Reign of Terror

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"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 nothing more than justice. Swift, incorruptible justice."

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, when the guillotine was used and overused against many people.

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 of Reign of Terror include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • 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).

Film[edit | hide]

  • 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 Allan 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.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • 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 Peoples Republic of Haven which is modeled exactly on the historical French government.
    • Although it has parallels to Soviet Russia as well.
  • 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 Euroean) and Said is out for revenge as the book starts.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In The Twilight Zone 1961 episode "The Mirror" a South American revolutionary 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 Reimagined "Collaborators"
  • Doctor Who did an episode set during The French Revolution that was actually titled "Reign of Terror".
  • As did The Time Tunnel .

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • 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.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • 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 Two Plus Torture Makes Five.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Truth in Television, alas.
  • Averted in the Velvet Revolution.
  • The French Revolution, being the Trope Namer.
  • The Iranian Revolution. Ruhollah Khomeini executed many opposition leaders and supported the hostage takers.
  • The Russian Revolution, at least the Red October one.
    • To be more precise, both the Reds and the Whites engaged in large-scale terror and repression, especially during the Russian Civil War. Interestingly, the majority of the deaths were incidental, as both the Red and White Armies 'conscripted' men and grain from the villages, leaving them with no one to till the fields and no food to eat. The majority of the deaths were caused by starvation, diseases related to starvation and cannibalism.
  • Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England from 1653 to 1658, was also this. Though his reign didn't contain much actual terrorizing as such, not that wasn't already in place before he took over anyway. Indeed, while he and his supporters took over for the reasons above and even had a brief period of direct military rule the actual Protectorate was notably unbloody compared to the preceding years, the infighting between allies being so one sided in 1653, what with the army still being just the one faction at this point. They even drifted back into pre-war forms, sort of a cross between this trope and a Full-Circle Revolution.
    • Played very much straight in Ireland, where Cromwell is still remembered as unholy terror, though again, Cromwell was not actually reigning in Ireland at the time he was there. What he was doing was carrying out the Rump's will to ensure the Irish (who most English despised) would never be in a position to cause trouble ever again and take revenge for wildly inflated tales (with some substance) of Protestant massacres by the revolting Irish in the 1640s. Cromwell explained his tactics as trying to prevent an effusion of blood by scaring them into submission basically. It didn't work immediately, and this trope is really the only recourse once you've started down that path. Ireland suffered greatly, and while it must be remembered that some of the massacres committed by Cromwell's men are also inflated and taken out of context, said massacres were not the only reason he was reviled by the Irish. More galling to them was his confiscation of all land owned by Catholics East of the Shannon River, and his banishment of them to lands West of the Shannon, saying that they could go "To Hell or Connaught."
      • Some of Cromwell's massacres were not blown out of proportion, however - it is estimated that Cromwell's troops killed roughly 3,500 people (soldiers and civilians) at both Drogheda and Wexford after the battles there. Fortunately, he was persuaded not to do so after the Siege of Clonmel; being impressed (and one would imagine, exasperated) that he lost some 2,000 men in the fight there. Coincidentally, Clonmel is this troper's hometown.
      • It's also worth noting that Cromwell is also credited, by the very same land seizures and exilment of Irish folk to the Western province (historically the poorest one in terms of agriculture), to have single handedly started the rapid decline of Irish Gaelic Civilization. When we think of War of the Three Kingdoms period Ireland, we imagine them to be basically the same as Anglicized Scots only they speak Irish. The truth was native Irish Culture at the time was incredibly sophisticated and vetted, with styles of dress, societal norms and other minutae that legitimized it being called a 'Civilization' rather then just a culture. By destroying so many lives, confiscating lands and effectively forcing the Gaelic Nobility into banishing themselves to the continent as well as encted further repressive measures he is een by many as the start of the decay decline and possibly the eventual destruction of any cultural link modern Irish have with their ancient ancestors besides language. So basically as far as the Irish are concerned, Cromwell was a mass murdering monster who then went ahead and made things worse when the blood stopped being spilled.
  • The American Revolution, however, was an interesting subversion (mostly). The first U.S. government was too weak, so the Founding Fathers had to create a system where the government was strong, but would not abuse its power. And then they did it, thus creating one of the very few revolutions where (almost) everyone behaved themselves after they'd gained power. The exceptions:
    • Those elements of the population who remained loyal to the British suffered heavy persecution during and after the war, often being attacked in the street and having their property taken away. A fair number of them decided to leave the new USA, with most heading to the northern colonies of what is now Canada.
    • Pro-British native populations, for whom the revolution, and even the coming decades, and for that matter most of the past and following century, would often be a Reign of Terror.
      • The American Revolution was not as violent as other revolutions due to the fact that the founding fathers were not that different, either ideologically or socially, from their former British masters. They were both wealthy white men, after all. As such, they had little interest in eliminating any pre-existing institutions (or persons associated with said institutions) that existed during colonial times (except for the monarchy).
      • Not to mention that the guy they were mad at, King George III, was a bit out of reach.
      • Most British institutions were out of reach, including Parliament.
      • The colonies had practiced a large degree of self-governance for many years before the revolution, so they didn't have to build everything from scratch once the British were gone. This made everything a lot more stable.
    • Most of the indigenous Indian population had sided with the British, so the new country struck back at them, forming the first step of the United States' lovely treatment of Native Americans.
  • China's "Cultural Revolution" was basically a delayed version of this. Mao had been in power for a decade, but his disastrous "Great Leap Forward" had led the country to famine and ruin, cost him credibility and power, and caused "revisionists" to back the country away from Maoist economics. In response, Mao spearheaded a populist "revolution" which would purge the Chinese leadership, see much of the remaining wealthy and middle class murdered (and sometimes raped or even in rare cases eaten), halt education for nearly a decade and see China's "intellectuals" (i.e. people with education greater than middle school) sent to rural labor camps, set the countryside in to violent factional chaos in the name of revolution without direction as each group tried to one-up the other on loyalty to Mao, and which would destroy millennia of Chinese literature, shrines, and other cultural treasures in an attempt to replace old values with 'communist' ones.
  • Cuba.
  • Argentina during the National Reorganization Process: 30,000 victims of torture, unlawful arrest, forced dissappearance.
  • Chile during Pinochet's dictatorship: A similar number of torture and forced disappeance victims. Among the people working for the government were former Nazis.