Though Nazism, Communism, various kinds of terrorism, and white, black, and yellow racism demonstrate how easily ideologies lead to inhumanity, not even irrational and immoral ideologies lead necessarily to mass murder, of course.
Ideologues must have the opportunity to act in accordance with their beliefs—opportunities that spring from the combination of deep and widespread resentment about the burden that people must bear, weak or weakening government, and no prospect of quick and substantial improvement. It was the presence of these conditions that permitted Robespierre to become the monster he was.
Castigating Robespierre more than 200 years after his death would have little point if he were not the prototype of the ideological frame of mind that is very much with us today. If we understand him, we understand that it is utterly useless to appeal to reason and morality in dealing with ideologues. For they are convinced that reason and morality are on their side and that their enemies are irrational and immoral simply because they are enemies. Negotiation with such people can succeed only if we have overwhelming force on our side and have shown ourselves unsqueamish about using it. Justifying its use to the electorate of a democratic country—used to thinking of politics as a process of reasonable negotiation and compromise—must involve showing in sickening detail the monstrosities committed in the name of the ideology. And that is the point of reminding ourselves of the crimes of the long-dead Robespierre.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Milt finds something in City Journal on Robespierre,