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Maximilien Robespierre

French revolutionary lawyer and politician
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The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (6 May 175828 July 1794) was one of the leaders of the French Revolution. Also known as "the Incorruptible". He was an influential member of the Committee of Public Safety and was instrumental in the period of the Revolution commonly known as the Reign of Terror that ended with his arrest and execution.

Contents

QuotesEdit

 
No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
 
It is with regret that I pronounce the fatal truth: Louis must die that the country may live.
 
Any institution which does not suppose the people good, and the magistrate corruptible, is evil.
 
Death is the commencement of immortality.

Speech on the Trial of Louis XVI (Dec. 3, 1792)Edit

  • 'Louis cannot be judged; either he is already condemned or the Republic is not acquitted. Proposing to put Louis on trial, in whatever way that could be done, would be to regress towards royal and constitutional despotism; it is a counter-revolutionary idea, for it means putting the revolution itself in contention.
  • It is a gross contradiction to suppose that the constitution might preside over this new order of things; that would be to assume it had itself survived. What are the laws that replace it? Those of nature, the one which is the foundation of society itself: the salvation of the people. The right to punish the tyrant and the right to dethrone him are the same thing; both include the same forms. The tyrant’s trial is the insurrection; the verdict, the collapse of his power; the sentence, whatever the liberty of the people requires.
  • A dethroned king, in the Republic, is good for only two uses: either to trouble the peace of the state and threaten liberty, or to affirm both of these at the same time.
  • Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. If it is for their salvation that they take arms against their oppressors, how can they be made to adopt a way of punishing them that would pose a new danger to themselves?
  • I utter this deadly truth with regret, but Louis must die, because the homeland has to live. Among a peaceable, free people, respected at home and abroad, you might listen to the advice being given you to be generous; but a people whose liberty is still being disputed after so many sacrifices and battles, a people in whose country the laws are still only inexorable towards the unfortunate, a people in whose country the crimes of tyranny are still subjects of dispute, such a people must want to be avenged; and the generosity for which you are being praised would resemble too much that of a society of bandits sharing out spoils.
  • People do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. If it is for their salvation that they take arms against their oppressors, how can they be made o adopt a way of punishing them that would pose a new danger to themselves?
  • When a nation has been forced to resort to the right of insurrection, it returns to the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the state of nature in relation to the tyrant. How can the tyrant invoke the social pact? He has annihilated it. The nation can still keep it, if it thinks fit, for everything conserving relations between citizens; but the effect of tyranny and insurrection is to break it entirely where the tyrant is concerned; it places them reciprocally in a state of war. Courts and legal proceeding are only for members of the same side.

"On the Principles of Political Morality"Edit

  • If the mainspring of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the mainspring of popular government in revolution is both virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is disastrous; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a specific principle as a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our homeland’s most pressing needs.
    • "On the Principles of Political Morality that Should Guide the National Convention in the Domestic Administration of the Republic" (5 February 1784/18 Ploviôse Year II)
  • Democracy is a state in which the sovereign people, guided by laws which are its own work, does for itself all that it can do properly, and through delegates all that it cannot do for itself.
    • "On the Principles of Political Morality that Should Guide the National Convention in the Domestic Administration of the Republic" (5 February 1784/18 Ploviôse Year II)
  • Every citizen fulfilling the conditions of eligibility that you have prescribed has the right to public office.
    • "On Voting Rights for Actors and Jews" (21 December 1789)
  • Things have been said to you about the Jews that are infinitely exaggerated and often contrary to history. How can the persecutions they have suffered at the hands of different peoples be held against them? These on the contrary are national crimes that we ought to expiate, by granting them imprescriptible human rights of which no human power could despoil them. Faults are still imputed to them, prejudices, exaggerated by the sectarian spirit and by interests. But to what can we really impute them but our own injustices? After having excluded them from all honours, even the right to public esteem, we have left them with nothing but the objects of lucrative speculation. Let us deliver them to happiness, to the homeland, to virtue, by granting them the dignity of men and citizens; let us hope that it can never be policy, whatever people say, to condemn to degradation and oppression a multitude of men who live among us. How could the social interest be based on violation of the eternal principles of justice and reason that are the foundations of every human society?
    • "On Voting Rights for Actors and Jews" (21 December 1789)
  • It is indeed a great interest, the conservation of your colonies, but even that interest is connected with your constitution; and the supreme interest of the nation and of the colonies themselves is that you conserve your liberty and do not overturn the foundations of that liberty with your own hands. Faugh! Perish your colonies, if you are keeping them at that price. Yes, if you had either to lose your colonies, or to lose your happiness, your glory, your liberty, I would repeat: perish your colonies.
    • "On the Condition of Free Men of Colour" (31 May 1791)
  • La plus extravagante idée qui puisse naître dans la tête d'un politique est de croire qu'il suffise à un peuple d'entrer à main armée chez un peuple étranger, pour lui faire adopter ses lois et sa constitution. Personne n'aime les missionnaires armés; et le premier conseil que donnent la nature et la prudence, c'est de les repousser comme des ennemis.
    • The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. No one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies.
    • Opposing proposals to spread the French revolution by war, in Sur la guerre (1ère intervention), a speech to the Jacobin Club (2 January 1792)
  • Le secret de la liberté est d'éclairer les hommes, comme celui de la tyrannie est de les retenir dans l'ignorance
    • The secret of liberty is to enlighten men, as that of tyranny is to keep them in ignorance.
    • Variant translations:
    • The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
      • As quoted in Human Rights and Freedoms in the USSR (1981) by Fedor Eliseevich Medvedev and Gennadiĭ Ivanovich Kulikov, p. 221
  • Citoyens, vouliez-vous une révolution sans révolution?
    • Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution that has come to revise, so to speak, the one that broke our chains? But what sure judgement can one make of the effects that can follow these great commotions? Who can mark, after the event, the exact point at which the waves of popular insurrection should break? At that price, what people could ever have shaken off the yoke of despotism? For while it is true that a great nation cannot rise in a simultaneous movement, and that tyranny can only be hit by the portion of citizens that is closest to it, how would these ever dare to attack it if, after the victory, delegates from remote parts could hold them responsible for the duration or violence of the political torment that had saved the homeland? They ought to be regarded as justified by tacit proxy for the whole of society. The French, friends of liberty, meeting in Paris last August, acted in that role, in the name of all the departments. They should either be approved or repudiated entirely. To make them criminally responsible for a few apparent or real disorders, inseparable from so great a shock, would be to punish them for their devotion.
    • "Answer to Louvet's Accusation" (5 November 1792) Réponse à J.- B. Louvet, a speech to the National Convention (5 November 1792)
  • In every country where nature provides for the needs of men with prodigality, scarcity can only be imputed to defects of administration or of the laws themselves; bad laws and bad administration have their origins in false principles and bad morals.
    • On Subsistence, (2 December 1792)

Citizens, it is you who will have the glory of making genuine principles prevail, and giving the world just laws. You are certainly not here to plod servilely along the rut of tyrannical prejudices traced by your predecessors; rather you are starting a new career in which no one has preceded you.

    • On Subsistence, (2 December 1792)
  • What is the first object of society? It is to maintain the imprescriptible rights of man. What is the first of those rights? The right to life.
    • On Subsistence, (2 December 1792)
  • I defy the most scrupulous defender of property to contest these principles, short of declaring openly that he understands this word as the right to despoil and assassinate his fellows. So how have people been able to claim that any sort of restriction, or rather any regulation of the trade in wheat, was an attack on property, and disguise that barbaric system under the specious name of freedom of trade? Do the authors of this system not perceive that they are inevitably in contradiction with themselves?
    • On Subsistence, (2 December 1792)
  • No doubt if all men were just and virtuous; if cupidity were never tempted to devour the people’s substance; if the rich, receptive to the voices of reason and nature, regarded themselves as the bursars of society, or as brothers to the poor, it might be possible to recognize no law but the most unlimited freedom; but if it is true that avarice can speculate on the misery and tyranny itself on the despair of the people; if it is true that all the passions declare war on suffering humanity, then why should not the law repress these abuses? Why should it not stay the homicidal hand of the monopolist, as it does that of the common murderer? Why should it not concern itself with the subsistence of the people, after caring so long for the pleasures of the great, and the power of despots?
    • On Subsistence, (2 December 1792)
  • Je prononce à regret cette fatale vérité... mais Louis doit mourir, parce qu'il faut que la patrie vive.


  • Notre révolution m'a fait sentir tout le sens de l'axiome qui dit que l'histoire est un roman ; et je suis convaincu que la fortune et l'intrigue ont fait plus de héros, que le génie et la vertu.
    • Our revolution has made me feel the full force of the axiom that history is fiction and I am convinced that chance and intrigue have produced more heroes than genius and virtue.
  • Tout institution qui ne suppose pas le peuple bon et le magistrat corruptible est vicieuse.
  • XXXV. Men of all countries are brothers, and the different peoples should help one another to the best of their ability, like citizens of the same state.
    • "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proposed by Maximilien Robespierre" (24 April, 1793)
  • XXXIII. Offences committed by people’s representatives should be severely and promptly punished. No one has the right to claim to be more inviolable than other citizens.
    • "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proposed by Maximilien Robespierre" (24 April, 1793)
  • XXIX. When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection is, for the people and each portion of the people, the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.
    • "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proposed by Maximilien Robespierre" (24 April, 1793)
  • I know we cannot flatter ourselves that we have attained perfection; but holding up a Republic surrounded by enemies, fortifying reason in favour of liberty, destroying prejudice and nullifying individual efforts against the public interest, demand moral and physical strengths that nature has perhaps denied to those who denounce us and those we are fighting.
    • "In Defense of the Committee of Public Safety and Against Briez" (25 September 1793)
  • The policy of the London Cabinet largely contributed to the first movement of our Revolution …Taking advantage of political tempests (the cabinet) aimed to effect in an exhausted and dismembered France a change of dynasty and to place the Duke of York on the throne of Louis XVI … Pitt … is an imbecile, whatever may be said of a reputation that has been much too greatly puffed up. A man who, abusing the influence acquired by him on an island placed haphazard in the ocean, is desirous of contending with the French people, could not have conceived of such an absurd plan elsewhere than in a madhouse.
  • The aim of constitutional government is to preserve the Republic; that of revolutionary government is to lay its foundation.
  • We want, in a word, to fulfil nature’s wishes, to further the destinies of humanity, to keep the promises of philosophy, to absolve providence of the long reign of crime and tyranny. So that France, once illustrious among enslaved countries, eclipsing the glory of all the free peoples that have existed, may become the model for all nations, the terror of oppressors, the consolation of the oppressed, the ornament of the universe; and that in sealing our work with our blood, we may at least glimpse the shining dawn of universal felicity. That is our ambition, that is our goal.
    • "On the Principles of Political Morality that Should Guide the National Convention in the Domestic Administration of the Republic" (5 February 1794)
  • La terreur n'est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible; elle est donc une émanation de la vertu ; elle est moins un principe particulier, qu’une conséquence du principe général de la démocratie, appliqué aux plus pressants besoins de la patrie.
    • lf the attribute of popular government in peace is virtue, the attribute of popular government in revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror, virtue without which terror is fatal, terror without which virtue is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.
      • Sur les principes de morale politique, a speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794), as quoted in The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923, Vol. 1 (1951) by Edward Hallett Carr, p. 154
    • Variant translations:
    • The attribute of popular government in a revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror. Terror without virtue is fatal; virtue without terror is impotent. The terror is nothing but justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue.
      • As quoted in Red Star Over Southern Africa (1988) by Morgan Norval, p. xvi
      • If the mainspring of popular government in peace time is virtue, its resource during a revolution is at one and the same time virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is merely terrible; terror, without which virtue is simply powerless.
        • As quoted in Rousseau, Robespierre and English Romanticism (1999) by Gregory Dart
      • Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.
  • Le gouvernement de la révolution est le despotisme de la liberté contre la tyrannie.
  • En scellant notre ouvrage de notre sang, nous puissions voir au moins briller l'aurore de la félicité universelle.
    • By sealing our work with our blood, we may see at least the bright dawn of universal happiness.
      • Speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794)
  • Il faut étouffer les ennemis intérieurs et extérieurs de la République, ou périr avec elle ; or, dans cette situation, la première maxime de votre politique doit être qu’on conduit le peuple par la raison, et les ennemis du peuple par la terreur.
    • We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror.
      • Speech to the National Convention (5 February 1794)
  • Death is not "an eternal sleep!" Citizens! efface from the tomb that motto, graven by sacrilegious hands, which spreads over all nature a funereal crape, takes from oppressed innocence its support, and affronts the beneficent dispensation of death! Inscribe rather thereon these words: "Death is the commencement of immortality!"
  • But there do exist, I can assure you, souls that are feeling and pure; it exists, that tender, imperious and irresistible passion, the torment and delight of magnanimous hearts; that deep horror of tyranny, that compassionate zeal for the oppressed, that sacred love for the homeland, that even more sublime and holy love for humanity, without which a great revolution is just a noisy crime that destroys another crime; it does exist, that generous ambition to establish here on earth the world’s first Republic.
    • Speech of Thermidor Year II (26 July 1794)

Quotes about RobespierreEdit

  • You will follow us soon! Your house will be beaten down and salt sown in the place where it stood!
    • Exclamation of Georges Danton passing Robespierre's house on the way to the guillotine, quoted in the memoirs of Paul vicomte de Barras.
  • We shall distinguish in Robespierre two men, apostle of liberty, and Robespierre the most infamous of tyrants.

External linksEdit