So a while ago I started to write a review about David Andress’ beautiful work: “Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France” and for reasons beyond my control I kept forgetting to finish it. The review is more of a fragmant and a sketch than a full review, but I thought it was worth posting in its rough shape because: a) its a great book and every person should pick a copy up ASAP, b) I’m bored and c) it’s my blog.
History tends to remember the blade that fell on Louis XI neck, while forgetting the tens of thousands of necks it also separated. Of course, few of those whose death was to take place under the “Terror”, the period of time when the Committee of Public Safety, were to be remembered in such vivid terms as Louis Bourbon.
Andress is skillful in humanizing the twelve men who for a brief period of time were the ultimate power over the whole of France and outwardly were a monolithic institution, but behind the doors of the Tuilleries, the power struggle that was being waged daily was sometimes comical, sometimes horrifying in its turbulence.
It is important to reiterate what others, notably Adam Thorpe in The Guardian has said: none of these men who ran the Terror were “great men” to couch the term in historiographic terms. While Danton is often written about as a giant of the Revolution, not just because of his physical but also his political stature, even he suffers moments where his leadership skills are left wanting.
Danton takes the mystique out of the men who have been at various times villains and heroes of the political order. To some on the Left, Robespierre is virtue embodied. Willing to sacrifice the whole of the body politic in service of greater Rousseau virtue. To conservatives, the Terror is an extreme example of revolutions run amok. It is after all, from Edmund Burke we get the model for modern parliamentary conservatism.
I’ve linked to it before, but its worth taking another look at Zizek’s comments on Jacobinism pace Andress and the skeptics:
Andress’ work is wonderous is scope and character. Engaging and well-written, it is a brave and forthright account that eschews ideology in sake of truth.