Prospectus for “Le Défenseur de la Constitution”

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Prospectus for “Le Défenseur de la Constitution”  (1792) 
by Maximilien Robespierre, translated by Mitch Abidor

Reason and the public interest began the revolution; intrigue and ambition have halted it. The vices of tyrants and slaves have changed it into a painful state of trouble and crisis.

The majority of the nation wants to rest under the auspices of the new Constitution, on the breast of freedom and peace. What causes have deprived it of this double advantage up till now? Ignorance and division. The majority desires the good, but it neither knows the means to reach this goal nor the obstacles that distance them from it. Even the best intentioned of men differ on the questions most strictly related to the general happiness. All the enemies of the Constitution borrow the name and language of patriotism to spread error, discord and false principles. Writers prostitute their venal pens in this odious enterprise. It is thus that public opinion is excited and becomes disorganized; the general will becomes powerless and invalid and patriotism, without a system, without a plan, and without a determined objective, acts slowly and fruitlessly, or sometimes seconds, through blind impetuosity, the evil projects of the enemies of our freedom.

In this situation one means alone is left to us to save the public thing, and that’s the enlightenment of the zeal of good citizens in order to lead them towards a common goal. To rally all of them to the principles of the Constitution and the general interest; to bring into broad daylight the true causes of our ills and to indicate the remedies; to develop in the eyes of the Nation the reasons, the general view, and the consequences of the political operations that have an influence over the fate of the State and its liberty; to analyze the public conduct of the personalities who play the principle roles in the theatre of the revolution; to cite before the tribunal of opinion and truth those who with ease escaped from the tribunal of the laws and who can decide the destiny of France and the Universe. This is without a doubt the greatest service a Citizen can render the public cause.

A periodical that would fulfill this project seemed to me to be the occupation most worthy of friends of the Fatherland and humanity. I dare to undertake this. The spirit that guides it is announced by its title: “The Defender of the Constitution.”

Placed since the beginning of our revolution at the center of political events, I saw from up close the tortuous march of tyranny. I saw that the most dangerous of our enemies are not those who openly declared themselves such, and I will work to see that this knowledge be made useful for the salvation of my country.

I need not say that only the love of justice and truth will guide my pen: it’s on this condition alone that, having descended from the tribune of the French Senate one can still climb to that of the universe and speak, not to the assembly — which can be agitated by the shock of diverse interests — but to humankind, whose interest is that of reason and general happiness. Perhaps when once one has left the theatre to sit among the spectators one can better judge the stage and the actors. At the very least it seems that once having escaped the maelstrom of affairs one breathes in an atmosphere more peaceful and pure, and one has a more certain judgment on men and things, much like he who flees the tumult of the city to climb to the summit of the mountain feels the calm of nature penetrate his soul, and his ideas expand with the horizon.

I have seen well-known members of the legislature, who bring together two functions of almost equal importance, recount and appraise in their writings the next day the operations in which they participated the day before in the National Assembly.

Though this last occupation sufficed in keeping me completely occupied when it was confided to me, I nevertheless applauded those legislators who rendered that striking homage to the necessity for — and the dignity of — the ministry of philosophical and political writers. I even believe that they have a double right to the esteem of their fellows if they fulfill both tasks with the same integrity. He who declares himself the censor of vice, the apostle of reason and truth must be neither less pure nor less courageous than the legislator himself. The errors of the latter leave a great resource to public spirit and opinion. But when opinion is degraded, when public spirit is twisted, the last hope of freedom is annihilated. The writer who prostitutes his pen to hatred, to despotism or corruption — betraying the cause of patriotism and humanity — is more vile than the prevaricating magistrate, more criminal than even the representative who sells out the rights of the people.

Such is my profession of faith; such will be the spirit and objective of the work that I consecrate to the freedom of my country.

This work will appear every Thursday; each issue will be three or four pages long.


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