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Thinking About Revolutions

Thinking About Revolutions

January 21, 2011 -
1:15pm to 3:00pm
Event Speaker: 
Dan Edelstein, Professor of French and History, Stanford University.
Event Sponsor: 
The Munro Lectureship Fund and The Lane Center
Abstract: 
On November 5, 1792, Maximilien Robespierre stepped up to the bar of the National Convention to defend himself against accusations of dictatorial ambition. In a remarkable feat of oratory, he rejected the flimsy charges leveled at him by his Girondist
adversaries, but also offered his accusers a lesson in political theory. “Should the salutary precautions demanded by public safety in a time of crisis, brought about by the powerlessness of the laws, be evaluated in light of the penal code?” he queried, referring to the August 10, 1792, uprising that had brought down the monarchy. The general council of the Paris Commune, of which Robespierre was a member at the time, had no doubt taken measures that were technically illegal, but they were “as illegal as the Revolution, as the fall of the throne and the Bastille; as illegal as liberty itself.” Whatever disorders may or may not have occurred during this insurrection, they could not be separated from its purpose: “how can the effects of great upheavals be subjected to sound judgment?” The end justified the means, in the absence of any accepted constitutional framework. “Citizens,” Robespierre challenged, summarizing his argument with stinging repartee, “did you want a Revolution without a revolution?”
Biography: 

Dan Edelstein is a Professor of French and History at Stanford University.