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The Reign of Terror in the French Revolution

Statues are destroyed and churches are vandalized! There are spies in the streets and you don’t know who to trust! One moment you could be standing in a bread line and the next you could find yourself laying down looking up at the guillotine! In this article we will be looking into the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.

It’s 1793 and the commoners of France have just executed the King of France Louis XVI mainly due to the lack of food and over taxation. Paranoia gripped the people throughout France. The new group in charge is the Committee of Public Safety and at its head is Maximilian Robespierre. Fear has gripped the city.

Though the French revolution may have been inspired by the American revolution, it quickly became a perversion of it and it’s foundations were laid using different principles. While the American’s followed philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, the French followed philosophers like Rousseau and Voltaire. Instead of valuing individualism, they valued collectivism, instead of valuing rights endowed to us by a creator, they valued rights endowed to us by the collective or the General Will. This is why the article 3 of the 1789 French Rights of man states...

“The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.”

Essentially the value is placed on the collective and not the individual and the supreme ruler is not God but the Law and the collective.

“The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imperceptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.”

What is resistance to oppression and from whom? Well this is never really clear. They beheaded the King and his wife because they were the oppressors. Due to the fact they didn’t value the individual but did value the collective, the collective always ruled the individual and it made it possible to murder individuals in the name of the collective and this is how they were going to fix that oppression.

”It is time for all french men to enjoy sacred equality.. it is time to impose this equality by signal acts of justice upon traitors and conspirators. “Let’s make terror the order of the day!”

After the monarchy was beheaded by the guillotine the nobility was seen as oppressive and they beheaded them, then the wealthy, then businesses and farmers and then hoarders that had too much and this continued because their problems never went away. Anyone suspected of counter revolutionary activities were quickly rounded up, tried, and executed. They even started killing their own revolutionaries. Even with the streets flowing with blood, Maximilian Robespierre, the leader of the revolution called for more blood.

Once the people apart of these oppressive systems were disposed of, they pointed their finger in a new direction. As pointed out in the rights of man...

“No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”

The Rights of Man is full of rights and it is also full of "buts". You can have these freedoms so long as they do not disturb public order established by law. The public order wanted to DeChristianize France because they saw religion as the root of all of their problems and so they passed the Law of Suspects. It imposed that...

  1. All priests and all persons protecting them are liable to death on the spot.

  2. That all crosses, bells and other external signs of worship should be destroyed.

  3. All statues, plaques, and iconography should be replaced, renamed or destroyed.

In 1793, the Christian calendar was replaced with one reckoning from the date of the Revolution and the festivals of Liberty, Reason, and the Supreme Being were officially established. Churches would be converted into temples of reasons where cults of reason reigned. Robespierre put a prostitute in the Notre Dame Cathedral and covered her in a sheet to be worshiped as the “goddess of reason”

Every measurement was to be divisible by ten, as ten was considered the number of man because we could count on ten fingers. They had 10 day weeks to get rid of Sundays, 10 decimal hours with each hour consisting of 100 decimal minutes, and each minute was made up of 100 seconds.

As things continued to spiral out of control, not even Robespierre could contain it. He and others that started the revolution would suffer the same fate that they sent anyone that opposed them too.

With his death at the guillotine on 28 July 1794, the cult lost all official sanction and disappeared from public view. Order was finally established by Napoleon seizing power. If you want to check out the philosophy behind that, check out our Montesquieu video here.

The French Revolution was one of the bloodiest revolutions in history, and spiraled out of control fairly quickly with the Reign of Terror. The death toll for all the be-headings in just a few months was 17,000 with hundreds of thousands dying in other ways across France. Fear and hatred were in people's hearts. This really was the reign of terror.

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