Reign of Terror

"The first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror."Robespierre

"Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country."

Finally, La Résistance has won, the revolution has occurred and the tyrannous President Evil has been deposed. This should be the end of The Empire, the establishment of a new era of freedom, peace, prosperity and equality.

Well, as soon as Les Collaborateurs have been judged, condemned and executed, of course. And we need to take care of all the enemies and reactionaries within us who still wish to undermine the new regime. And I'm afraid those people who fought for the revolution along with me have just been revealed to be traitors as well! I have no choice, I have to seize more powers to deal with all the dangers which threaten our ideals, create a special force charged to investigate those who would betray the revolution and an extraordinary jury to condemn them quickly.

It's all for the sake of our freedom so direly gained, of course.

This trope is for the aftermath of a revolution or rebellion, when the former leaders of the uprising find themselves in power and may become tyrants themselves, while the ideals that led to the revolution are forgotten by the populace and buried under bloody infighting between former allies.

This is often a consequence of The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and having an army of Knights Templar in your ranks.

Named after the Reign of Terror in The French Revolution, which lasted less than a year between 1793-1794 in a revolution which lasted 15 years, but is remembered as the most infamous part of the revolution, where 16,594 people were sent to the guillotine and at least 25,000 more were summarily executed (all in less than a year, remember - that works out to something like 115 executions a day, or one death every fifteen minutes, non-stop). The original Terror came as a result of a wartime necessity. France was about to be invaded by a coalition, resulting from a war started by the "moderate" Girondins which the Jacobins had opposed, and was enthralled in civil war and to combat this, the public asked for emergency measures. The Committee appointed by the National Convention, elected by universal male franchise, submitted its actions to regular review and its services had to be renewed every month. Terror was described as the "state of siege" France was under and the response described by Robespierre is to "fight fire with fire". While people think of the Terror as being filled with daily around-the-clock executions, the original Terror's executions was done in batches, and followed major victories on the warfront since the Committee was largely a war committee and did not attend to "backlog" of executions until immediate threats were handled. Most of the executions, outside of Paris, was relegated to areas affected by civil war, insurrections and the borders, while the vast majority of France was completely unaffected by it.

Compare and contrast with Full-Circle Revolution which has virtually no change in the way things are governed after the revolution. These revolutions are compatible — in that a revolution can produce no real change even after ruthlessly slaughtering large chunks of the population, and indeed, after all this slaughter, people may be quite content to merely get back to the old ways. The Empire variant is Crushing The Populace where you make sure no one will oppose you through sheer brutality.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • One country that Kino visits in Kino's Journey replaced a tyrant king with the rule of majority. First the people voted to kill the king and his family, then his supporters and their family. Then anyone who disagreed with the majority. The country is left with one man after he and his wife voted to kill the third man, and then the wife died of an unrelated illness. ( having a doctor would have helped.)
  • Gundam has used something like that. it did not really occur after a revolution but after a war/reshaping of the world order. In the UC timeline the special forces Titans were established (who have become a prime example for a oppressive military in anime), and later in the A.D. timeline an even straighter example were the A-Laws which pretty much ruled the earth with an iron fist behind the scenes (and behind them, the innovators).
  • Happens in Apocalypse no Toride when the inmates revolt against and kill the guards and staff and the most vile of the delinquents take over. And they have no problem with throwing anyone who disagrees into the mass of zombies outside the prison walls.

    Film 
  • The Norsefire party in V for Vendetta engineered this, first through fear-mongering and inducing xenophobia in the populace, then by the spread of a horrific virus to throw everything into a panic, and then, when they had gained power, by means of a Gestapo-like organization devoted to removing any citizens who posed the slightest threat to the government. The whole plot is a pastiche of the Nazi reign.
  • In the Woody Allen film, Bananas, the rebels overthrow the evil Central American dictatorship. Then the new leader goes batshit insane and starts his Reign Of Terror. So the rebels get Woody to be leader instead. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Star Wars: The Galactic Empire's reign over the galaxy. In the EU it shows that they hunted down and stamped out anyone who would dissent against them, this included killing entire races to extinction.

    Literature 
  • Animal Farm, based upon the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism, is the epitome of this trope.
  • Honor Harrington has the Committee of Public Safety taking over the People's Republic of Haven which is modeled exactly on the historical French government, although it has parallels to Soviet Russia as well. It comes to a rather decisive and pointed end when the last surviving leader of the Committee is shot in the head by Admiral Thomas Theisman. He and a handful of others then restore the true Republic, under a Constitution that hadn't seen the light of day in two centuries.
  • The rule of The Citizen in The Hero of Ages has become this, leading to some of our heroes to attempt a Full-Circle Revolution. What they don't realize is that both sides are being influenced by the Big Bad.
  • The Egyptian novel The Thief and the Dogs has this as the setting's backstory. Said Mahran (the main character) was a Just Like Robin Hood thief fighting against the colonialist European government during the revolutions of the 1950's. Unfortunately for him, his closest allies in the movement, Ilish Sidra and Rauf Ilwan, basically seize power for themselves. The result? Egypt is no better off than it was before (really the only difference is the totalitarian leaders are Egyptian instead of European) and Said is out for revenge as the book starts.
  • Katniss' killing of President Coin in The Hunger Games (at the end of the third book Mockingjay), is intended to avert this, due to her being privy to some disturbing discussions on the eve of the execution of President Snow.
  • In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, Windrip's regime quickly and brutally suppresses dissent once he takes power. After Windrip goes into exile and Saranson is assassinated, Haik's regime is even worse.
  • The world during the latter half of the Tribulation in the Left Behind series became this after Nicolae Carpathia was "resurrected" and declared himself god over all the earth. Citizens were required to bear the Mark of the Beast and to bow down before Carpathia's image three times a day or face punishment, which includes death. Sometimes citizens who do end up getting the mark also become executed. All religions except for Carpathianism were illegal to practice, and rebels that didn't align themselves with either God or Carpathia were also killed. Dissenters and critics against Carpathia's authority, even with the slightest infractions such as staring nervously at him and not addressing him by his proper title, were dealt very harshly.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Twilight Zone episode "The Mirror", a South American revolutionary, modeled on Fidel Castro, overthrows a dictator. The dictator tells him that his mirror "shows him his enemies." The revolutionary, looking in it through the course of the episode sees his former compatriots and kills them off. He's finally left alone, and just sees himself in the mirror; then, realizing the significance, he kills himself.
    • Which teaches us all the Fantastic Aesop "Don't look into cursed mirrors."
      • Or as the writers probably intended, "paranoia is self-destructive" and "it's Lonely at the Top".
      • It's left up to the audience to decide whether the mirror was really cursed or if it was all part of the dictator's paranoia.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) "Collaborators"
  • Doctor Who actually had a serial titled The Reign Of Terror. Set during the Reign of Terror.
  • As did The Time Tunnel .
  • The third Blackadder takes place during this time, for France. It even has some French aristocrats flee their nation in one episode. Edmund nearly gets executed for trying to reenact the Scarlet Pimpernell.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Given that it was blatantly based on The French Revolution, it's not surprising that this ends up happening to the country of Montaigne in 7th Sea's metaplot.
  • Arguably began in Warhammer 40,000 when the God-Emperor unified Terra, but has since become a permanent state of affairs.
    • Better than anyone else's reign of terror at the moment, save the Tau whose ignorance of psykers would spell doom for any psychically active species (like humans) run by them.
    • Technically the actual Reign Of Terror only began with the Horus Heresy. Before that the government while brutal and authoritarian tended to avoid the excesses and extremes that are the norm afterwards.
    • Even by the extreme standards of the imperium, there are periods and places which stand out. The most spectacular and wide-reaching of these was High Lord Goge Vandire's Reign of Blood (particularly notable for being an exercise in human ambition, megalomania and paranoia with no otherworldly involvement).
  • Pathfinder has the nation of Galt, which broke away from Cheliax in a bloody revolution that hasn't let up in forty years. This is not helped by the Grey Gardeners and their Final Blades: guillotines that trap the souls of their victims.

    Web Original 
  • Look to the West has a close analogue in its own version of The French Revolution, led by Jean-Baptiste Robespierre. He proclaims the "doctrine of continuous warfare," by which the Republic must be in a continuous state of war in order to terrify its people into submission. When eventually overthrown by Jean de Lisieux, he is replaced by a regime which specifically rejects terror tactics and even the death penalty, but instead embraces 2 + Torture = 5.