Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 July 2017
The trial and execution of Louis XVI served as a founding act of French republican democracy. It was also a scene of irregular justice: no legal warrants or procedural precedents existed for bringing a king to justice before the law. This essay describes how Jacobins crafted a new language of popular agency to overcome that obstacle—the language of redemptive violence. Although redemptive violence had roots in prerevolutionary notions of penal justice and social cohesion, its philosophical ambitions were revolutionary and modern. Analyzing that language illuminates how republican democracy weaponized a distinctive ideology of extralegal violence at its origins. It also helps explain redemptive violence's enduring appeal during and after the French Revolution.
I would like to thank the following: Carlo Accetti, Nolan Bennett, Lisa Disch, Jason Frank, Jill Frank, Paul Friedland, Murad Idris, Colin Kielty, Isaac Kramnick, Vijay Phulwani, Ed Quish, Aziz Rana, Camille Robcis, and Enzo Traverso. Thanks also to the participants of the political theory workshop at University of Virginia, three anonymous reviewers, and the editors of APSR for helpful feedback.