The Despotism of Nature

in The Terror of Natural Right

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226184388
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226184401 | DOI:
The Despotism of Nature

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With the Constitution of 1793 literally “suspended” in an ark of covenant above them, the conventionnels must have listened with surprise to claims from the Committee of Public Safety that they needed to start the process of founding the French Republic all over. In a November 1793 report, Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne intimated that the Jacobin Constitution was indeed not good enough, and that the new highly centralized and vigorous executive should “serve as a model for composing [pour la rédaction] the organic code of the Constitution.” This chapter argues that the natural republicanism of the revolutionary leaders during the Terror was not just rhetorical window-dressing or abstract philosophy, but played a direct role in the political and cultural transformations of Year II. The “dictatorial” revolutionary government may ironically have done less harm to civic rights than the republican “despotism of nature” that was meant to follow it. The Committee of Public Safety's repeated claims that justice, not terror, was now the order of the day were matched, at least in part, by their legislative and institutional efforts.

Keywords: Terror; French Revolution; Constitution; revolutionary government; natural republicanism; revolutionary leaders; Jacques-Nicolas Billaud-Varenne; French Republic; justice

Chapter.  18783 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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