Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot are of the same mold. They are the characteristic scourges of humanity in modern times, but Robespierre has a good claim to being the first. Understanding his motives and rationale deepens our understanding of the worst horrors of the recent past and those that may lurk in the future.
We could add Mugabe to the above list (from me, see this discussing this), but that is happeneing now and God forbid we trouble our elites with understanding evil when it occurs when it's so much easier to deal with it when it's over.
What Robespierre had unloosed were the most depraved urges of society’s dregs. The resulting anarchy temporarily served his purpose, much as the Kristallnacht served Hitler’s, the purges Stalin’s, and the cultural revolution Mao’s. Each perpetrated the terror to frighten opponents into abject submission and establish himself more firmly in power....
Robespierre, who saw himself as a romantic hero battling against great odds, yearned for power and was indifferent to the cost of achieving it. When he succeeded in concocting an ideology from the flotsam of Rousseau’s ideas and other bits and pieces, he held on to it with fanatical dedication, for it provided him not merely with a political program but also with a justification of his quest for power. In a strangely closed circle, when he perpetrated the monstrous acts of the Terror, he took their very monstrosity as evidence of the purity of his motivation and convictions. He and his fellow ideologues were the elect whose passions guided them to know good and evil, truth and falsehood, however obscene or forbidden their actions might appear to the unelect.
Robespierre is a history that has been repeating itself for over two centuries now.
(Mr. Kekes has also recently authored The Roots of Evil.)