To an outsider, using violence to enforce beliefs looks extreme, outrageous, or downright insane. But to true believers like the Jacobins, even deadly force seemed rational and necessary. In a life-or-death conflict, NOTHING was off-limits, NO reaction was too extreme.
Shrugging Directorate official
*bof* It’s either you or me, ami…
Of course, the Jacobins didn’t invent state terror. Nor were they the first to use it in service of an ideology. For ages, rulers whose authority stemmed from religion had persecuted those of competing faiths. As much out of self-protection as religious fervor*
Henry VIII, Westminster, and the Vatican
I am crowned by the Church of Rome! Death to the Protestants!
HENRY IN LONDON
Excommunicate me? Excommunicate you!
POPE IN ROME
I am crowned by the Church of England! Death to the Catholics!
*See also The Illustrated Guide to Criminal Procedure, “Convict Yourself” pp. 22-24.
The French Revolution replaced one orthodoxy with another. Divine right of kings was out; radical revolutionary ideology was in.
French revolutionary, Muslim imam, Medieval king eating a… human leg? ew.
Sure, moderates were rounded up and executed, as enemies of the Revolution. So were peasants and priests, nuns, aristocrats, workers, anyone even suspected of thinking the wrong way.
But the worst were fellow radicals, of different parties, and within the Jacobin party itself!
Yes. Far worse than heresy is the sin of apostasy — when one of our own challenges or abandons the orthodoxy. It makes it look like even we don’t believe it! No punishment is too harsh.
We may fight outsiders, but we eat our own!
Communist hammer and sickle
The French were neither the first nor the last to employ state terror as official policy. It has been the primary instrument of Marxist regimes, for example, for imposing their ideology and for maintaining an illusion that it was working.
Perhaps no other word embodies the Communist experiment so thoroughly as “terror.” Systematic horror, fear, subjugation, persecution, and summary execution were employed — are still employed — to enforce the orthodoxy, to eliminate dissent, and to deter incompatible thought.
Soviet propaganda “follow me!” flag waver cheering on masses of graves
The Russians executed MILLIONS of their own people during the Red Terror under the Bolsheviks… and during Stalin’s Great Purge (known in Russian as Большой террор: the “Great Terror”), where suspicion of incompatibility was enough to justify merciless execution or internal exile. Dissent and defection were apostasies to be prevented at all costs, and punished severely.
Mass of skulls
Absolutist ideology combined with absolute power to persecute and kill TENS of millions in China under Mao, who openly praised terror, brutality, and cruelty as instruments of enforcing Marxism.
During the disastrous Great Leap Forward, those who tried to warn that it wasn’t working, or to escape the resulting famine, were beaten or tortured to death by the millions.
The Cultural Revolution that followed was a mass purge of heretics — not just rivals and dissidents, but loyal Chinese who nevertheless might have had incorrect ideas because they had the bad luck to have been educated.
Bloody smashed eyeglasses
In the killing fields of Cambodia, even wearing glasses was enough to warrant execution. The Khmer Rouge killed a THIRD of the country’s population, eliminating anyone even remotely out of step with their vision of Utopia.
Globe dripping with blood
State terror has destroyed unimaginable numbers of human beings, in the self-preservation of this particular orthodoxy… in Vietnam, Romania, North Korea, East Germany, Ethiopia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Cuba, Venezuela…
But though Marxist dictatorships are notable examples of state terror in the 20th and 21st Centuries, they are not the ONLY examples.
It is a hallmark of tyranny. Communism doesn’t have a monopoly on authoritarianism, cruelty, and oppression. We see it in theocracies and in secular states. It comes from the left and it comes from the right. Wherever thou shalt not dissent, thou shalt find the seeds of state terror.
But “state terror” is not what we mean by “terrorism.” Let’s set this aside, return to the topic at hand, and ask whether terrorism is as RECENT a phenomenon as it sometimes seems…