people think about this period of French history.

I used to view the Terrors as a period of wanton violence, but it's probably been framed incorrectly. The Terrors were nothing more than a pretty ordinary civil war; if there was mob justice, it was no different to mob justice in any other revolution.

Am coming around to a view that The Reign of Terror is an unfair propaganda against revolution, which successfully set back European democracy for the century that followed. Thoughts?

Has the Reign of Terror been over-egged, or was it very different to ordinary wars?
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02-06-2021, 06:10   #2
Peregrinus
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I think a lot of commentators see the Terror as novel and important. I think what you have here is the state employing terror against its own citizens, fairly indiscriminately, as a way of securing their loyalty. It sounds contradictory but it worked, at least for a time. The point about the Terror was that if you came to the unfavourable attention of the authorities, mere innocence would not protect you. Not even being an active supporter of the revolution would protect you — once accused, people died for being insufficiently zealous for the Republic. During the Terror, the most effective protection was pre-emptive; you had to be so vocal and active in support of the authorities that you would never come under accusation yourself. And part of that was being vocal and active in support of the policy of Terror itself; if you weren't an enthusiast for Terror you were at risk of being its victim.

What we have here is an intentional, and in a bizarre way rational, government strategy of using terror against its own people to secure their loyalty and support. Not just to make them too scared to do wrong - that would have been commonplace - but to motivate them to become extremists themselves, and to make them accepting and supportive of government policy.

This is, literally, the invention of terrorism - the strategic use of terror to manipulate the political opinion of the terrorised. So, yeah, it's a significant development.

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02-06-2021, 09:12   #3
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For this period I'd rely on the historian Michael Burleigh who wrote about this in books such as Age of Terror. He focuses in on the how the state used violence to ensure ideological uniformity and crush dissent. His accounts of the massarces in Western France that encompassed even those suspected of supporting the old regime and the methods of used, mass drownings, are chilling. He traces the lineage of the French revolution through subseqient eras with this being the template.
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02-06-2021, 09:15   #4
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Cant remember who said it, but one historian once compared the Reign of terror in France, with Stalins Show Trials. I thought she made a very excellent comparison of the two events on how they were designed to create a uniformed populace in terms of thoughts, actions and obedience to the government of the day.
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03-06-2021, 21:17   #5
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For this period I'd rely on the historian Michael Burleigh who wrote about this in books such as Age of Terror. He focuses in on the how the state used violence to ensure ideological uniformity and crush dissent. His accounts of the massarces in Western France that encompassed even those suspected of supporting the old regime and the methods of used, mass drownings, are chilling. He traces the lineage of the French revolution through subseqient eras with this being the template.
In the Vendee, didn’t the revolutionary commander say he would “burn everything” and “exterminate” all “rebels”?
The idea of a “genocide” of Royalists is hotly debated and contested though.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infernal_columns

One similarity with 20th century totalitarian regimes, is the idea that to reach the promised land and create an ideal place for all, they have to exterminate any opposition in its path.
Robspierre’s buddy Saint-Just has a lot of quotes like this: “The vessel of the Revolution can arrive in port only on a sea reddened with torrents of blood.”

“ You have to punish not only the traitors, but even those who are indifferent; you have to punish whoever is passive in the republic, and who does nothing for it"

"a nation generates itself only upon heaps of corpses“.

“ In every Revolution a dictator is needed to save the state by force, or censors to save it by virtue.”
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05-06-2021, 10:51   #6
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I think some people ‘overthink’ the psychology of the violence in France, where it and attendant destruction are tacitly accepted as a part of its social fabric. This runs counter to everything in Anglo-Saxon culture. Haussmann and Napoleon III did want to beautify the city while improving its economy, but had not forgotten the violence of 1789, 1830, 1832, and 1848. Their plans allowed the state to shift about 500.000 of the poor out of the city and the widestreets work included plans for the building of new military barracks in areas that had been hotspots. For the same reasons from mid-1800’s all heavy industry was located in the provinces and HQs were located in Paris, minimising the feasability of workers’ protests in the capital. Anyone who has seen the CRS at work on the Champs Elysée’s will understand the logic and effectiveness of the boulevards and places.

The blood-letting has stopped since the time of throwing several hundred Algeriens into the Seine (1961) but the destruction during protests outweighs anything here/UK/USA. Examples – students in 1968, French fishermen (burning buildings, Rennes town hall); lorry drivers (burning ‘Peages’); farmers -from the endive growers to the beef producers, José Bové, manure and McDonalds); airport workers (driving a JCB through dozens of glass walls in terminals), PSG fans after a lost football match, les gilets jaunes, etc.

Nothing complicated, just being French.
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07-06-2021, 14:25   #7
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Originally Posted by Peregrinus View Post
I think a lot of commentators see the Terror as novel and important. I think what you have here is the state employing terror against its own citizens, fairly indiscriminately, as a way of securing their loyalty. It sounds contradictory but it worked, at least for a time. The point about the Terror was that if you came to the unfavourable attention of the authorities, mere innocence would not protect you. Not even being an active supporter of the revolution would protect you — once accused, people died for being insufficiently zealous for the Republic. During the Terror, the most effective protection was pre-emptive; you had to be so vocal and active in support of the authorities that you would never come under accusation yourself. And part of that was being vocal and active in support of the policy of Terror itself; if you weren't an enthusiast for Terror you were at risk of being its victim.

What we have here is an intentional, and in a bizarre way rational, government strategy of using terror against its own people to secure their loyalty and support. Not just to make them too scared to do wrong - that would have been commonplace - but to motivate them to become extremists themselves, and to make them accepting and supportive of government policy.

This is, literally, the invention of terrorism - the strategic use of terror to manipulate the political opinion of the terrorised. So, yeah, it's a significant development.
That's all true, I agree with your interpretation.

What I'm driving at, is whether The Terrors departed from what historians ordinarily observe in a Civil War?

In other words, what distinguishes the so-called 'Reign of Terror' from other European Civil Wars of the 18th and early-19th centuries? Is it the Guillotine that has people so annoyed? Whether someone is eradicated by grapeshot, carbine or guillotine hardly seems important!
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07-06-2021, 14:34   #8
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That's all true, I agree with your interpretation.

What I'm driving at, is whether The Terrors departed from what historians ordinarily observe in a Civil War?

In other words, what distinguishes the so-called 'Reign of Terror' from other European Civil Wars of the 18th and early-19th centuries? Is it the Guillotine that has people so annoyed? Whether someone is eradicated by grapeshot, carbine or guillotine hardly seems important!
I'd say partially because it wasn't just revolutionaries executing royalists and vice versa. It was the State executing people on all sides for a variety of reasons.

It feels unlike many civil wars because there ceased to be two clear sides fighting each other, and people were being executed for reasons not pertaining directly to the war.

I don't think the method of execution is of particular importance in shaping people's views of it.
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08-06-2021, 02:05   #9
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Cant remember who said it, but one historian once compared the Reign of terror in France, with Stalins Show Trials. I thought she made a very excellent comparison of the two events on how they were designed to create a uniformed populace in terms of thoughts, actions and obedience to the government of the day.
Not to hard to do really. O

I would have said the Black & Tans, Mao's 5 year plans, Lenin's Red Terror, or Kim Il Sung, + lots of others, like the period before Pax Romana for example.
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08-06-2021, 03:06   #10
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That's all true, I agree with your interpretation.

What I'm driving at, is whether The Terrors departed from what historians ordinarily observe in a Civil War?
Yes, I think it did. In a civil war each side commonly does dreadful things to the other. Here, we have the state doing dreadful things to the people. Plus, if we take the Terror to commence with the September Massacres, it precedes anything that can be considered a civil war.


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In other words, what distinguishes the so-called 'Reign of Terror' from other European Civil Wars of the 18th and early-19th centuries? Is it the Guillotine that has people so annoyed? Whether someone is eradicated by grapeshot, carbine or guillotine hardly seems important!
Nobody has mentioned the guillotine. And you're right, it's irrelevant. What characterises the Terror is not the mode of execution, but the indiscriminate use of mass violence by the state authorities against the population as a means of securing their loyalty and support. That was definitely novel.
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08-06-2021, 13:00   #11
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Yes, I think it did. In a civil war each side commonly does dreadful things to the other. Here, we have the state doing dreadful things to the people. Plus, if we take the Terror to commence with the September Massacres, it precedes anything that can be considered a civil war.



Nobody has mentioned the guillotine. And you're right, it's irrelevant. What characterises the Terror is not the mode of execution, but the indiscriminate use of mass violence by the state authorities against the population as a means of securing their loyalty and support. That was definitely novel.
I agree but Fox News definition is non-state actors committing violent acts usually in the name of religion or sometimes for godless Communism (as there is Christian-Communism)
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09-06-2021, 02:15   #12
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I agree but Fox News definition is non-state actors committing violent acts usually in the name of religion or sometimes for godless Communism (as there is Christian-Communism)
Yes, but Fox is not generally characterised by a profound historical awareness.
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10-06-2021, 17:51   #13
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Yes, but Fox is not generally characterised by a profound historical awareness.
That's true, they seem to be only people who don't know MLKjr was a Socialist & anti-war.
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