How to Make an Anarchist-Terrorist: an Essay on the Political Imaginary iIn Fin-De-Siécle France

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This essay centers on the debate that surrounded the anarchist-terrorists of France in the 1890s. As a wave of bombings washed over Paris, commentators argued over the source of terrorism. With an eye toward a handful of notorious French anarchists-Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant, Emile Henry-they asked: How do you make an anarchist-terrorist? The debate that followed offers a window on the political imaginary of the French Third Republic in the years before the Dreyfus Affair. At times, the response to the anarchist bombings took the shape of a proxy war over the issues that moved French politics in the 1890s. But it was more than just this. For all of its variety, the debate centered on the problem of intellectual responsibility and gave form to the specter of the dangerous, rootless intellectual. There is a larger lesson in this tale, for the debate over the anarchist-terrorists of fin-de-siécle France makes for a revealing case study in the ways in which democratic societies respond to the threat of homegrown terrorism. It demonstrates the difficult challenge that terrorism poses to democratic societies and shows just how easily political-cultural interests can hijack discussions of terrorism.

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