Cooley sets up the story with a few mind-blowing delicacies
“Welcome, Mr. Smyth. So good to see you again.”
Cooley. You’re back.
“No, you are! You have taken your special vitamins and relaxed in the grip of your valued SomaPulse Helmet, opening the door to the Field.”
Funny. The last time we met you mentioned how much you like traveling to Earth, which you so miss. I thought it was you who came to me.
“Let’s just say that right now I am as much in your world as you are in mine.”
Fair enough. So, what are we doing here?
“We are ready to pick up where we left off.”
The French revolution?
“And not only. We are covering a story bigger than life, a tale of two cities separated by time, two times separated by space, two eras joined by similar forces, which you will understand in a painful, agonizing and terrifying way.”
Thing is, I’m not a fan of horror stories.
I shake my head, smirking.
Can’t you give me the fun version instead?
“This will be the most fun you ever had, I guarantee it. It will change your life forever.”
I’m not so sure about that. I prefer to hear more about the Diamond Necklace Affair and stories like that. You know, stuff about no beginnings and no ends, and interesting tidbits, that kind of thing.
“It’s a deal, Mr. Smyth. Terror a la carte, coming right up, followed by a terrific buffet that never ends.”
Cooley, you’re not hearing me. I don’t want to listen to scary stories.
“You don’t want to listen to scary stories or you don’t want to be scared? There’s a difference.”
What’s the difference?
“The amount of fear you carry inside you. Too much of it and you will be frightened by anything, no matter how pleasantly I say it. There is terror in even the most innocent things, which we engage when we are afraid to live. But look over it, like we do thunder and lightning when we grow older, and we are fine.”
There’s a difference between not being frightened by normal things and not wanting to hear stories that involve ‘painful, agonizing, terrifying’ elements. Your words, not mine.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Pain, agony and terror are parts of the process of learning evolution and progress. Not pleasant parts, but useful all the same. Sometimes indispensable.”
How can terror be useful? It hurts and disempowers people.
“Yes. But it also rallies them to a cause, or against one, faster than anything else. It traces out the love one feels for someone and the devotion one has to a cause. The fear of loss of what one deems important complements the drive for change. It did so in the French revolution and all revolutions that followed, and will do so forever.”
What a dreadful way to look at things! Terror is an awful manner with which to achieve one’s goal, no matter the cause.
“La terreur n’est autre chose que la justice prompte, sévère, inflexible.”
What does that mean?
“Terror is nothing other than prompt, severe, inflexible justice. Robespierre’s own words during his ascendancy to absolute power.”
Wait a minute. Let’s take things one at a time and make sure we are on the same page. Who was Robespierre?
“One of the revolutionary leaders of France.”
And what did he have to do with terror?
“He implemented it in times of crisis. Some say he caused it, others that he reacted to it. Bottom line is, he used it to gain absolute power.”
What did the French Revolution have to do with absolute power? Wasn’t it waged to defeat despotism in the first place?
“Indeed it was. But things got complicated. And Robespierre became progressively inflexible, his views becoming somewhat extreme. He ended up advocating liberty through violent means. His style of management can be summed up in a quote from a speech, where he stated that the government in a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.”
Sounds like he lost his mind.
“He did. Things took an ugly turn during that time and many suffered. The revolution cracked down on its own people and many heads rolled. In the end, the terror caught up with the culprits, and Robespierre, executioner supreme, paid the price for his out-of-control patriotism.
“Yet let it be noted that for a while he was making sense to people, commanding the support of the masses and the obedience of his opponents.”
I close my eyes for a moment, trying to process what Cooley is telling me. It’s preposterous. How can anyone rationalize the use of violence? The logic is beyond my understanding. The only thing that makes sense is that justice eventually caught up with Robespierre.
I look around, buying a little time before resuming our bizarre conversation. I happily notice that we are not in the middle of nowhere anymore, but have somehow found our way into my apartment. We are sitting in the living room, I on the sofa, Cooley on the reclining chair to the right. He is hovering over it rather than sitting on it, his aura beaming in the dimmed light.
Ok, Cooley. I’m game. Tell me how it got to the stage where Robespierre had to resort to terror to rule.
Cooley spins around the spot and smiles.
“Maximilien Robespierre was a bright, well educated lawyer, sharp as a scalpel and eager to distinguish himself in the political arena of Paris. He was also a firebrand ideologue, perhaps the most ardent advocate of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famous philosopher and scholar. He had studied the Social Contract, Rousseau’s most influential and controversial book on republicanism and government, and, like many others, had taken it quite literally, embracing the notion that virtue was the act of belonging to civil society. To him, freedom meant creating laws that guaranteed one’s liberty to act virtuously, at all costs.
“Since laws could not be written by ordinary men, because ordinary men were prone to corruption, legislation needed to be devised by lawgivers, experts held separate from executive and administrative bodies, in order to guarantee both their impartiality and their virtuous nature. Being a lawyer, Robespierre embraced the rule of law and applied the idea vehemently. Referred to as general will in Rousseau’s work, he considered it a morally righteous and right institution, which, when used responsibly and with conviction, could free man from all injustice. In order to be effective, of course, it had to be exercised by a state where no single person ruled i.e. where no master existed, and where everything was dictated by bodies governed by the people themselves.
“In other words, Robespierre believed that the rule of law – as devised by representatives of the people and upheld by state authority – was, in fact, supreme.
“Thus the notion supremacy crept into the young man’s revolutionary mind. Over time, it grew into something frightful to behold and impossible to ignore.
“To sum it up, Robespierre was pure nitroglycerin waiting to be shaken up. He was idealistic, uncompromising, ambitious, well versed in a controversial and contradictory political discourse, and on his way to applying his interpretation of the Social Contract in the name of greater good. Putting its propositions into effect according to how he understood them was something he was very eager to do – and liable to get wrong.
“Wrong is exactly how he got it. He applied his newfound insights with a zeal bordering on fanaticism, upping the stakes, jumping the gun and altogether skipping the formalities of virtuous rule in a misguided effort to remain faithful to the cause. In his mind, the only way to preserve democracy and a free and secure Republican France in times of trouble was through the enforcement of ultra-extreme measures, an approach which brought forth a period known widely as La Terreur. The Terror.”
Otherwise known as the Reign of Terror…
“Precisely. Let me tell you all about it. Before I start, though, can you get me something to drink? I am thirsty.”
Oh? I didn’t know spirits drink.
“Only when visiting earth. We eat too – at least I do. It’s one of the perks of taking assignments here. The sensation of replenishing myself with tasty matter is so base and rich that I can’t let it go to waste.”
He leans back and sighs. He’s looking increasingly human, his form solidifying. I can barely see through him anymore. His lips have tightened and his eyes are gleaming blue, with a spot of crimson behind them. He smiles, leaps up, his hand whipping the air with incredible force. A hand-sized tin container appears in his grip, spelling in thick, animated letters the words Cool-Aid.
“There you go, refreshment made in heaven. Go and mix me a batch, will you? Make yourself one too, and slice up some of this brioche to go with it.”
A luscious hot sweet lands in my hand, and Cooley, eyes gleaming, points toward the plates on the rack.
I go to put things together. The brioche is hot and steaming. I cut it in thick slices. The mix in the container is silvery white, like Cooley, but when I mix it with water it turns dark red. The water thickens, taking the form of blood, and a bittersweet fragrance tickles my nose.
I take two glasses and a plateful of sliced brioche to the living room. Cooley looks content. He flickers in the dim light, rubbing his hands over the snack.
“Here we are, Mr. Smyth. Have a sip of Cool-Aid, take a bite from the brioche, kick back and relax. Bon appétit, as they say in France. And bon voyage. This is a spin through time you will never forget.”
FOR MORE: Wake Of Liberty
Robespierre – source: http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/robespierre.html
Rousseau – source: http://www.thefamouspeople.com
The Social Contract – source: http://www.penguin.com.au/products/9780141018881/great-ideas-social-contract