By Sophie Wahnich
Provocative reassessment of the nice Terror as a cost worthy paying.
For 200 years after the French Revolution, the Republican culture celebrated the execution of princes and aristocrats, protecting the fear that the Revolution inflicted upon on its enemies. yet fresh a long time have introduced a marked switch in sensibility. The Revolution isn't any longer judged when it comes to ancient necessity yet really by means of “timeless” criteria of morality. during this succinct essay, Sophie Wahnich explains how, opposite to winning interpretations, the establishment of Terror sought to place a brake on valid well known violence—in Danton’s phrases, to “be bad in order to spare the folks the necessity to be so”—and used to be hence subsumed in a good judgment of struggle. the phobia used to be “a technique welded to a regime of renowned sovereignty, the single choices being to defeat tyranny or die for liberty.”
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Additional resources for In Defence of the Terror: Liberty or Death in the French Revolution
The historiographical dimension of this criticism is still more explicit in Agamben’s Means Without End: ‘[In] all the declarations of rights from 1789 to the present day . . ’, in which Agamben maintains that starting with the French Revolution, sovereignty is entrusted solely to the people, the people become an embarrassing presence, and poverty and exclusion appear for the first time as an intolerable scandal in every sense . . 13 Since we know that, for Agamben, this absence of divi sion among the people leads to the fantasy of a pure, homogeneous, unified people, as in the Nazi notion of Volk, this can only be disturbing.
On M ayer’s book, see French Historical Studies, vol. 24, no. 4 (2001), which was devoted to it, and where, among other contributions, there are interesting points of view from Tim Tackett and David Bell. 34 A rigorous description of this declaratory turn has been conducted by Jacques Guilhaumou in his article ‘La terreur à l’ordre du jour (juillet 1793-m ars 1794)’, Dictionnaire des usages sociopolitiques (17701815). Fascicule 2: Notions, concepts, Paris: Klincksieck Inalf, 1987, pp. 127-60. 35 M ona Ozouf, ‘Guerre et Terreur dans le discours révolutionnaire’, L ’École de la France, Paris: Gallimard, 1984, pp.
It is these same risks that make it pos sible to understand and analyze the Terror as foundation. This very exercise, however, is not with out its risks. The first of these is to view the Terror as a resur gence of primitivism. 24 Drawing on the investigations of anthropologists cannot today lead to negating a society’s historicity. Founding is not a primitive act, though we can hypothesize that there are anthropological analogies in the act of foundation whether this occurs in the fifth, the eighteenth or the twentieth century.
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