Robespierre: Evil or Virtuous?
“Virtue, without which terror is destructive; terror, without which virtue is impotent” (Zizek). Maximilien Robespierre said this in a speech when people were starting to question his judgment. He believed that to be only virtuous was difficult, and without some terror added in, the world would go into turmoil as no one would follow their leader. A leader has to be strong and forceful, and sometimes even terrifying to get their point across, or to get people to follow them. Robespierre always wanted what was best for France and was willing to do anything to get it, even if that meant causing harm to the people of France. He felt that as long as the outcome of his hard work came with the results he wanted, anything he did was justified. Despite all the horror of the Reign of Terror, Maximilien Robespierre was a virtuous man. He not only reacted to the problems in France with determination, but he created a clear program to help France in this troubled time. He also was the leader of many committees and he established many laws to further the French Revolution. Even when some of the people of France started to turn against him, he produced a program to help them, not to harm them. Robespierre always had France’s best interests at heart. He never wanted to have to use terror as a means of moving the French Revolution forwards, but he believed it had to happen for the better of France. He was a virtuous man from the beginning right up until the end and for that, he will be well remembered. In 1788, France was in turmoil and panic. France was going bankrupt and King Louis had to deal with disaster after disaster. The coldest winter in the history of France in seventy-nine years fell upon the nation. The price of bread almost doubled, the peasantry began to starve, and famine threatened whole sections of the population. By the end of 1788, Louis XVI received over eight hundred petitions demanding that the Commons, the Third Estate, have as many votes as the clergy and nobility combined in the Estates-General (Blumberg 291). By late November, King Louis became desperate and issued a proclamation convening the Estates-General for the following May, showing that already he was losing power over his people. Robespierre was elected as one of the twenty-four representatives of the Third Estate for Arras. He came in with a calm determination to fix everything and began to make his mark in history. As soon as the summoning of the Estates-General was proclaimed, Robespierre conceived the idea of seeking election. Unlike others who claimed to speak to the whole of France, he thought it better to deal with local matters, thus providing the people with issues of more immediate interest. Robespierre believed that the Estates were not representative since they were “constituted of a league of a few citizens who had seized power which belongs only to the people” (Matrat 43). He thought that the First Estate held their seats only by virtue of their rank, and not by election and did not believe that this was fair. “By what right have they excluded the cures, the class that is without contradiction the most numerous; the most useful of this body; the most valuable because of the close relationship which binds it to the needs and interests of the people” (Matrat 43)? Robespierre went on to consider the composition of the Second Estate and found it no more representative. As for the Third Estate, he stressed that they represented neither the townspeople nor the country folk. Robespierre also protested strongly against forced labour among the farmers of Hainaut, which brought him the favour of these people as well as respect from many others. Robespierre was also in the National Assembly and was trying his hardest to restore the rights of man to his country. During these years, he earned a reputation for integrity and developed eloquence in his speeches that drew increasing attention from the Assembly. Robespierre...
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