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François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), better known by his pen name Voltaire, was considered a leading figure of the European Enlightenment. Much of his writing was satirical, and there were many elements of his society that he criticized.

First, he was an atheist, and highly critical of Christianity, and especially of the Roman Catholic Church, which was enshrined as a state church in France, and was very wealthy and powerful. As well as objecting to the Church as an institution, Voltaire considered many of the stories of the Bible either absurd or immoral. In the wake of the vast loss of life in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, he argued that the universe did not appear rational or just; this led to his condemnation of optimism and the belief in providence.

Voltaire also disliked the French monarchy and thought the English mixed government far superior. He was an unrelenting critic of the Ancien Régime, and the vices of the French aristocracy. He was also a strong critic of censorship and advocate of freedom of speech.