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MelinaAguiaga
Humanities
12.4.14
Paris,PowderedWigs,andPrison:
VoltairesLastingLegacy
AftertheRenaissancetherewasstillmuchtobewanted.Onethinginparticular
thatwaspushedforinthecomingyearswasthoughtsandideasseparatefromreligion.
WhatthisbroughtonwasaperiodoftimecalledtheEnlightenmentera.Themovementof
freethinkersbroughtonawaveofnewphilosophicalideas.Booksduringthetimewere
cheaperwhichofferedquickertransportofideastothemasses.Otherideasthatfound
themselvestransportedtothemasseswereFarEastideas.SimilartotheSilkRoadinthe
medievaltimes,thisnewexchangeofgoodscamewithideologiesandevenbitsandpieces
ofreligioncomingunderthescrutinyoftheEuropeans.DespitetheEnlightenmentera
beingmarkedasanon-theologicalage,Europewasstillheavywithreligiouspersecution.
Ontheothersideofthis,Voltaireandothernotablefigures,supportedreligious
freedoms.OwingtothiswasthemovementofphilosophesduringtheFrench
Enlightenment;theybelievedthatreasoncouldbelongtothepeopleinplaceofreligion.
Voltairewasaphilosopheinawaydifferentfromothers.Hepresentedhimselfand
hisideasinawaythataskedfortheattentionofothers.Hisideas,ratherthanhiswritings,
werewhatwasimportant.
JosephRoach,inhisbook,
It
,wroteaboutwhatmakesaparticularfewimportant.In

shorthetalksabouthowthereisacertainsignificancewithinsomeonespersonalitythat

givesthemalevelofuniquenessnecessarytobeingaleader.AsIstatedabove,throughhis
ideashegainedimportanceandbecamethenotablepersonthatheis.However,Voltaire
didsomethingspecial.Heputhisideasabovehisname.Yes,beingnotablewasimportant,
butwhatmadehimatruephilosophewasbeingabletorecognizethathisideasheldmore
importancethanhissignature.
Voltairesworkshavesparkeddebatecenturiesaftertheywerewritten.Anexample
ofthiscanbeseenwhenProfessorofEnglishatUCDavis,HelenaFeder,claimsinher
essay,
TheCriticalRelevanceoftheCritiqueofRationalism:Postmodernism,Ecofeminism,

andVoltairesCandide,
thatVoltaire,beingtheinfluentialpersonheis,useshisnovella
Candide
asacritiqueofrationalismintheFrenchEnlightenmentera.Shedevelopsher
claimthroughherexplanationofthemajorthoughtsassociatedwiththebook.In
particular,sheaddressestheideaof
Candide
beingametanarrative.ShestatesthatC
andide
isactuallyaparodyofametanarrativethat,whilebeingsimilarinform,usesthenarrative
(inthiscaseLeibnizianoptimismandothertheoriespresentduringtheEnlightenment)in
asatiricalway.AlongwiththisFederfurtherjustifiesherclaimbystatingVoltairesmajor

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pointthroughCandidewasthatsystematicrationalismwillcausethedownfallofsociety.
ShecomparesthistotheworkecofeministdonowandhowVoltaire,beingamanof
standing,wasabletocreateadentinwhatotherswouldseeasanecessarytruth.Feders
purposeistoexplainhowrationalismhasbeencritiquedinthepast,namelybyVoltaire,
andhowitaffectsthoselookingtochallengeideasnow.Shedoessotocreateanopen
discussionofthepossibilitiesofchange.Sheadoptsaserioustoneforecofeminists.
Similarly,DennisC.Rasmussen,assertsinhisessay,
BurningLawsandStrangling

Kings?:VoltaireandDiderotonthePerilsofRationalisminPolitics
,thatVoltairewasnotin
supportofpoliticalrationalism.Throughouthisessayhesupportswithfactsabout
Voltairesresponsetorationalismasawhole.Inregardstopolitics,Rasmussenstatesthat
Voltaireregardshumanunderstandingasfallibleandunabletosupportuswhenwe
attempttoexerciseitsoardently.Inconcurrencewiththat,Voltaireisseenasoneofthe
Frenchphilosophesthatdidnotbelievethatbystartingoverfromscratchwecould
eventuallyreachautopicstate.Thepossibilitymayhavebeenanimportantdiscussionto
others,buttheimpossibilityofitactuallyhappeningwaswhatformedthebackboneof
Voltairesdisagreementwiththeidea.RasmussenpositsthatVoltaireneverputforththe
ideaofanypoliticalschemeworkingforallgroups,andeveninthecaseofonegroup,it
dependedontheneedsofthepeopleandnumerousotherfactors.Contrarytothisclaim,
manyotherscholars,asRasmussennotes,associateVoltairestrictlywiththeLiberal
governmentthathefavored.Rasmussenspurposeistoinforminordertocreateaclear
pictureofVoltairesaimsthroughouthisvariedcareer.Headoptsaninformativetonefor
thosewhoareinclinedtowardspolitics.
Onadifferentpoint,NicholasCronk,inhisessay,TheSelflessAuthor:Voltaires
Apocrypha,claimsthatthegrowthinprintinginthe17thcenturypromotedVoltaires
raisetofame.Theauthorgoesontosupportthisclaimwiththeinformationthattheboom
inprintingcausedmanywronglycreditedbooksandstoriestobecreditedtoauthorswith
littletonoconnectiontothem.Amongthemanythatwerewronglygivencredit,Voltairein
particularhadmanytitlesinhisnamethathedidnotpen.Cronkalsoimpliesthat
Voltaireanstyleofwriting,whileeasytounderstand,washardertoimitate,makingita
gameforotherauthorstoattempttopulloffactinglikehim.Inadditiontothis,thereaders
wereforcedtobecomemorecriticalofhisworkandworkthatwassupposedlywrittenby
himtoensurethatwhatevertheywerereadingwasinfactbyhim.Voltairesrisetofame
wasofcoursebecauseofhisfansappreciationofhiswork,addedtothatVoltairehimself
encouragedtheuseofhisnameandstylebyotherswhichmadeitallthemorewellknown.
CronkspurposeistodescribewhatauthorshipwastoVoltaireandhowitshapedhis
literarycareer.Heestablishesathoughtfultoneforthoseinterestedintheimpactofprint
onanauthor.

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Throughouthiscareer,Voltairewasabledrawpeopleintohisworkwithhisclever
phrasing.Whetheritbeanovel,play,orhistory,Voltaireswaywithwordsallowedhimto
encourageotherstoseekforthemselves.Forexample,inhisbook
TraitsurlaTolrance

hecallsfortolerancebetweenreligionsandstates,Thinkforyourselvesandallowothers
todothesame.SomeofVoltairesmostrevealingmomentscomethroughhiswritings.
Hereisamanthatisafraidofaworldoffollowers;soheshowsthemhowtobreakthe
mold.Hewritesbooksthatheknowswillsurelybebannedbecauseheknowsthatthe
purposeofthebookistoeducate,nottooutlastthepeoplesneedforeducation.
Somethingtrulyamazingabouthumansisthatwecontinuallylearn.Peoplelike
Voltaireseethevalueofthis.TomeastudenthasalottolearnfromVoltairesexample.He
wrotetosupportideasworthspreadingandbecauseheknewthattherewassomethingthat
couldbegainedfromlearning.Asastudent,beingcriticalofwhatyouarewriting,reading,
andevenlearningcanleadtomoreopportunities.Voltaire,asaforward-thinkingman,is
anexampleworthfollowingbecauseheknewwhatimportancelookedlikeanditsvaluein
everydaylife.

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WorksCited

Cronk,Nicholas."TheSelflessAuthor:Voltaire'sApocrypha."
RomanicReview

103.3/4(2012):553-577.
AcademicSearchPremier.
Web.7Nov.2014.

Feder,Helena."TheCriticalRelevanceOfTheCritiqueOfRationalism:
Postmodernism,Ecofeminism,AndVoltaire'sCandide."
Women'sStudies
31.2(2002):199.

HistoricalAbstracts
.Web.7Nov.2014.

Rasmussen,DennisC."BurningLawsAndStranglingKings?VoltaireAndDiderot
OnThePerilsOfRationalismInPolitics."
ReviewOfPolitics
73.1(2011):77-104.
Academic
SearchPremier
.Web.7Nov.2014.