"That belief, that myth—whether celebrated in the Panthéon or bemoaned in counterrevolutionary phrases, such as “the Revolution is the fault of Voltaire”—highlights a way in which the revolutionary experience gave a new inflection to the cult of genius. By linking geniuses emphatically to politics and political change, the revolutionaries highlighted the capacity of extraordinary individuals not just to understand the world, but to change it. Only with the Revolution could a myth of revolutionary genius emerge, and with the propagation of that myth was born a possibility, still fledgling, but soon to be fulfilled: that genius might be used as the basis of political power, celebrated not only in death but in life, employed to justify an extraordinary privilege and license. The very possibility raised a question: What was the place of the genius in a free nation? To a regime that had declared liberty, equality, and fraternity as its founding ideals, it was not an idle concern."
Thought In an extract from his new book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius, published in The New Republic, Darrin M. McMahon, the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University investigates "How the French Revolution Gave Us the Cult of Genius":