Most arts have produced miracles, while the art of government has produced nothing but monsters.”
The man who spoke those words was one of history’s premiere authorities on the subject. He was a monster himself, made so by the toxin we call “power.” On this date in 1794—July 28—he and a famous cohort departed this earth for whatever reward awaited them.
A close examination of these two men reveals an astonishing, corrosive effect of political power. Nothing else can explain the remarkable change in their personalities. Before the Revolution, Robespierre was a mild-mannered opponent of the death penalty. With supreme power in his hands, he became one of the monsters of whom Saint-Just wrote.
Saint-Just’s transformation is even more disturbing, as noted by several historians. Described as “freewheeling and passionate” a few years before, he almost overnight became “focused, tyrannical and pitilessly thorough,” “the ice-cold ideologist of republican purity” and “as inaccessible as stone to all the warm passions.” He deserted the woman he loved, trashed his friends, abandoned his affection for literature and metamorphosed into a killer with a single cause—to control, torture or murder to “remake” society.
Remind you of our own times? The power of Revolutionary France was nothing to the power of the (formerly) greatest most powerful nation in the history of Earth.
I’ll always remember us at our heyday.