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LOUIS SAINT-JUST

QUOTES AND POLITICAL THOUGHT

A colleague of Maximilien Robespierre in the Committee of Public Safety, and one of the youngest revolutionary ideologists, Louis Saint-Just was responsible for "Constitutional Legislation" during the "Reign of Terror" in 1793-1794.  Saint-Just was a radical democrat and also one of the most zealous proponents of using terror against the enemies of the French Revolution.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Saint-Just was also the most openly "Rousseauist" of the Committee members, even more so than Robespierre himself.  Saint-Just's writings are replete with references, both direct and indirect, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, including a belief in the superiority of natural rights over social conventions, the sovereignty of "the people," and the conviction that men are born good but have been corrupted by society.  These and other "Rousseauian" philosophical ideas informed Saint-Just's faith in the ability of the Committee of Public Safety to create a new utopian social order in France once the revolution was complete.  Unfortunately, however, Saint-Just's utopia would have to be built on the corpses of those who fell to the guillotine, firing squads, and mob violence during the French Revolution itself; a reality that Saint-Just found acceptable under the circumstances.

The collection of quotes on this page are intended to provide an introduction to the political philosophy of Louis Saint-Just. 


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CENSORSHIP AND TERROR DICTATORSHIP DISSATISFACTION WITH THE TERROR

REVOLUTIONARY RIGHTEOUSNESS REVOLUTIONARY CONVICTION ON EXECUTING LOUIS XVI

LAW AND SOCIETY NATURE AND POLITICS NATURE AND GOOD GOVERNMENT THE JUST REPUBLIC

REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT REVOLUTIONARY THEORY VS. GOOD GOVERNMENT ON RELIGION

ON INSURRECTION


CENSORSHIP AND TERROR

"It was necessary to avenge our fathers and to bury under its debris that monarchy, immense sepulcher of so many enslaved, unhappy generations ... You must therefore direct your attention to the policing of the state and exercise a very rigid censorship upon the enemies of the revolution and upon the public authorities.  Encourage the judges to render justice bravely, protect them, make them respected too, but if they depart from your decrees punish them severely. ... Exaltation (i.e., terror) is the stubborn resolution to defend the rights of the people and the Convention; exaltation is contempt of wealth, courageous simplicity of habits; exaltation is virtue and not fury ... Let Revolutionists be Romans, not Tartars." -- Speech to the Convention on the "Purification of Public Morals," March 17, 1794.

Source: Saint-Just quoted in Eugene N. Curtis, Saint-Just: Colleague of Robespierre (New York: Octagon Books, 1973), p. 228.

"A nation regenerates itself only upon heaps of corpses." -- Saint-Just quoting Mirabeau before members of the Committee of Public Safety, October 17, 1793.

Source: Saint-Just quoted in Eugene N. Curtis, Saint-Just: Colleague of Robespierre (New York: Octagon Books, 1973), p. 236.

"Citizens, by what illusion could one persuade himself that you are inhuman.  Your Revolutionary Tribunal has condemned three hundred rascals to death in a year.  Has not the Spanish Inquisition done worse than that ... Have the English assizes butchered no one in that period? ... What of the kings of Europe, does anyone prate to them of pity?  Ah, do not allow yourselves to grow soft-hearted!" -- Speech to the Convention, February 26, 1794.

Source: Charles Vellay (ed.), Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just. Vol. 2 (2 vols., Paris, 1908), pp. 236-237.

"It is not enough, citizens, to have destroyed the factions, it is necessary now to repair the evil that they have done to the country." -- Speech to the Convention, April 15, 1794.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just. Vol. 2, p. 367.


DICTATORSHIP

"In every Revolution a dictator is needed to save the state by force, or censors to save it by virtue." -- Fragment 13.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


DISSATISFACTION WITH THE TERROR

"The Revolution has grown cold; all its principles are weakened; there remains only red caps worn by intriguers.  The exercise of terror has made crime blas, as strong liquors made the palace (i.e., the monarchy) blas." -- Fragment 3.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


REVOLUTIONARY RIGHTEOUSNESS

"When human statecraft attaches a chain to the feet of a free man, whom it makes a slave in contempt of nature and citizenship, eternal justice rivets the other end about the tyrant's neck." -- Fragment 3.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


REVOLUTIONARY CONVICTION

"It is time that we labored for the happiness of the people.  Legislators who are to bring light and order into the world must pursue their course with inexorable tread, fearless and unswerving as the sun." -- Speech to the Convention (aka. the Constituent Assembly), December 27, 1792.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just. Vol. 1, p. 383.


ON EXECUTING LOUIS XVI

"One does not make revolutions by halves." -- January 1793.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 414.


LAW AND SOCIETY

"You who make the laws, the vices and the virtues of the people will be your work." -- Autumn 1792.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 380.

"When a people, having become free, establish wise laws, their revolution is complete." -- Autumn 1792.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 264.

"Peace and prosperity, public virtue, victory, everything is in the vigor of the laws.  Outside of the laws everything is sterile and dead." -- Autumn 1792.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 419.


NATURE AND POLITICS

"Every political edict which is not based upon nature is wrong." -- Autumn 1792.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 306.


NATURE AND GOOD GOVERNMENT

"It has always seemed to me that the social order was implicit in the very nature of things, and required nothing more from the human spirit than care in arranging the various elements; that a people could be governed without being made thralls or libertines or victims thereby; that man was born for peace and liberty, and became miserable and cruel only through the action of insidious and oppressive laws.  And I believe therefore that if man be given laws which harmonize with the dictates of nature and of his heart he will cease to be unhappy and corrupt ...

The legislator commands the future; to be feeble will avail him nothing; it is for him to will what is good and to perpetuate it; to make man what he desires to be; for the laws, working upon the social body, which is inert in itself, can produce either virtue or crime, civilized customs or savagery." -- Discours sur la Constitution donner la France, April 1793.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 419-420.


THE JUST REPUBLIC

"If you wish a republic, so order it that the people may have the heart to be virtuous; for there are no political virtues without self-respect, and it is impossible to be self-respecting in the midst of poverty." -- no date.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 1, p. 374.


REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT

"In the circumstances in which the republic finds itself, the constitution cannot be inaugurated; it would destroy itself ... The provisional government of France is revolutionary until there is peace." " -- October 10, 1793.

Source: Oeuvres Compltes de Saint-Just, vol. 2, pp. 83-88.


REVOLUTIONARY THEORY VS. GOOD GOVERNMENT

"What produces the general good is always terrible or seems bizarre when begun too soon. ... The Revolution must stop when it has perfected public happiness and liberty through the laws." -- Fragment 3.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


ON RELIGION

"The French people recognizes the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.  The first day of every month is to be dedicated to the eternal." -- Fragment 10.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


ON INSURRECTION

"Insurrection is the exclusive right of the people and of the citizen.  Every foreigner, every man clothed with public authority, is outlawed if he proposes it and must be put to death as a usurper of sovereignty and as interested in fomenting troubles for the purpose of doing evil or of adorning himself.  Insurrections taking place under a despotism are always salutary.  Those which break out in a free state are sometimes dangerous for liberty itself, because the revolt usurps its sublime pretexts and its sacred name.  Revolts in free states leave long and painful wounds which bleed a whole century." -- 1794.

Source: Louis Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions rpublicaines (1794).


CENSORSHIP AND TERROR DICTATORSHIP DISSATISFACTION WITH THE TERROR

REVOLUTIONARY RIGHTEOUSNESS REVOLUTIONARY CONVICTION ON EXECUTING LOUIS XVI

LAW AND SOCIETY NATURE AND POLITICS NATURE AND GOOD GOVERNMENT THE JUST REPUBLIC

REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT REVOLUTIONARY THEORY VS. GOOD GOVERNMENT ON RELIGION

ON INSURRECTION