What Would Voltaire Say?

Posted on by Phil Querin

FAQs PicI do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. ~Voltaire

Voltaire (born February 20, 1694), spent much of his life writing and saying what many didn’t want to read or hear, including the Catholic Church.[1] He was imprisoned in France, his home country, and eventually exiled to Britain.  While in London he published Letters Concerning the English Nation in 1733), extolling the virtues of that country’s constitutional monarchy and respect for human rights over France’s absolute monarchy and religious intolerance.

The French publication of Letters was regarded as scandalous, and resulted in that country burning Voltaire’s books. By the time he returned to France, on May 30, 1778, he was regarded as a hero and later as a forerunner of the French Revolution and Enlightenment, which ushered in the principles of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. He was eventually enshrined in Paris’ Pantheon.

The above quote, long attributed to Voltaire, was, by most accounts, not his.[2]  Instead, they were likely written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre.  According to Wikipedia [here], she was “…an English writer best known for her biography of Voltaire entitled The Friends of Voltaire, which she completed in 1906.”

In her biography on Voltaire, Hall wrote the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (which is often misattributed to Voltaire himself) as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs.[2] Hall’s quotation is often cited to describe the principle of freedom of speech. [Ref. here]

Fotosearch_cb008926[1]For more on Voltaire, HyperLynx recommends:



France And The Rest Of The World Today.  The recent massacre in Paris by Muslim extremists put the words famously attributed to a vocal and outspoken Frenchman in particularly sharp relief today.

To paraphrase one commentator following the attack, it’s one thing to “talk the talk,” but considering the intolerance and hair-trigger savagery of these pseudo-religious fanatics, how many people are really willing to “walk the walk”?

Being a bit of a cynic about the state of the world today, here is my take on what I see as impediments to decisive action to stop Islamic terrorism before it destroys us. I hope I’m wrong.

  • To be sure, there are many of our leaders who profess a willingness to stand up to this brutality with force. Unfortunately, the entrenched political leadership in both the U.S. and France, seems both unable and unwilling to turn words into action.  Instead, as with the West’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear machinations, there is a political preference to threaten with velvet gloves, which is Chamberlain-esque appeasement by another name.  While the use of force is ostensibly “on the table,” it is in name only. To quote a Roman adage I recently read, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
  • The tragedy in France has been a long time in coming. Some would say that given the size of its Muslim population,[3] all permitted under the aegis of “multiculteralism,” it’s only the beginning.  From the fatwa issued against author Salman Rushdie in 1989 for blasphemy, to the murder of film producer, Theo van Gogh in 2004 for criticizing Islam’s treatment of women, to the slaughter of the journalists and police at magazine Charlie Hebdu on January 8, 2015, it’s clear that Islam brooks no patience with its perceived critics.  And today, as we’ve seen with Islamic State – or whatever nom de guerre they dream up – being a silent non-Muslim in Syria and Iraq, is itself, a death sentence.  As long as the mainstream Muslim community in France fails, by choice, to assimilate into society, remaining ideologically isolated from Western culture and principles of religious freedom, tolerance and free speech, there will be more Charlie Hebdus.  Any solution to France’s Islamic extremism must include broad popular support by the Muslim community itself – not just words of righteous indignation, but active, concerted, condemnation – walking the walk.
  • The third difficulty in addressing radicalized Islam, is the absence of any leadership from the United States, where political correctness classified the murder by Nidal Hasan of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009 as “workplace violence.”  This is the country whose leader publicly drew a line in the sand that Syria crossed with impunity by using chemical weapons on its own people, thus backing Mr. Obama down on the world stage.  This is the country, along with several others, that continues to sit at the table with Iran which goes on enriching uranium, and even its own leader says talks are futile.  Then on Sunday, January 11, when many of the West’s leaders assembled in Paris to attend the mass rally rejecting radical Islam’s savagery, the President inexplicably stayed home. Not a single White House official was in attendance – excepting one person who was already there, the U.S. Ambassador to France. This was not only a snub to the rest of the world, but it underscores Mr. Obama’s refusal to deal with radical Islam, believing, somehow, that it’s “radical” but not “Islam.” Until this administration learns to lead from the front, and accept reality, there is little question but that our county’s leadership vacuum will result in bringing European-style Islamic terrorism to our own shores.  It may be too late if we have to wait until the 2016 elections.

 What we need is more Voltaires today. ~PCQ


[1] Wikipedia’s biographical information on Voltaire’s writings note that: In his tragedy Le Fanatisme ou Mahomet, Voltaire described Mohammed as an “impostor”, a “false prophet”, a “fanatic” and a “hypocrite”. Voltaire defended the play, [and] said that he “tried to show in it into what horrible excesses fanaticism, led by an impostor, can plunge weak minds”.

[2] I may be mistaken, but I believe this quote appeared for years on the masthead of the Portland Oregonian.  Perhaps it was another newspaper….

[3] According to the January 9, 2015 online Washington Post article (“Map: France’s growing Muslim population”): “One widely cited study by Pew from 2010 estimated that France had 4.7 million Muslims. At 7.5 percent of the population, this meant France had the largest Muslim population in Western Europe (for reference, in the same year Pew estimated that the Muslim population in the United States made up 0.8 percent of the total). Other estimates vary from around 5 percent to 12.”

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