François-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name ‘Voltaire‘, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of expression, free trade, separation of church and state, and his attacks on the established Catholic Church.
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 power base against the monarchy.
Voltaire distrusted the democratic ways 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.
Thomas Carlyle, who argued that while Voltaire 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.
Voltaire had faced critics in his own life time. He retorted:
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbor’s, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”
- Voltaire (en.wikipedia.org)