Voltaire (1694 – 1778)
François-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name ‘Voltaire‘, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, free trade and separation of church and state.
In his opinion, the French bourgeoisie were too small and ineffective, the aristocracy were parasitic and corrupt, the commoners were superstitious and ignorant, and the church was a static force only useful as a counterbalance since its “religious tax”, or the tithe, helped to cement a powerbase against the monarchy.
Voltaire distrusted the democratic was of governance. He said that democracy was propagating the idiocy of the masses. He essentially believed monarchy to be the key to progress and change.
Since the king’s rational interest was to improve the power and wealth of France in the world, Voltaire presumed that only an enlightened monarch, advised by philosophers like himself, could bring about change.
Voltaire is quoted as saying that he “would rather obey one lion, than 200 rats of (his own) species”.
Today, Voltaire is remembered and honoured in France as a courageous polemicist, who tirelessly fought for civil rights, the right to a fair trial and freedom of religion, and who denounced the hypocrisies and injustices of the ancient regime.
But he had his own detractors in some of his critics, like Thomas Carlyle, who argued that while he was unsurpassed in literary form, not even the most elaborate of his works was of much value for matter, and that he had never come up with any significant idea of his own.
Here’s my entry for Six Word Saturday: