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Maximilien Robespierre -- REPUBLIC OF VIRTUE

In his speech of February 5, 1794. Robespierre provided a comprehensive statement of his political theory, in which he equated democracy with virtue and justified the use of terror in defending democracy.


What is the objective toward which we are reaching, The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality. the reign of that eternal justice whose laws are engraved not on marble or stone but in the hearts of all men, even in the heart of the slave who has forgotten them or of the tyrant who disowns them. .

We wish an order of things where all the low and cruel passions will be curbed, all the beneficent and generous Passions awakened by the laws. where ambition will be a desire to deserve glory and serve the patrie [nation], where distinctions grow only out of the very system of equality; where the citizen will be subject to the authority of the magistrate, the magistrate to that of the people, and the People to that of justice; where the patrie assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual shares with pride the prosperity and glory of the patrie, where every soul expands by the continual communication of republican sentiments, and by the need to merit the esteem of a great people, where the arts will embellish the liberty that ennobles them, and commerce will be the source of public wealth and not merely of the monstrous riches of a few families.

We wish to substitute in our country ... all the virtues and miracles of the republic for all the vices and absurdities of the monarchy.

We wish, in a word, to fulfill the intentions of nature and the destiny of humanity, realize the promises of philosophy, and acquit providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny. We wish that France, once illustrious among enslaved nations, may, while eclipsing the glory of all the free peoples that ever existed, become a model to nations, a terror to oppressors, a consolation to the oppressed, an ornament of the universe; and that, by sealing our work with our blood, we may witness at least the dawn of universal happiness-this is our ambition, this is our aim.

What kind of government can realize these prodigies [great deeds)? A democratic or republican government only....

A democracy is a state where the sovereign people, guided by laws of their own making, 'to for themselves everything that they can do well, and by means of delegates everything that they cannot do for themselves.

It is therefore in the principles of democratic government that you must seek the rules of your political conduct.

But in order to found democracy and consolidate it among us, in order to attain the peaceful reign of constitutional laws, we must complete the war of liberty against tyranny; ... [S]uch is the aim of the revolutionary government that you have organized....

But the French are the first people in the world who have established true democracy by calling all men to equality and to full enjoyment of the rights of citizenship; and that is, in my opinion, the true reason why all the tyrants leagued against the republic will be vanquished.

There are from this moment great conclusions to be drawn from the principles that we have just laid down.

Since virtue (good citizenship) and equality are the soul of the republic, and your aim is to found and to consolidate the republic, it follows that the first rule of your political conduct must be to relate all of your measures to the maintenance of equality and to the development of virtue; for the first care of the leg islator must be to strengthen the principles on *which the government rests. Hence all that tends to excite a love of country, to purify moral standards, to exalt souls, to direct the passions of the human heart toward the public good must be adopted or established by you. All that tends to concentrate and debase them into selfish egotism, to awaken an infatuation for trivial things, and scorn for great ones, must be rejected or repressed by you. In the system of the French revolution that which is immoral is impolitic, and that which tends to corrupt is -counterrevolutionary. Weakness, vices, and prejudices are the road to monarchy...

... Externally all the despots surround you; internally all the friends of tyranny conspire.... It is necessary to annihilate both the internal and external enemies of the republic or perish with its fall. Now, in this situation your first political maxim should he that one guide, the people by reason, and the enemies of the people by terror.

If the driving force of popular government in peacetime is virtue, that of Popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice that is prompt, severe, and inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.

[DESPOTISM IN DEFENSE OF LIBERTY]

What is our goal? The enforcement of the constitution for the benefit of the people.

Who will our enemies be? The vicious and the rich.

What means will they employ? Slander and hypocrisy.

What things may be favorable for the em. ployment of these? The ignorance of the sans-culottes.1

The people must therefore be enlightened. But what are the obstacles to the enlightenment of the people? Mercenary writers who daily mislead them with impudent falsehoods.

What conclusions may be drawn from this?

1. These writers must be proscribed as the most dangerous enemies of the people.

2. Right-minded literature must be scattered about in profusion.

What are the other obstacles to the establishment of liberty-' Foreign war and civil war.
How can foreign war he ended? By putting republican generals in command of our armies and punishing those who have betrayed us.

How can civil war be ended? By punishing traitors and conspirators, particularly if they are deputies or administrators; by sending loyal troops under patriotic leaders to subdue the aristocrats of Lyon, Marseille, Toulon, the Vendée, the Jura, and all other regions in which the standards of rebellion and royalism have been raised: and by making frightful examples of all scoundrels who have outrage liberty and spilled the blood of patriots.

1. Proscription [condemnation] of perfidious and counter-revolutionary writers and propagation of proper literature.

2. Punishment of traitors and conspirator, particularly deputies and administrators.


3. Appointment of patriotic generals; dismissal and punishment of others.

4. Sustenance and laws for the people.

1 Sans-culottes literally means without the fancy breeches worn by the aristocracy. The term refers generally to a poor city dweller (who wore simple trousers). Champions of equality the sans-culottes hated the aristocracy and the rich bourgeoisie.