The Afterlives of the TerrorFacing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France

The Afterlives of the TerrorFacing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France

Ronen Steinberg

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9781501739248

Publisher: Cornell University Press

Abstract

This book examines how those who lived through the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution struggled to come to terms with it. It shows that, contrary to claims that are made often in the literature, there were complicated, painful, and often honest debates about how to deal with the effects of mass violence on self and society after the Terror. Revolutionary leaders, relatives of victims, and ordinary citizens argued about how to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, how to offer some sort of relief to the victims, and how to commemorate this controversial episode in the politically charged climate of post-revolutionary France. Their solutions were not perfect, but their debates were innovative. The dilemmas that they struggled with, dilemmas around retribution, redress, and remembrance, derived from the democratizing impulses of the Revolution. Drawing on the concept of transitional justice and on the literature about the major traumas of the twentieth century, this book argues that the modern question of what to do with difficult pasts was born out of the social and political upheavals of the 18th century’s Age of Revolutions.