In this time of epidemic insanity on college campuses, a brilliant, or perhaps even more importantly, a common-sensical author of many great works, largely promoting support of our law enforcement, Heather McDonald, was assaulted by campus inhabitants for daring to accept an invitation to deliver a speech on related topics. She survived, almost unscathed, and her conclusion:
That those attacking her were reminiscent of the Jacobin hordes at the time of the Terror in the French Revolution “escorting the condemned to the guillotine.”
The French Revolution was one of the most misunderstood events in world history, as too many today think it to be a sort of ugly stepsister of the American Revolution. The American Revolution, as brutal and bloody as it was, was also noble and glorious, and created a system that provided freedom for man that the world had never before seen, and that has lasted for more than 200 years.
The French Revolution, not so much.
The French Revolution was, quite simply, unspeakable. It was founded in hate, not in hope, and it generated cruelty, blood and terror, and most certainly not grand ideas of freedom and equality of man. Absolutely nothing that benefited the formerly great country came from this vicious cataclysm of “humanity” that lasted for a decade, basically destroying the great nation of France. It completely annihilated the Ancien Regime, which needed amending, to be sure, but in the ten devastating years of the revolution, the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy of France were totally obliterated, with nothing that was better replacing these centuries’ old institutions.
Historians argue endlessly about why the American Revolution worked, and the French Revolution didn’t. After all, the American Revolution emanated largely from the ideas of the French philosophes of the previous century, whose philosophies should have taken hold in the French Revolution in 1789. Alas, whatever ideas that were espoused, of liberte, egalite and fraternite that fueled the revolutionaries at the beginning of the movement in France in 1789, were almost immediately overwhelmed by the passionate hatred the vile excuses for leadership that quickly took hold of the revolutionary movement at its inception. From Mirabeau to Marat to Danton to Desmoulins to Robespierre, among others, one was more outrageous, despotic and bloodthirsty than the next. Each one in this unlovely line of despots, however, paled in comparison, when it reached the individual one who eventually became known as the Revolution’s “Archangel of Death.”
Louis-Antoine Leon de Richebourg de Saint-Just was born in central France in 1767 to middle class parents. Called the “embodiment of the youthful revolutionary” at a very young age, the “unnaturally beautiful,” as well as the “cold-bloodedly terrible” Louis-Antoine was known during the Revolution, and came to be known throughout history, as “The Archangel of Death.”
The Revolution in France started in 1789, when the Bastille was stormed by a peasant mob, unleashing a passion for change throughout the nation, most especially in the city of Paris. Saint-Just was only 21 when he threw himself heart and soul into the Revolution, telling everyone who would listen, “What constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything that stands in opposition to it.”
Because he was under 25, which was the legal age at which he could legally participate in politics, the embarrassed young revolutionary was caught in the act of being young and sent home, where he stewed in his revolutionary juices for a year before being able to come back to Paris where he could resume causing untold amounts of trouble.
By Saint-Just’s return to Paris, a virulent group of Revolutionaries known as the Jacobins had become powerful, and he joined them to quickly rise to a leadership role in their ranks. Saint-Just made his maiden speech to the Assemble Nationale in November, 1790, in a remarkable and immensely well received delivery in which he was the first to call for the death of the King, even though his former public statements had supported a constitutional monarchy to include the King in governance of the country. In this 1790 speech, however, Saint-Just didn’t just argue for the death of Louis XVI, he convinced his audience that “kingship itself was morally wrong.” “No one can reign innocently,” Saint-Just said of the King, and “since the King was not a citizen and not subject to the law, if he lived he would continue to be a danger to the republic. Therefore, he should be put death.” As the newly-crowned great orator was known to have said, “Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a mattress of corpses.”
Saint-Just’s captivating looks and charismatic delivery helped changed many minds that day, primary among them Robespierre, the erstwhile leader of the Jacobins. The man the revolutionaries called “The Incorruptible” came out and agreed with his young and even more ferocious revolutionary counterpart the next day, and from then on it was just a matter of time until the brutal beheading of the King of France, followed by his Queen.
Saint-Just was indefatigable; in 1793, he became a part of the Orwellian named 12-member Committee of Public Safety, as its youngest member. He also became known as its most vicious and bloodthirsty: to whit, the revolutionary philosophy of Saint-Just: “The conspirators who have died, think you they were the children of liberty, because for one brief moment they resembled them?” and “Those who would make revolutions in the world, those who want to do good in this world must sleep only in the tomb.”
Saint-Just also became an integral part of the war cabinet, as well as a senior member of the Committee of General Security, which was given responsibility for “police, arrests and prisons.” This was all against a backdrop of civil war throughout France, simultaneous war against Britain, Spain and Holland, constant demonstrations by “sans-culottes” (revolutionaries) across France calling for more extreme measures against the monarchy, the aristocracy and the clergy, and famine and crop failure in many different parts of France.
The reaction of the Archangel of Death to this chaos? More use of the guillotine, more arrests, more viciousness, more imprisonment, more death.
Exhausted with the endless Revolutionary travails in Paris, Saint-Just chose to go to the Alsatian front with the French Army of the Rhine to see what a wreck he could make of that enterprise. Here is what he is known to have done there, as expressed in the following missive to his underlings in Paris: “Ten thousand men are barefoot in the army. You must take the shoes of all the aristocrats of Strasbourg, (a nearby town), and by tomorrow at ten in the morning ten thousand pairs of shoes must be on their way to headquarters.” It was said that so effective was the implied threat by the Archangel of Death that 17,000 pairs of shoes and 21,000 shirts were hastily donated. Even that far away from Paris, Saint-Just continued to agitate against those he felt not fervent enough in their Revolutionary fervor, saying of former comrades, “Those who make revolutions by halves do but dig their own graves.”
The atmosphere in Paris under the Terror had reached its most toxic with the leadership of Saint Just and Robespierre, and at this point, the Revolution did, indeed, resume devouring the most impassioned of its own. This fate reached its instigators, and soon did so with the leaders of the Jacobins, including Robespierre and Saint-Just, who were accused of conspiracy against the republic and taken to the guillotine. Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just was 27 years old, and his career as a revolutionary leader had lasted less than two years. The Revolution would eventually burn itself out, and would ironically, end with the rule of one whom many in Europe considered to be the most tyrannical leader of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just was indeed “devoured by the Terror he helped unleash.”
We can be consoled here in the US that even with the lunatic rioters we see trying to take over campuses, international meetings, etc., they won’t be led by a misdirected youthful zealot, like Saint-Just, as they can only choose from their current lot of leaders: Hillary Clinton (69), Uncle Joe Biden (74), Nancy Pelosi (77), Bernie Sanders (75), Dianne Feinstein (83), Elizabeth Warren (67) or the virtual kid, Chuck Schumer (66).
Vive le Revolution!
Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.