Who in the United States has any interest in Voltaire?
His archaic wig and libertine wit seem to belong to a forgotten corner of the past. He curried favor with the high and mighty, especially Louis XV. It was in his old age, during the 1760s and 1770s, that he wielded his second and most powerful weapon, moral passion.
He was so deeply committed to the cultural system developed under France’s previous ruler, Louis XIV, that he would fail any test of political correctness today. Nothing works better than ridicule in cutting bigots down to size. In 1762 Voltaire learned about a case of judicial murder.
To Voltaire, the case represented far more than a miscarriage of justice.
It epitomized atrocities that had been inflicted on Protestants for two centuries.
Voltaire, pretending to work in Paris as assistant to a lawyer, spent much of his time writing satirical poetry.
When his father found him out, he again sent Voltaire to study law, this time in the provinces.These activities were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles.In his early twenties he spent eleven months in the Bastille for writing satirical verses about the aristocracy.The protective layer of civility, which makes political discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around Earth. There is no easy answer, but some historic figures offer edifying examples.The one I propose may seem unlikely, but he transformed the climate of opinion in his era: Voltaire, the French philosopher who mobilized the power of Enlightenment principles in 18th-century Europe. K., I know that only an academic like myself would come up with such a proposition.François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire was born in Paris in 1694, the son of François Arouet, a notary who was a minor treasury official, and his wife, Marie Marguerite d' Aumart, from a noble family of the Poitou.Voltaire was educated by Jesuits at the Collège Louis-le-Grand (1704-11), where he learned Latin and Greek; later in life he became fluent in Italian, Spanish and English. Before devoting himself entirely to writing, Voltaire worked as a secretary to the French ambassador in Holland.And Voltaire opposed education for the masses because, he said, someone had to tend the fields. “I have never made but one prayer to God,” Voltaire wrote, “a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” The first of the two most powerful weapons in his arsenal was laughter: “We must get the laughter on our side,” he instructed his auxiliary troops in the salons of Paris. The Parlement (high court) of Toulouse had condemned a Protestant merchant, Jean Calas, to be tortured and executed for supposedly killing his son, who supposedly had intended to convert to Catholicism.Not only were the suppositions wrong, but strong evidence pointed to Calas’s innocence.He made the message clear in his most ambitious work, “Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations”— “Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations” — a survey of world history that he first published in 1756 and revised and expanded until his death in 1778. The opposition to bigotry and the defense of civil rights once again call for a commitment to the cause of civilization. It showed a bust of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not Voltaire.François-Marie Arouet ( 21 November 1694 – ), better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher.