Victims, Authority, and Terror: The Parallel Deaths of d'orlaeans, Custine, Bailly, and Malesherbes

By George Armstrong Kelly | Go to book overview

12. The Terror of the Savants

In the Revolutionary perspective, the Champ de Mars massacre was a sufficient cause for Bailly's liquidation. Had Fréron not declaimed: "What a monstrous knave, that Bailly! He says that every writer preaching murder will be brought to justice. Well, you be the first to go and get yourself hung, for your hands are stained with the blood of our fellow citizens."1 Still, our context transcends the Champ de Mars: Bailly was a symbol of what true Jacobins distrusted and despised: an academic who had basked in the reflected light of monarchy. Larger questions of science, learning, and revolution are involved in our inquiry. Would Bailly have survived -- for he showed no disposition to seek exile 2 -- even if there had been no Champ de Mars? Would his discretion have saved him, or would he eventually have had to pay the price for Lafayette? Would he have suffered the fate of others more advanced than himself, like Condorcet? He would have needed luck, for the Jacobins deeply resented his corporate connections and his social principles. In their view, according to Charles C. Gillispie, "science was undemocratic in principle, not a liberating force of enlightenment, but a stubborn bastion of aristocracy, a tyranny of intellectual pretensions stifling civic virtue and true productivity."3

Before confronting that issue, we must follow out the career of Bailly. The former mayor of Paris was pursued by two sets of furies. Not only was he marked for reprisal by the radical journalists and clubs, but he was despised by Brissot and his faction. Brissot not only thought little of Bailly as a mayor, but was, like his former friend Marat, a failed academician. As early as 1782, in a treatise De la vérité, he had attacked the raison d'être of the academies. In the vein of Rousseau he had praised the solitary seeker of truth and castigated the learned societies as beehives of amourpropre. He advocated a democracy of learning: "The empire of science can know neither despots, nor aristocrats, nor electors. It mirrors a perfect Republic in which utility is the only title worthy of recognition. To admit a despot, aristocrats, or electors who by edicts set a seal upon the product of geniuses is to violate the nature of things and the liberty of the human mind."4 Well before the Revolution, Brissot's doctrine challenged the mental structures of Bailly's world of elite opportunity. Later, politics, Condorcet's hostility, and questions of Parisian government would drive them further apart.

In the waning days of the monarchy the Gironde forced Bailly into

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