Fear or Hope?
Today’s lecture sparked some interest in me at the notion of the French Revolution being either a legacy of hope or a legacy of fear. Each aspect seemed to make a considerable amount of sense to me. However, there was one aspect of the legacy of fear that really stood out to me: turmoil and violence. I began to question whether or not this was even a logical necessity of the revolution. Could the revolution have taken place without so much death? What should be the cost of the revolution in human lives? (And this is assuming that there should be any cost at all).
Part of me wants to believe that the French Revolution was not entirely a legacy of fear. I truly believe the ideas that everyone should have a freedom to experiment and that some social upheaval is necessary in order to make progress throughout political history. However, the extent to which social upheaval reaches is what really gets me. Moderate upheaval within a society shouldn’t always (or maybe ever) entail death – especially the sort of constant, massive death that is found taking place during the French Revolution. It seems like a lot of what the revolutionaries wanted to accomplish could have been accomplished without beheading so many people when we consider alternatives like imprisonment. So why all the death?
Since it doesn’t seem logical to me that all the guillotine killings were even necessary to the cause of the French revolutionaries, I believe that the deaths were in excess of the progression of the society as a whole. I truly believe that the true leaders of the French Revolution used the massive guillotine deaths as a way to set an example for people and install fear within them. If this is true (and seems like a plausible possibility, at least to me) that means that the legacy of the French Revolution was actually taking away from ideas like equal opportunity and faith in human progress. If people are too afraid of getting their heads chopped off, how are they supposed to stand up for themselves and experiment on their own terms? Intentional death made to serve as a warning to the masses is not exactly what I would consider keeping faith in the progress of humanity – it’s more limiting it for the specific interest of those instigating the killings.