So, I had planned to write something about this anyway, but I never thought that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee would provide the added hook.
And how is all this connected with Robespierre?
He was a far more complex figure than the caricature propagated by his enemies would suggest. For example: although opposed, with the majority of the revolutionaries, to any social or political role for the Church, he considered it tamed by the early reforms, and condemned the extreme "de-Christianizers" who pursued policies ranging from destruction of religious art and architecture to slaughter of priests and nuns. He did not see the individual believer as a threat, and on the contrary, successfully advocated for freedom of worship, arguing that mindless persecution of the religious would only revive the mindless fanaticism that the Revolution had sought to eliminate.
For Robespierre, atheism was an aristocratic affectation, at odds with both democracy and the emotional needs of the populace. Belief in a deistic divine presence ensuring the reward of virtue and punishment of vice was central to his worldview.
Belief in a Supreme Being had been part of the French Constitution since April 1793, but Robespierre sought to restore cultural peace and unity by clarifying and formalizing the consensus belief. He set forth his ideas in the Report to the National Convention on the Connections of Religious and Moral Ideas with Republican Principles, & on National Festivals on 18 Floréal, Year II (May 7, 1794)
|Robespierre's Report, published by order of the Convention|
at the National Printing Works in Paris: in-octavo, 45 pages
Following the political and philosophical exposition, the Report set forth a 15-point decree on the cult and its festivals.
The French people recognizes the existence of the Supreme Being, and the immortality of the soul.
It recognizes that the manner of worship worthy of the Supreme Being is the practice of the duties of man.
It places chief among these duties: to detest bad faith and tyranny, to punish tyrants and traitors, to assist the unfortunate, to respect the weak, to defend the oppressed, to do all the good that one can to others, and to be unjust toward no one. . . .
It concluded with the outline of a Festival of the Supreme Being, proposed by the artist Jacques-Louis David, to be held on 20 Prairial Year II (June 8, 1794)
|Festival of the Supreme Being, from Charles François Gabriel Levachez, and Son, and|
Jean Duplessi-Bertaux, Tableaux historiques de la Révolution Française, 1798-1804
Whereas Robespierre viewed the Festival as a crucial last attempt to reinvigorate the Revolution, both contemporaries and modern scholars have seen it as one of the factors that contributed to his downfall. It alienated both de-Christianizers and more traditional deists; critics accused him of megalomania and seeking to set himself up as a new "pope" or "Mahomet" (Muhammad).
A contemporary account described him as "dressed in a sky-blue coat, with exquisite ruffles of lace, and holding a bunch of flowers, fruit, and ripe wheat in his hand."
This hostile engraving from the mid-nineteenth century is arguably intended to convey that view of the priggish and arrogant Robespierre. At the same time, in retrospect it perhaps inadvertently humanizes him by presenting him in a manner to which we are unaccustomed.
The rather soft-looking Frank Perdue may have laughed all the way to the bank on the slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken."
Well, the Robespierre corollary is: it took a tender man to lead the Terror.