Its use has repeatedly shifted in some significant respects.Moreover, in contemporary political discourse the word is often employed as a polemical term whose strong emotional charge occludes its somewhat vague descriptive meaning.Their violence steered clear of other, uninvolved or insufficiently involved persons.
A central role in attaining these objectives was accorded to revolutionary tribunals which had wide authority, were constrained by very few rules of procedure, and saw their task as carrying out revolutionary policy rather than meting out legal justice of the more conventional sort.
They went after “enemies of the people”, actual or potential, proven or suspected; the law on the basis of which they were operating “enumerated just who the enemies of the people might be in terms so ambiguous as to exclude no one” (Carter 1989: 142). Trials and executions were meant to strike terror in the hearts of all who lacked civic virtue; the Jacobins believed that was a necessary means of consolidating the new regime.
In the second half of the 19th century, there was a shift in both descriptive and evaluative meaning of the term.
Disillusioned with other methods of political struggle, some anarchist and other revolutionary organizations, and subsequently some nationalist groups too, took to political violence.
Positions on the morality of terrorism range from justification when its consequences on balance are good, or when some deontological moral requirements are satisfied, to its absolute, or almost absolute, rejection.
Philosophers working in applied philosophy have also sought to complement the discussions of terrorism in general with case studies—studies of the role and rights and wrongs of terrorism in particular conflicts, such as “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland (George 2000; Simpson 2004; Shanahan 2009), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Gordon and Lopez 2000; Primoratz 2006; Kapitan 2008; Law (ed.) 2008), and the bombing of German cities in World War II (Grayling 2006, Primoratz 2010).
Before the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, the subject of terrorism did not loom large in philosophical discussion.
Philosophical literature in English amounted to a few monographs and a single collection of papers devoted solely, or largely, to questions to do with terrorism.
Its ultimate aim was the reshaping of both society and human nature.
That was to be achieved by destroying the old regime, suppressing all enemies of the revolutionary government, and inculcating and enforcing civic virtue.