Love Will Conquer All; Even The Reign of Terror

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

John [13:34]

On July 28th, 1794 Maximilien Robespierre was beheaded in Paris. He was the final person to be executed during the French revolution. Prior to that, over sixteen thousand people were executed in a similar way and two hundred thousand were arrested. This all happened in less than twelve months. This period is called the Reign of Terror.

Angry at the state of their country, the French citizens had revolted and thrown out the noble ruling class in 1789. At that time, France was staggering financially and found itself unable to feed it citizens. The Seven Years War and helping the United States revolution militarily; left France deeply in debt. The previous year’s harvest had failed, and food was in short supply. France found itself weakened and very vulnerable. Its callous noble class failed to inspire the citizens and a revolution was on.

Into this vacuum a new leadership arose, Maximilien Robespierre, being one of the new leaders. Initially, Robespierre sought good and desired universal equality for all French people. Making Robespierre the principal ideologist for the French revolution.

As time wore on, Robespierre gained more power. And with this power, Robespierre grew more resistant to hearing other points of view. He began to suppress the voices of the right-wing, left-wing and the centrist. Anyone that didn’t exactly agree with him was considered an enemy.

In the summer of 1793, a new guiding force for the revolution arose called the Committee of Public Safety. The committee became responsible for protecting France from external invasion and to suppress the internal rebellion. Robespierre became its de facto chairperson. Any person who expressed dissent was vilified. As dissent grew, France sank into a time of terror and with it the elimination of responsible debate.

Robespierre’s audaciously anointed himself the Supreme Being. Anyone that found this unacceptable became an enemy. As Robespierre became more isolated, his insecurity grew. Leading to the Reign of Terror. A time in France where any individual that came close to a disagreement was arrested. Starting in September of 1793, terror took over. From September of 1793 to July 28th of 1794, over sixteen thousand people were arrested and executed with the Guillotine. A particularly gruesome death where the victim was beheaded by a sharp blade that was suspended above their heads and then released.

As the terror grew, people retreated to inner sanctums. Dissent was dangerous and likely would be met with death. Silently the people of France grew more disillusioned. Both at Robespierre assigning himself the title of Supreme Being and the constant fear of being identified as a dissident and killed.

During the summer of 1794, Robespierre became even more isolated and less in touch. Opening cracks that allowed the true feelings of the French people to emerge. Eventually, Robespierre himself was arrested. On July 28th, 1794 Robespierre became the last person executed with the Guillotine.

What happened to Robespierre is not all that uncommon. History is littered with stories of those who seeped into a power vacuum and became what they first opposed.

As individuals, on a much smaller and less vicious scale, we sometimes do something similar. We create our theories and ideas. When they are questioned, we sometimes retreat or get angry. We can become overly obsessed with our point of view. When we are questioned; we are faced with how to handle the challenge. We can do one of three things; retreat silently, attack aggressively or listen to learn. In Robespierre’s case, he chose to attack, silencing voices only temporarily, which would later emerge as far more hostile and menacing voice, costing Robespierre his life.

Jesus said in Matthew [26:52]; Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. If only Robespierre had heeded this advice; instead of being considered a villain, perhaps he would have been a hero.

Here is what Robespierre missed, when people retreat, they simmer angrily. Turning themselves into silent bitter enemies, waiting for a chance to strike back. Tired of being dismissed and not heard, they lay in wait. And In some future period, they emerge as an open adversary.

The act of listening to learn is much harder but far more productive. It requires three things that are sometimes hard to muster up; kindness, patience, and love. With an attitude of love as the most important aspect. An important note is that this doesn’t mean we have to agree to get along, rather it means being willing to openly hear another point of view and find a common ground. This part is not easy, especially in the wake of an attack against our beliefs.

Most significant social issues follow the pattern of the French Revolution, maybe not as violent. Social issues are always extraordinarily complicated. Nearly impossible for any single person to have all the facts. And many sides will have legitimate points of view. And we all must

remember that for the individual, their opinions are very important. Knowing they are being heard and considered is important to the individual. And listening is important in successfully implementing any form of change. Because of this cross-cultural or cross-functional dialogue has to happen to unwind the complexity of most issues. For any societal change to occur successfully, all voices must be heard.

When ideas are not fully developed, or facts fully gathered; ironically many revolutions of social change resort to the same behavior they are trying to replace.

I see this today in our national debates, with people getting fired from jobs, not because of hate speech, but because they have a different point of view. They have had different life experiences that have created their different points of view. But their life views didn’t fit the agenda and they lose their jobs or friends. This is the problem with management by terror, even ideas spoken respectfully will still cost people their jobs.

I also see good people being insulted because their ideas didn’t fit the Mobs theories. These emerging leaders don’t understand that firing or insulting people will not make the ideas of disagreement go away. They will stay in the hearts of these people and reemerge at a more inconvenient time.

The solution however is remarkably simple, if we are all committed to love. And as Christians that is what we are commanded by Jesus to do. Jesus said in John [13:34]; A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Jesus is giving us a command, a new one, to love one another. And Jesus isn’t giving us the option of choosing who to love.

Any revolution or societal change will have its shortcomings and complexity. And societal change is doomed without a universal attitude of love for all people. Any other course will lead to failure. Just ask Robespierre and Historians.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash