Which kind of government did Voltaire prefer?
Voltaire expressed admiration for different kinds of government at different points in his life. In his Philosophical Letters, for example, written after a sojourn in England, he claimed that the English Constitution, with its "harmony between King, Lord, and Commons," was an ideal form of government. Under this system, Voltaire argued, "no one is tyrannised over, and every one is easy." This was partly because the English government featured the division of power that Voltaire's fellow philosophe and contemporary the Baron de Montesquieu so admired, and partly because England lacked the rigid social structure that shackled the middle classes, the peasantry, and the urban workers in France. At other points in his life, however, notably in his time with Frederick II of Prussia, he seems convinced that the best government on the Continent might be that of an enlightened monarch who uses their power for the promotion of Enlightenment ideals. Like almost all of the philosophes, Voltaire was no democrat, and he was actually quite cynical about human nature. What was more important to him than the form of government was the nature of government. For him, government ought to feature religious tolerance, more or less laissez-faire economic policies, and be based on reason and rational principles. Above all, government ought not to be dominated solely by the parasitical nobility and clergy that kept talented men like Voltaire, a member of the French middle class, from fulfilling their potential.