“I would rather let 25 million French men and women perish a hundred thousand times,” the Jacobin Hydens declared, “than let perish one single time the united and indivisible Republic.” Robespierre even indicated that a purge of the majority of citizens was not unthinkable, for he had come to believe that most of the people in France were the dupes of the Revolution’s enemies. After first reassuring his startled audience that he was “far from claiming that the majority of people in the country are guilty,” he disclosed that “in truth, the majority is paralyzed and betrayed; foreign intrigue has triumphed!”
So elusive were the unity and unanimity that Robespierre pursued that he ultimately declared in one of his most bizarre, paranoid fantasies that France’s enemies—Austria, England, Russia, Prussia, and Italy—had established within France a rival government that had achieved the unity that the French themselves were incapable of mastering.
The last speech that Robespierre made to the Convention before he was overthrown and guillotined was a 15,000-word rambling harangue about corruption and conspiracies, ending with a final exhortation to his colleagues to wake up to the vast plot against public freedom. “This conspiracy owes its strength to a criminal coalition that weaves its webs inside the Convention itself… What is the remedy for this disease? Punish the traitors,… purge the Comité de Sûreté Générale, purge the Comité de Salut Public itself, and use the full weight of national authority to decimate all factions!” Cosnpiracies factions, traitors purges, death—the monotonous, paranoid litany never varied, neither for Robespierre nor for his fellow Jacobins nor even for their more moderate adversaries.The French Revolution is a good example of a philosophical and political movement that was dedicated to the ideals of liberty, individualism, reason, and science, but it gave rise to a totalitarian state which wanted to purge all for the salvation of all.