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Robespierre’s speech on the principles of political ethics

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The present text is Robespierre’s speech on the principles of political ethics, which should guide the National Convention in the internal affairs department. In this speech, Robespierre, on behalf of the Committee on General Security, will present the establishment of the French government’s ethical principles to the Convention just one month before the San Juan decrees – in Venus. The rhetoric was directed against opposition parties on both sides: the moderate party led by Camille Desmoulins and the extremist revolutionaries led by Jacques Hébert.

(Maximilien Robespierre)

(February 5, 1794/18 Pluviôse Second Year of the Republic)

Representatives of the people of townsman, we wrote our foreign policy principles some time ago, and today we are here to plan the principles of domestic policy.

After a long period of aimlessness and being driven by the movements of the opposing factions, finally the representatives of the French people showed their character and sovereignty. A rapid and sudden change in the destiny of our nation announced the revival of the nation’s representation in Europe. But it should not be overlooked that we have so far – even in such a stormy situation – relied more on a purely loving channel than on a precise theory and rules of conduct, something we have by no means had the necessary leisure to design. We were guided by goodness and empathy with the needs of the homeland.

Now is the time to determine the goal of the revolution and to announce the destination we want to reach; now is the time to list for ourselves both the barriers that separate us and our goals and objectives, and the tools we need to use to achieve those goals. These are simple yet important ideas that never seem to have been considered. Indeed, how can a cowardly and corrupt government dare to do such a thing? [Obviously] the King, the empty-headed Senate, the Caesar, and the like of Cromwell, above all, must hide their plans under the guise of religion, deal with all malice, flirt with all parties, destroy the righteous, and subdue the people. To oppress or deceive, in order to achieve their treacherous desires.

If we didn’t have a bigger task to do, if all we had was the interests of a new party or a new aristocracy, we could believe – like some writers – who are more ignorant than corrupt and degenerate – that the plan ahead of the French Revolution is written in Tacitus and Machiavelli works, and we should all seek to find the duties of the representatives of the people in the history of the work of Augustus, Tiberius or Vespasian, or even of some French legislators, because if we put aside minor differences in the extent of betrayal and oppression, all dictators and the tyrants are the same.

We are here today to share your political secrets with the world so that perhaps all the friends of the homeland will rise up in support of the voice of reason and the public interest; Perhaps the French people and their representatives in all countries of the world – and wherever knowledge of their true principles can penetrate – will be respected; And so that they may be able to catch the former conspirators in this way, to try them according to the principles and rules that are strong and insignificant, but easy.

These precautions must be taken at the right time so that the destiny of freedom is given to a truth that is eternal and not in the hands of human beings who are undergoing change and transformation. [This should happen] in such a way that if the government forgets the interests of the people or if the government itself falls into the hands of corrupt people – by the natural course of things – the light of accepted principles will reveal the face of the traitors and every new faction that comes with the idea of committing a crime will disappear with it.

Happy are the people who can reach that stage! Because what accusations and curses are appropriate and worthy of those facilities and requirements that do not provide an order of affairs so that the public wisdom becomes the guarantor of freedom!

What is our purpose? Peaceful enjoyment of freedom and equality; The rule of eternal justice whose rules are engraved, not on marble, but on the hearts of all human beings; Even in the heart of the slave who has forgotten them and the tyrant who denies them.

We want such an order in which the laws close all the oppressive and humiliating whims and desires and arouse all the beneficial and benevolent passions. An order in which the desire is desirable in order to achieve a worthy honor and service to the homeland; An order in which distinctions are made only by equality; In which citizens are subject to judicial authority, officials for the people and people for justice; An order in which the homeland supports the happiness of all people, and every person with pride contributes to the success and glory of the homeland; An order in which all living beings grow more and more through the channel of continuous communication with republican sentiments and the need to be worthy of the dignity of the people; An order in which all the arts adorn the freedom that glorifies and promotes them, and that trade and commerce are the resources of wealth for the general public, and not just for the limited monstrous assets of a few families.

We want to replace morality with selfishness in our country; Really replace pride; Replace principles with [arbitrary] applications; Replace tasks with property; Substitute the rules of reason for the authoritarianism of custom and religion; Humiliation of malice instead of humiliation of bad luck; Pride instead of disrespect; The greatness of the soul instead of selfishness; The love of pride instead of the love of money; Good people instead of good partners; Competence instead of conspiracy; Genius instead of gentle nature; Truth instead of cleverness; Attractive charm of happiness instead of boredom of luxuries; The greatness of humanity instead of narrow-mindedness and dryness, great human beings, high-minded, powerful and happy people instead of lovable people, light and miserable style, and in short all the virtues and miracles of the republic instead of all the evils and emptiness of the monarchy.

In other words, we want to fulfill the desires of nature; we want to advance the destiny of humanity; Let us keep the promises of the philosophers and keep the divine providence free from the long reign of crime and tyranny. France, which was famous among the countries suffering from slavery, can overshadow the glory of all the peoples of freedom that have existed so far and become a model for all nations; it is a source of fear for the oppressors, a consolation for the oppressed, and an ornament for the world. By endorsing our work with our blood, we may witness the glorious rise of global happiness. This is our dream and goal.

What kind of government can do such wonders? The only democratic or republican government. Despite the misuse of everyday language, the two terms are synonymous, because aristocracy is only related to the monarchy, not the republic. Democracy is not a state in which people, who are constantly coming together, run all public affairs; Let alone that in that, hundreds of thousands of people, through various, hasty and contradictory actions, control the destiny of the whole society; Such a government has never existed, and the only reason it can exist is to bring people back to the despotism status. Democracy is a state in which the ruling people – guided by their own laws – do whatever is right and do what they can’t do themselves through their representatives. So you have to follow the rules of your political behavior based on the principles of democratic government.

But in order to establish and consolidate democracy for ourselves and to achieve the peaceful rule of the constitution, we must first end the war of liberation against tyranny and successfully overcome the storm of revolution. This is the goal of the revolutionary system that you accept. Accordingly, you must continue to regulate your behavior according to the stormy conditions that surround the republic, and your plan to run the affairs must be the outcome of the revolutionary government spirit and based on the general principles of democracy. Now we have to ask, what is the fundamental principle of a democratic or popular government and the main and basic support that supports and promotes it? The answer is: virtue. I’m talking about public virtue, which should come as a huge surprise to the French Republic; the same virtue that is nothing but love for the homeland and its rules.

But since the essence of the republic or democracy is equality, then, of course, love for the homeland necessarily includes love for equality.

It is also a fact that these great emotions take precedence over the interests of the individual; this indicates that love for the homeland contains all the virtues or is the outcome of them. What are these virtues? Except for the kind of spiritual power that enables people to make such sacrifices? And how can a slave of greed and lust, for example, sacrifice his god to his homeland? Not only the spirit of democracy is virtuous, but also the virtue can only exist in this form of government. Under the rule of the monarchy, I know only one person who can love the homeland – one who does not need it to have any virtue for this love – and he is nobody except the king. Because, compared to all the inhabitants of that land, the king is the only person who has a homeland of his own. At least isn’t he the only one in charge in practice? Isn’t he the one who is in the place of the people? And what is the homeland, if there is no place where a person is a citizen and a member of the ruling power?

According to these principles, in the aristocratic state, the word homeland can only mean for aristocratic families that have seized power.

It is only in a democracy that the state is truly the homeland of all individuals, and therefore, since individuals are its citizens, they can be counted on them as interested and loyal defenders of its goals. This can explain why free people are superior to others. Athens and Sparta surpassed the Asian tyrants, and Switzerland defeated the Spanish and Austrian dictators. There is no need to look for other causes of these events.

But the French are the first people in the world to establish true democracy through inviting and addressing all to equal rights and a wide range of citizens’ rights, and I think that will be the reason for defeating all the united oppressors against the republic.

Source: Terror against terrorism:  Liberty or Death in the French Revolution/ Sophie Wahnich/ Translated by Fouad Habibi/ Ney Publishing / 1397

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