François-Marie Arouet (1694 - 1778), better known by his "trade" name Voltaire, was a poet, playwright, novelist, historian, and philosopher who embodied the Enlightenment in eighteenth-century absolutist France. Voltaire was an Anglophile, and was instrumental in bringing the works of Newton and Locke from England to French intellectual circles.
 Views and ideas
As self-proclaimed deist, Voltaire loathed organized religion and intolerance between creeds. Strong anti-clericalism pervades most of Voltaire's writings. He believed that all religions attempt to teach morality and that all are based on just precepts — it is only the particulars of religious beliefs that are "absurd." As a deist, he was a supporter of the "clockmaker" argument for the existence of God. Voltaire despised superstition and optimism, themes that surface in the novel Candide, his most widely-known work. Voltaire subscribed to the revolutionary Enlightenment notion that "custom is a greater decider of difference than nature," a principle that still holds for today's anthropologists and all who practice multiculturalism.
It is also worth noting that Voltaire was an infamous anti-Semite, and referred to Jews as "calculating animals," "plagiarists in everything," and "the biggest tramps who have ever spoiled the face of the earth." He was also a Eurocentric racist, and derided Africans as "less intelligent than apes." In A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary he denounced the Egyptians as being "contemptible" and argued that their characters were fundamentally flawed simply because he disagreed with Egyptian governmental policy regarding slavery. Jeez, Volty. Everyone today would have loved you if it wasn't for that.
 Famous quotes
- "Man is free at the moment he wishes to be."
- "Love truth, but pardon error."
- "To hold a pen is to be at war."
- "It is dangerous to be right in matters where established authorities are wrong."
- "A witty saying proves nothing."
- "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."
- "Christianity is without a doubt the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and the most bloody religion that has ever infected the world."
- ↑ The New York Times: Voltaire and the Jews Arthur Hertzberg, September 30, 1990
- ↑ The History of Anti-Semitism: From Voltaire to Wagner pg. 89
- ↑ Despite this, he does sympathetically portray a mutilated black slave in Candide, who laments his treatment and says that if, as the priests taught, all people descend from Adam, that means they're cousins, and "no one could treat their relatives more horribly." This wasn't so contradictory as it might seem - most abolitionists at the time believed that black people were inferior, though opposing their enslavement, Abraham Lincoln included.
- ↑ Written in a letter to Frederick the Great
- ↑ And he was good friends with Benjamin Franklin. Let's see what the "America is a Christian nation" crowd thinks about that.