Marxist historians have generally been infatuated with the story of the French Revolution. In the 1970s and earlier, the revolution which overthrew the ancien regime of the French Bourbon monarchy slid easily in the political conceptions of class and egalitarianism.

A forceful and bloody siege upon the forces of feudalism that dragged humanity kicking and screaming into the modern age, the French revolution is in fact more complex than either the Marxists would love to believe or as pitiful as the Edmund burke’s of the world have seen it.

Inevitably any discussion then pivots to agency and guilt. of the persons actvely involved in what would historically become known as “the terror”, the most recognizable if not most popular is the enigmatic Maximillien Robespierre.

Robespierre, a pronvincial lawyer from northwestern France wth little to no background in politics, was also the man who sent thousands to the guillotine, and would eventually be swallowed up in the sea of violence he had so desperately created, is an alternately hated and beloved historical figure.

To critics of the Revolution, he was at least permissive, if not entirely guilty of mass genocide, torture and the suspension of law. To others, his willingness to take unpopular and violent methods to achieve real tangible goals was justified.

I am currently reading Ruth Scurr’s brilliant biography of Robespierre, Fatal Purity. Her principal diagnosis, that Robespierre can best be understood by his times and the actions of those around him, is  a fresh approach that does not fall for the familiar tropes of good and evil.

A full book review is forthcoming, but I wanted to post this YouTube series of a BBC documentary on Robespierre that includes Scurr, Simon Schama, and Slavoj Zizek, amongst others.

A fabulous video with great acting and analysis, it should be a primer before reading Scurr, and certainly helped me conceptualize a period of time much more easily.

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