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Robespierre(Frist modren dictator)
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ROBESPIERREFrom a pencil sketch at the Versailles MuseumROBESPIERREFIRST MODERN DICTATORBYRALPH KORNGOLDFOREWORDHALF a century ago, Hippolyte Taine wrote concerningRobespierre: After a hundred years he still makesdupes. Since then the number of Robespierres partisans has greatly increased. Reims and Arras have namedstreets after him, and the latter city has erected a monument in his honour. In Sicards monument to the Convention, in the Pantheon in Paris, he occupies the foremost place. Modern French historians are far lesscritical of him than their colleagues in the past. Some,like Mathiez, Lefebvre and Pariset, are frank admirers.The author confesses to a certain sympathy withRobespierre when he began intensive study of his subject. This sympathy, curiously enough, was first arousedby reading Thiers Histoire de la devolution franpaise.Thiers wrote his history in the early part of the i9thcentury, and could hardly have foreseen that some twoscore years later he would have the opportunity ofdemonstrating those same qualities of moderation andmercy for the supposed lack of which he so severelycriticized Robespierre. Now, the author had done considerable reading about the Paris Commune, henceknew that in 1871, Thiers military tribunals had withina few weeks and with considerably less ceremony thanRobespierre proposed in his famous Law of Prairial,despatched as many unfortunates as had the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris and all the bloody proconsulscombined during the entire Reign of Terrorx1 According to General Appert, Chief of the Military Tribunal,the number of executions following the Paris Commune was17,000. Unofficial figures give almost double that number.ROBESPIERREIt became clear to the author that it was all a questionof whose ox was being gored. The Red Terror appearsunpardonable to the Whites, and the White Terror tothe Reds. Carlyle penetrates very closely to the truthwhen he says that the reason the Reign of Terror underthe French Revolution has received so much scathingcomment, is mainly because it was directed against theprivileged classes and their followers and not againstthe voiceless millions.It has always seemed to the author somewhat presumptuous on the part of sheltered individuals to setthemselves up as implacable judges over a man at gripswith such cataclysmic events and forces as Robespierrehad to face. The righteous critic would do well to askhimself in all humility what under like circumstanceshis own conduct might have been. Had Thicrs done so,his judgment would not have recoiled upon him. Intruth, few of us can be really sure how we would actif great power were given into our hands under extraordinary circumstances. Some of the most atrociousand arbitrary acts of the French Revolution were perpetrated by men who gave no indication whatever ofbeing especially bloodthirsty or arbitrary. Freron wasbeloved by his friends. FouquierTinville was a modelhusband and father. Nothing in Carriers career indicated that he would turn a city into a shambles.
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