Critics of Robespierre

The passage below, excerpted from the newspaper the French Patriot of 6 December 1792, is hostile to Robespierre. It suggests Robespierre’s appreciation for the importance of political symbolism, in calling for the smashing of Mirabeau’s bust, and it reveals his interest in retaining popular adherents, evident in his support for the transportation of Mirabeau’s remains out of the Pantheon.


Paris

Wednesday, 5 December 1792

This evening the Jacobins broke the bust of Mirabeau in their hall on the motion of Robespierre that this "execution" was carried out just as it was on his motion that the honors of the Pantheon were given to Mirabeau. Pétion reproached Robespierre for this on the same day in the presence of the writer of this article. "It is true that I despise Mirabeau," replied Robespierre, "but the Sections [of Paris] have asked that he have this honor and I have to be the instrument of the people." This accurately describes Robespierre and the flexibility of his "popular conscience". . . . This is how demagogues pay homage to popular idols in order to please their constituents, and then shatter those same idols in order to take their places. In any case, Robespierre could evict Mirabeau from the Pantheon without worrying, for no one will ever retaliate against him.

While the Jacobins were in the mood to break things, they also broke the bust of Hélvetius. Several honorable members asked if he was a member of Girondin faction . . . [he was not, but] he was a philosopher, which amounts to the same thing.

Source: Le Patriote français, no. 1213 (6 December 1792), 647.