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What did Voltaire think of government?

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kristin-michelle | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 6, 2011 at 6:10 AM via web

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What did Voltaire think of government?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:51 AM (Answer #1)

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Voltaire was zealous in his defense of individual rights and personal liberties.  Government's construction would have to be with these entitlements in mind.  His entire literary and professional life was lived with the idea of being able to challenge social conventions and possessing the freedom to speak out against orders of conformity that sought to silence him:

The surviving pictures of Voltaire, most in old age, represent him as thin, sharp-featured, and sardonic. He is the very embodiment of one aspect of the neoclassical period: skeptical, irreverent, and valuing personal freedom above all other things.

In speaking out against institutions that were prone to silence individuals, such as oppressive governments or misuse of the Church, Voltaire was a firm advocate of secular rule that would treat individuals as ends of themselves, as opposed to means to ends:

As a rationalist and Deist, he rejected the traditional Christian view of God and belief in the immortality of the soul. He adhered to a natural religion, believing in an impersonal, remote deity whose attributes were beyond human understanding but who inspired a great sense of awe. Voltaire shared the belief of fellow Deists who considered the essence of religion to be morality, a commitment to justice and humanity. He strongly believed that universal ethical principles were inherent in natural law and that the merit of human laws was determined by the extent to which they reflected such just and humane standards.

The freedom of thought in all of its forms and the ability to ensure that social and political organizations do not silence voices, particularly those of dissent, would be how Voltaire envisioned political authority should be constructed.

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