News & Politics

Robespierre's Warning

Authentic image of the guillotine in Paris. Print, Amsterdam (?), 1795 Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everybody else repeats it.”

I’d insert it in this but we can’t figure out if it’s fair use, so go look here to see it. But come right back, I’m not done.

Back? Good. The stuff with Charlottesville this weekend has done nothing good for anyone except that it’s caused a lot of people to reveal themselves. Look through the comments on any of the legacy media sites and see how many people want to say the alt-white people deserve to die. Then look through the comments here at PJ, and see how many people want to have the neocon NeverTrump RINO Marxists’ heads on spikes.

This kind of extended mob outrage is not new, and it’s not pretty, and it hardly ever ends well. Read Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, which includes an extended depiction of the Great Leap Forward from the inside. During the Great Leap Forward, 20 million people died. [Update: I meant the Cultural Revolution, dammit. Which killed millions but not quite 20 millions.]

Or read about the Reign of Terror in France during the French Revolution. If you don’t really recall what the Reign of Terror was about, during the French Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety was formed to govern without any of the old-fashioned constraints of government. The Committee was established on 6 April; by mid-July, Marat was assassinated, and Danton, one of the original leaders of the Revolution, was removed from the Committee. By the end of the month, Maximilien Robespierre was added to the Committee. During the Reign of Terror, tens of thousands were executed, died in prison, or died by suicide.

This is what happens when these movements get out of hand. So, everyone who is thinking “heads on spikes” are a good idea? Remember that in 1793 Robespierre was taking the heads of his political opposition; in 1794, he lost his own.