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Robespierre argued that the exigencies of Revolution required extraordinary virtue on the part of the French people, and that virtue was "powerless" without terror to back it up. The best way to argue against this using the principles of the Enlightenment might be to argue, as Montesquieu and many others did, that powers of government must be divided. By claiming absolute power over most aspects of government, including the right of life and death over citizens, and furthermore by destroying the French aristocracy as a class, radicals like Robespierre were becoming corrupt and abusive of their powers. Few Enlightenment thinkers approved of the kind of democracy that Robespierre claimed he was establishing by destroying the "royalists" and "villains." Voltaire, for example, once said that if he had to choose between the tyranny of one man and of the "masses," he would "detest the tyranny of one man less than that of many." In France during the Terror, a thinker like Voltaire would probably have perceived both tyrannies at work. Many of the philosophes also would have disapproved of the violent means he recommended, and the sham justice which many "opponents" of the Revolution received. Even Rousseau, who was often cited as a sort of patron saint of the Revolution, did not advocate for the type of violence that characterized the Terror.
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