Ideas·Audio

Listen | Return of the Guillotine

This documentary by IDEAS producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder traces the history of the guillotine as a symbol, from its bloody history during the darkest days of the French Revolution to its reinvention as an emblem of equality. 
A protester holds up a sign showing a photograph of King Felipe VI of Spain upside down with the word 'criminal' next to a guillotine during a demonstration against the monarch's visit to the Mobile World Congress, Feb. 24, 2019, in Barcelona, Spain. (Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images)

Invented in France at the dawn of th French Revolution, the guillotine began as a symbol of the Enlightenment — a way to achieve justice and fairness.

Now images of the guillotine are flourishing online as a symbol of protest against inequality, racism, and elitism. Mock guillotines regularly show up at protests, from both the political right and left.

IDEAS producer Matthew Lazin-Ryder examines the symbol of the guillotine, how it's changed over time, and how it reveals a split in the way we think about democracy.

Guests in this episode:

Janine Lanza is associate professor of History at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Bre Kidman is a candidate in the Democratic Primary for Maine's senate seat.

William Cormack is professor in the Department of History at the University of Guelph.

Pascal Bastien is professor of Early Modern Europe at the Université du Québec à Montréal.


*This documentary was produced by Matthew Lazin-Ryder.

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