Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution

by Ruth Scurr
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Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ruth Scurr successfully manages to be neither overly critical nor too flattering in explaining Maximilien Robespierre to her readers. Scurr highlights the significant influence of the classical Greek and Roman tradition and the 18th century Enlightenment on Robespierre¿s intellect. Scurr also quotes Robespierre and his contemporaries to give her audience further insights into the complex, contradictory personality of the Incorruptible. To his detractors, present and past, Robespierre was the first of a long list of modern dictators. Think for instance about the multiple purges over which dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein presided during their respective reigns of terror. Terror increasingly became self-perpetuating and indiscriminate when Robespierre was at the apex of his power in 1793 ¿ 1794. Robespierre, unable to compromise, convinced himself that he embodied France and the Revolution. Unsurprisingly, anyone who did not share his views was a traitor to France and therefore a counterrevolutionary who deserved death. Terror could only be stopped by Robespierre¿s own elimination. To his supporters, present and past, Robespierre was the first modern democrat. Robespierre embraced the social contract theory of government that Jean-Jacques Rousseau propagated and the concept of republican virtue that Charles-Louis de Secondat (Montesquieu) advocated. Robespierre built a genuine reputation as the defender of the poor and weak in the different positions that he assumed, especially after the Revolution. Robespierre went far in his quest for power because he sincerely believed everything he was saying and convinced many people around him of his sincerity in working for the well-being of the Revolution. Perhaps, more importantly, the fate of Robespierre is a stern warning to the revolutionaries of all stripes, present and future. Revolutions often devour their own children.
LaFilleDuVall More than 1 year ago
I was inspired to read this book after reading "A Place of Greater Safety" by Hilary Mantel. I was intrigued by this man who never witnessed any of the public executions, but was so willing to change the rules of a fair trial to promulgate his philosophy of a free people and who was often consulted by his fellow revolutionaries only to say they had simply misunderstood him. Scurr describes a paranoid hypochondriac, often vain and petty and overly sensitive to any criticism of his ideas. He never ventured far from his home of Arras and Paris, never learned any languages beyond his native French and classical languages, never participated in mob takeovers and yet his speeches led to the execution of Louis the 16th, Marie Antoinette, Desmoulins, and Danton. He based his world view on the writings of Roussesu and amazingly helped to overturn the entrenched control and power held by the Catholic Church. He promoted through his lengthy speeches the ideas of democracy and education for all, including women. When he failed to develop allies with both England and America, which was a little far fetched since they had been engaged in war with one another, he wound up despising them. He admired Benjamin Franklin and other American leaders but never received a response to his correspondence with them. He favored silk stockings, oranges, powdered wigs, green tinted glasses, and dogs. A wounded Robespierre was led to the guillotine wearing a sky blue waistcoat as he was called "Monster" by the very people that admired him only months before. His fanatical ideals led him to death; the same ideals that resulted in the deaths of his friends, priests, women and children and countless others. I highly recommend this book. It is well written, well researched and thoughtfully constructed.
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