Voltaire: Who is he?
Voltaire (21st November 1694 – 30th May 1778) was a French Enlightenment thinker and his real name was Francois-Marie Arouet. He was famous for his plays and poetry as well as Political, Religious and Philosophical writings. Voltaire worked to defend Civil Liberties. He thought that the rich were favoured by the political situation and that the poor were too ignorant to know any different.
Voltaire: The Shaping of his Views
Voltaire had strong anti-establishment beliefs. His criticism of the government landed him in prison. Whilst in prison, Voltaire wrote ‘The Henriade’, a criticism of King Henry IV and an attack on extreme religionists. Its publication after his release led to a violent dispute with Chevalier de Rohan (a French nobleman).
Voltaire found himself imprisoned again without trial. Voltaire suggested an alternative and he was granted exile to England, where he stayed for three years. Voltaire grew to love Britain – he approved of the constitutional monarchy and of freedom of speech and religion.
‘Letters Concerning the English Nation’
Voltaire thought that the British system could work for France and wrote about the changes he thought were necessary. Again his work was perceived as heretical, which resulted in him fleeing to the French borders. It was at this point that Voltaire wrote plays and researched science and history.
Political views of Voltaire
- Voltaire thought that the political system in France was corrupt and unfair, that it favored the Aristocracy and noblemen and the poor commoners had little rights.
- He was not a fan of democracy. He thought it was used to make the underclasses think they had rights.
Religious views of Voltaire
- Voltaire was a Christian and thought that everyone had a right to religious freedom.
- He was not a fan of the Bible and was vigorously against the Catholic Church – The Church were gaining from being involved in politics by pocketing a religious tax, which is why Voltaire thought they had no place in politics. They were in politics for their own gain and were using fear tactics help suppress the lower classes.
Views on the Aristocracy
- He thought that there was an unfair balance of power and taxes between royalty and noblemen and the commoners.
- He saw this as corruption in the aristocracy, yet believes the poor were too ignorant to realise.
- He did, however, think that it was aristocracy that was the key to charge. Only if he had the backing of a King would political change occur.
Voltaire and Change
- The introduction of laws that gave everyone the right to a fair trial.
- The Separation of church and state.
- Freedom of speech.
- Freedom of religion.
If you would like to explore Voltaire’s work here is a link to his book ‘Dictionnaire Philosophique’
You might also like to read about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
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