Postmodernism 101, Part 9: First Terror

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  The French Revolution discussion relies primarily on Timothy Tackett’s outstanding book, The Coming of the Terror of the French Revolution, as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The French Revolution.

Previous posts include:

martin-heideggerMartin Heidegger

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modern Enlightenment philosophy.  that overthrew Medieval faith.  Modernism supposed we could use reason (not faith) to know reality.  Its progeny were individualism, science, liberal democracy, free markets, technology, and medicine.

Postmodernism’s philosophy is based on German Counter-Enlightenment philosopher Martin Heidegger’s metaphysical nihilism.  This philosophy embraces Nothing, opposes Western reality, reason, and logic; focuses on contradiction and conflict; and dwells in dark shadows of emotion.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s leftist political ideology is based on Jean-Jacques Rousseau.   He offers postmodernists a political philosophy that features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment was the polar opposite of Enlightenment thinking and values.  Enlightenment’s virtues were Rousseau’s vices: reason, individualism, economic liberalism, liberal democracy, science, technology, medicine.

Rousseau’s writings inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.  Facing a dire fiscal crisis, desperate King Louis XVI had convened the 1789 Estates General, an assembly of the nobility, clergy, and commoners.  Spurred on by radical Paris mobs, the commoners declared themselves a sovereign “National Assembly”.  The King gave in.  The Assembly began work on a constitutional monarchy.

paris-commune-revengeThe Second Revolution

The years 1789-1792, saw a recurring cycle of radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.  Paris would radicalize and explode in violence.  The King and Assembly would appease the radicals.  The cycle would repeat – radicalization, leftist mob violence, and appeasement.

On August 10, 1792, the constitutional monarchy fell, in a second revolution.  An army of heavily armed radical guardsmen and leftist militants attacked the King’s palace.  With France waging war on two fronts (against Austria and Prussia), the imprisoned King stood accused of treason.

Things went downhill, from there.

The Prussians are Coming
duke-brunswickPrussia’s Duke of Brunswick

The war went from bad to worse.  With Louis in prison, Lafayette turned traitor.  Lafayette had tried to march on Paris with his army, to free the King.  That went nowhere, fast.  So, he wisely hightailed it to Austria.

The Prussians were coming.  The Prussians, the world’s most formidable army, invaded France.  In command was the Duke of Brunswick, a veteran crusher of revolutions.  His highly disciplined Prussian forces (half the size of the French) leisurely chewed their way towards Paris.

The First Terror

The Left seized power.  Documents were found proving that the King was a subversive.  The political Right fell silent after the betrayals of the King and Lafayette (a Feulliant leader).  Brissot and his leftist Girondists dominated the Assembly.


Power struggles raged.  The Assembly struggled against Robespierre and his radical left Paris Commune.  In the Assembly, Robespierre and the Mountain struggled against Brissot and his Girondists.  In Paris, the Commune struggled against neighborhood “sections” (councils).  The sections won control of the national guards.  The Commune kept control of their radical militants and sans-culottes.

Paris was in a panic.  The radical left press spewed conspiracy theories and fake news.  Paris authorities cracked down in repression on the clergy and the Right.  Surveillance committees urged citizens to denounce suspected traitors.  They searched homes.  They arrested the usual suspects (nobility, clergy).  They arrested the politically suspect (incorrect, critical, outspoken, unpatriotic).  Robespierre even issued an arrest warrant for his rival, Brissot.  The prisons filled.

Blood flowed in the provinces.  Vigilantes massacred suspected conspirators.  They targeted the clergy, parading about with decapitated and dismembered corpses.  Bands of eager young “patriots” roamed the the countryside, looting, kidnapping nuns, and generally terrorizing folks.

Blood boiled in Paris.  The Assembly set up a Tribunal for political trials (no jury, no appeals).  The Tribunal took its job seriously, moving too slowly for the radicals.  The Commune took action, nailing “prison conspiracy” posters around town.  “To arms! The enemy is at our gates!” they warned, citizens must mete out justice on the “conspirators and evil doers in the prisons”.

september-massacresThe September Massacres

Blood flowed in Paris.  In the September Massacres, radical militants attacked the prisons and executed more than a thousand political prisoners.  The Assembly made token attempts to stop the slaughter.  Some of the Paris guard stood by.  Others joined in the attacks.  The Commune supported the massacres as “acts of justice”, hoping that “the whole nation will hasten to adopt similar methods” necessary for “public safety”.

The First Terror waned as September faded and 1792 wound to a close.  Riots, insurgencies, and massacres ebbed as bands of eager bloodthirsty patriots marched off to war to fight the Prussians.

The King awaited his fate in the Temple prison.


Robespierre was becoming quite the practitioner of the dark arts of radical left power politics.  The devious fellow was never one to let a good crisis go to waste.  He used fear and terror to eliminate political rivals and consolidate power.

It was dawning on Robespierre’s Girondist rival Brissot that Robespierre didn’t play fair.  Robespierre (always the schemer) had intended to arrest Brissot, then murder him.  Robespierre played by his own rules.


Louis confronts Terror.  Next: Part 10, A Farewell to Kings.