Robespierre – the face of the Terror

Max Gallo: L’homme Robespierre. Histoire d’une solitude. ISBN 978-2-262-02863-3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Maximilien de Robespierre is one of the great names linked to the French Revolution. His name stands for demagogic speeches and bloodshed; already shortly before his own execution, he had become a scapegoat for the indiscriminate violence accompanying the revolt against the nobility and the fight against anyone deemed opposed to the revolution – the Terror. And that is what Robespierre’s name stands for until today.

The brilliant French writer and historian Max Gallo traces a portrait of the man Robespierre behind the politician Robespierre – at times ironic, but usually well researched. Robespierre appears as a man constantly looking to bolster his ego, nothing seems more important than the recognition by his peers. Gallo defines the disappearance of Robespierre’s father as the source of the man’s emotional vulnerability and his vanity. At the same time Robespierre is convinced of the rightness of his principles and ideas – a dangerous mix leading to the catastrophic “collateral damages” of the French Revolution.

Now, if Gallo’s typology reminds you of the current US president, you would do Robespierre unjustice. Robespierre, a well-read man, had consistent political ideas, a strict sense of duty and was called “The Incorruptible”. Mastering the challenge to rise from being an unknown provincial lawyer to becoming the head and face of the French Revolution fueled his arrogance, no doubt, but at the same time it was a great personal achievement. Trump, the son of a rich father, did nothing of that sort and his vanity is self-serving. Trump has no other policy than promoting Trump. Robespierre was an idealist politician, a relentless agitator ready to sacrifice himself to empower ordinary people. Trump is a salesman for his own interests, ready to sacrifice anyone else for his personal desire for power. Trumpesque.

The French Revolution and later European revolutions around 1848 had lasting impressions on artists in Germany, France and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. In this context I would like to point you to a piano cycle named “Hexaméron” and composed by Franz Liszt, a sympathizer of German and Italian revolutionaries, a musical genius and at times a very arrogant man:

Liszt gives the “Young Italians” a voice