"Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution?" (Maximilien Robespierre)
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history's most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors' French series, listeners can get caught up to speed on the lives of France's most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
In many ways it is fitting that Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) is one of the best known figures of the French Revolution, if not its most famous. The early years of the Revolution were fueled by Enlightenment ideals, seeking the social overthrow of the caste system that gave the royalty and aristocracy decisive advantages over the lower classes. Few were as vocal in their support of Enlightenment ideals as Robespierre, who was heavily versed in Rousseau and Montesquieu, a champion of the bourgeoise, and an advocate of human rights who opposed both slavery and the death penalty.
But history remembers the French Revolution in a starkly different way, as the same leaders who sought a more democratic system while out of power devolved into establishing an incredibly repressive tyranny of their own once they acquired it. For that reason, the Reign of Terror became the most memorable aspect of the Revolution, and at the head of it all was Robespierre, whose position on the Committee of Public Safety made him the Reign of Terror's instrumental figure, until he himself became a victim of the Revolution's extremism.
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