“State terror” is not the same as terrorism. It’s when a government uses violence against its own people… and not to extort change, but to PREVENT it.
State terror persecutes and kills to eliminate dissent, to frighten opposition into silence, and to protect the government’s power and legitimacy.
The two concepts are occasionally confused. That’s understandable. They sometimes share the same motivation. And it doesn’t help that the word “terrorism” originally MEANT state terror.
The word was coined in the 1790s to refer to the REIGN OF TERROR after the French Revolution.
Impoverished miserable French folk
The Revolution hadn’t been a rousing success.
MOTHER CRADLING CHILD
Instead of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, we got Poverty, Scarcity, and Suffering.
This isn’t the change we wanted!
There were many reasons. One that’s relevant here is that, unlike the American experiment which accepted human fallibility, the French tried to impose human PERFECTION.
As happens with utopian systems, idealism was frustrated by reality, and the idealists got violent. Protests became riots, riots became massacres.
Radicals saw opposing viewpoints as dangerous. Competing ideas couldn’t be tolerated, much less expressed. They had to be FOUGHT — shut down, bloodied, and eliminated.
Sans Culottes brandishing weapons
SANS CULOTTES WOMAN
You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few ‘eads!
SANS CULOTTES MAN
To make the world safe for our ideology, we have to make the world unsafe for yours!
Terror must be our tool!
In 1793, the radicals overthrew the government and seized power.
To PRESERVE their power, they made fear and violence official state policy, under the dictatorship of Maximilien Robespierre.
He might have seemed an odd choice for a bloodthirsty tyrant. After all, it was the virtuous Robespierre who had first uttered the inspiring motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” He had been a vigorous supporter of individual rights, and a staunch opponent of the death penalty.
But now he embraced execution an abandoned rights, in a massive purge of any and all whose ideas might not have been politically… correct.
Graves upon graves
Tens of thousands were killed.
Not for what they had done, but for what they might THINK.
Hundreds of thousands more suffered imprisonment and worse.
Well-dressed 18th-Century Parisians at a coffee shop
COFFEE GUY #1
Sounds to me like “state terror” is just another word for run-of-the-mill authoritarian tyranny. How is ours any different?
COFFEE GUY #2
Well… it’s a kind of despotic authoritarianism.
Both use systemic violence to hold on to power.
Mongol khan, forest of impaled bodies
COFFEE GUY #2
But where other tyrants torture and kill to frighten people into submission…
Men being stretched or chopped to fit a “Bergeron-Egalité Conform-O-Matic”
COFFEE GUY #3
We do it to root out heresy — to frighten people into conformity.
The Jacobins’ radical ideology was a kind of orthodoxy — it was a “one true way” that could not… MUST not… be questioned or challenged.
If a belief can be challenged, it can be changed.
Change the truth, forsooth?
This particular ideology was enforced with pain, suffering, and FEAR.
The justification? SELF-DEFENSE. To a committed ideologue, a challenge to his or her orthodoxy can seem far worse than a mere difference of opinion. It’s felt as a personal, existential threat.
Wild-eyed woman in a Liberty cap, and an anxious French dictator
My beliefs are a major part of who I am. If they’re destroyed, then so am I! Contrary views are a personal attack on me!
My doctrine is the source of my legitimacy as ruler. If it’s undermined, then so am I! If I allow dissent, I could be deposed… or decapitated!