Virtue And Terror: Abstract For A Paper Never Written

Since the publication of Elizabeth Anscombe’s ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ there has been much interest in reviving virtue ethics as an answer to contemporary meta-ethical problems, either in more explicitly political formulations by Alasdair Macintyre, Charles Taylor and those theologians influenced by their work such as Stanley Hauerwas, or within the confines of more strict moral philosophy such as Phillipa Foot and Martha Nussbaum. Recently, work on Rousseau’s ethics has noted that contrary to the opinions of some commentators, his ethical system is not a form of radical and hedonistic individualism, but is best resembles a virtue ethics, a case developed by James Delaney’s 2006 work Rousseau And The Ethics Of Virtue and Joseph R. Reisert’s 2003 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A Friend Of Virtue. The influence of Rousseau on the French revolutionaries is well documented, particular the influence of the concept of virtue upon their attempt to create a new democratic and egalitarian republic. Contrary to the work of Carol Blum in Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue: The Language of Politics in the French Revolution, the French revolutionaries, in particular Robespierre, were not misunderstanding and perverting Rousseau’s ethical schema, but were rather completing it and the tradition of virtue ethics that precedes it. This paper argues that contemporary virtue ethicists must accept Robpierre’s correction of the political application of virtue ethics, and recognise that any virtue ethics requires terror as soon as it becomes politics, and follow him into claiming, that “terror without virtue is disastrous, virtue without terror is powerless”. Only then can one create a just and free republic.