The execution of Robespierre
In “The Tragedy and Triumph of Lyndon Johnson” Joseph Califano describes LBJ’s view of the left wing of his own party. “A liberal is intolerant of other views. He wants to control your thoughts and actions,” Johnson declared. Califano then describes the president moving forward in his chair to deliver his punch line:
“You know the difference between cannibals and liberals?
Cannibals eat only their enemies.”
Using LBJ’s insightful quip as a starting point I set out to explore the history of leftist politics from the Reign of Terror to the Stalin’s Great Purge in Part I and compare it with the ‘Resistance’ we see from today’s angry and intolerant leftists in Part II.
Part I: Highlights of the Old Left
Leftwing French radicals led by lawyers like Danton, Robespierre and others laid a foundation for leftist thought and action that has resurfaced throughout history. Here I provide a synopsis of the two revolutions that have most shaped modern leftist thought in the West: France in the late 18th century and Russia in the early to mid-20th century.
After the fall of the Bastille and the arrest of the King, the French insurrectionists were facing the decision of what to do next, specifically what to do with Louis XVI. Robespierre argued that the dethroned king could function only as a threat to liberty and national peace and that the members of the Assembly were compelled to execute the king as part of their duty to protect the public safety, rather than administer justice by trying the King according to the law in a fair and impartial manner:
The critical question concerning you must be decided by these words alone: Louis was dethroned by his crimes; Louis denounced the French people as rebels; he appealed to chains, to the armies of tyrants who are his brothers; the victory of the people established that Louis alone was a rebel; Louis cannot, therefore, be judged; he already is judged. He is condemned, or the republic cannot be absolved. To propose to have a trial of Louis XVI, in whatever manner one may, is to retrogress to royal despotism and constitutionality; it is a counter-revolutionary idea because it places the revolution itself in litigation. 
In essence Robespierre argued that the King must die so that the nation may live and his view carried the day. Without trial Louis XVI was voted guilty of conspiracy and attacks upon public safety by the Convention and sentenced to death by guillotine.
During the insurrection Robespierre had scrawled a note in his memorandum-book:
What we need is a single will (il faut une volonté une). It must be either republican or royalist. If it is to be republican, we must have republican ministers, republican newspapers, republican deputies, a republican government. The internal dangers come from the middle classes; in order to defeat the middle classes we must rally the people. … The people must ally itself with the Convention, and the Convention must make use of the people.
Robespierre’s brief statement about the need for a single will provides insight into the dynamics of his brief tenure at the helm of the Reign of Terror. He did not just debate with fellow revolutionaries and let a majority of diverse voices rule. Instead, he carefully hunted down anyone who disagreed with him and plotted to have them guillotined. Read more