Posted BY: Thomas Buckley

Lawyer to revolutionary to tyrant to the butcher to the victim of the forces he himself had unleashed — that was the arc of the life of Maximillian Robespierre.

The architect of The Terror that engulfed France from 1792 until 1794, Robespierre may have been the first despot of the mind.  Throughout history, kings and emperors and such had raged across the world, killing people for power and land and glory and obliterating opponents.  But Robespierre’s elected dictatorship was the first to systematically kill people in its own territory for not thinking the right way, for not blindly following his lead, for not fully engaging in the mechanisms of their own oppression, and to make them better.

Robespierre was the direct precursor of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and too many others — the list is sadly too long — who saw the state as a single self-defined monolith that must, should, and had the absolute right to destroy anything or anyone it perceived as a threat, as is not committed enough to the state itself, and as even being potentially capable of possessing a self-image and self-worth separate from the state — and its leader.

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