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No longer the Incorruptible,
This review is from: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Hardcover)
"That man will go far. He believes what he says."
It was Mirabeau, an astute politician in his own right, who recognized that Robespierre, when others regarded him as a "self righteous and hypocritical prig," was not what he first appeared to be.
Scurr does a remarkable job of uncovering those qualities which led to Robespierre's rise to power and of explaining the features of his personality which made his name virtually synonymous with bloodthirsty tyranny.
Lacking even a smidgen of charisma, a poor speaker, and paranoid even when he was still an obscure attorney in the provincial town of Arras, the young representative to the national Convention showed little evidence of ever achieving either fame or infamy. With the outbreak of the revolution, he had managed to get himself elected to the Convention, and from then on he perfected his political skills. Extemporaneous speeches were replaced by long and carefully prepared written ones. New allies were found and cultivated. He quickly surrounded himself with sycophants. Above everything else, he exuded patriotism.
But underlying it all was paranoia--the conviction that enemies of the state were hidden in every crack and crevice, that those enemies (in many instances the newspapers which didn't share his views) were selectively threatening him because of his loyalty to the new French Republic. To that was added his own reluctance to ever admit mistakes, doing so only by blaming others for having deceived him, for having given him false information. His answers were always the same. If a remedy failed, then increase the dosage. If the deaths of a dozen "enemies" (including many of his rivals) were replaced by two dozen more live ones, then two dozen deaths were the answer. If those did not suffice, then another escalation would be in order.
Only when his madness became so obvious that the members of his own party (the Jacobins) begin to feel threatened did the rising star fall from its zenith.
In the tradition of all honest biographers, Scurr presents both the good and evil aspects of her subject's personality. He was indeed a man moved by his principles, but sometimes he moved the principles to suit. Scurr insists that he justly earned the sobriquet of "incorruptible," but one can become corrupted by other than money. With Robespierre, power was the ingredient. His overweening quest for it, his absolute certainty that he was always in the right, his utter conviction that any who opposed him were enemies of the state and, finally, his paranoia--which virtually guaranteed that the power he achieved would be used in the most mindless fashion--corrupted him completely.
For anyone curious about this creature who emerged in the turbulent days of the French Revolution and went on to become synonymous with The Terror, this is a first-rate place for satisfying that curiosity.