This is the first of two posts pertaining to French historian Sophie Wahnich’s La liberté ou la mort: essai sur la Terreur et le terrorisme (Liberty or Death: Essay on The Terror and Terrorism–Paris: La Fabrique editions, 2003). By “The Terror” she means, of course, what bears that name in the history of the French Revolution. The date below is when I originally wrote the entry–which basically consists of three selections from Wahnich’s book–in my philosophical journal.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wahnich, pp. 88-89: The Thermidorean reaction against the French Revolution
rests on the aestheticization of the dead body and on the fear that results without the death evoked being able to assume a political sense. . . . In the caricatures of Thermidor, the sans-culotte who demands his victim drink dry a glass of blood is a figure denuded of political character, a simple barbarian who has raged without one being able to find a satisfactory explication of the origin of his power. . . . Where the death of the other had politically constituted the exercise of legitimate right, where the death of one of one’s own had constituted a source of heroes to be glorified, there now remains nothing but victims to bewail. Thermidor inaugurates for our time the reign of the emotion of victimization. . . .
Thermidor thus effects a first displacement toward an incomprehensible and disastrous revolution, by denying the sense of sovereignty in making-die [as in Foucault on pre-modern sovereignty lying in the power to take life, to kill or make die] and in making of death during the Revolutionary period a death denuded of sense.
Then, picking that theme up again a few pages later (p. 94): “In inventing the neologism ‘terrorist,’ the Thermidoreans have not only anthropologized a violence also qualified as popular, but have actively occluded what had laid claim to its legitimacy in the situation: a juridico-political process of collective responsibility.”
Revolutionary terror is not terrorism. Making the Year II [of the French Revolution–the year of the Terror] morally equivalent with 2001, is historical and political nonsense. . . .
The events of September 11, 2001, have not yet found a name. One speaks of them as of a fascinating shock, with the ambivalence fascination implies: the irresistible attraction of looking, and the defensive reaction of repulsion [just as the Thermidoreans were fascinated with the September massacres of the French Revolution].