Terror! Robespierre and the French Revolution

First broadcast on BBC Two in July 2009.

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In 1794, French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre produced the world’s first defense of “state terror” – claiming that the road to virtue lay through political violence. This film combines drama, archive and documentary interviews to examine Robespierre’s year in charge of the Committee of Public Safety – the powerful state machine at the heart of Revolutionary France.

Contesting Robespierre’s legacy are Slavoj Žižek, who argues that terror in the cause of virtue is justifiable, and Simon Schama, who believes the road from Robespierre ran straight to the gulag and the 20th-century concentration camp.

The drama, based on original sources, follows the life-and-death politics of the Committee during “Year Two” of the new Republic. It was a year which gave birth to key features of the modern age: the thought crime; the belief that calculated acts of violence can perfect humanity; the notion that the interests of “mankind” can be placed above those of “man”; the use of policemen to enforce morals; and the use of denunciation as a political tool.

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