BECK index

Montesquieu, Voltaire & Rousseau

by Sanderson Beck

Montesquieu and The Spirit of the Laws
Voltaire to 1747
Voltaire’s Zadig, Candide and Socrates
Voltaire in Exile 1760-78
Rousseau to 1754
Rousseau on Inequality and Political Economy
Rousseau’s Peace Plan
Rousseau’s Novel Julie and Emile (on Education)
Rousseau’s Social Contract
Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie

Montesquieu and The Spirit of the Laws

      Charles-Louis de Secondat was born on January 18, 1689 at La Brède near Bordeaux. His mother had inherited the barony of La Brède which was passed on to him at her death in 1696. Charles-Louis attended the College de Juilly near Paris from 1700 until he went to study law at the University of Bordeaux in 1705. He graduated and became an advocate in 1708. He moved to Paris to practice law, but his father’s death in 1713 drew him back home. In 1714 he became a Counsellor in the Parlement of Bordeaux. He married a wealthy Protestant woman, and they had three children. When his uncle died in 1716, he inherited his estates and became the Baron de Montesquieu. He studied sciences and wrote papers at a new academy in Bordeaux.
      In 1721 Montesquieu published anonymously in Amsterdam his philosophical novel, Persian Letters. This book was very popular and had ten editions in the first year as his authorship became well known. The novel was influenced by Amadis de Gaule (1560), publication of the letters between Peter Abelard and Eloisa (1616), Lettres d’une religieuse portugaise (1669), Marana’s L’Esploratore turco (1684), Dufresney’s Amusements sérieux et comique (1699), Galland’s translation of the Arabian Nights (1704), and Malebranche’s Entretien d’un philosophe chrétien et d’un philosophe chinois (1708).
      In Persian Letters the Usbek is visiting Paris and writes letters to his companion Rica and other Persians who give their perspective on the customs and society of the French and other Europeans and compare their own lives in Persia. Unlike La Bruyèr in his Characters, Montesquieu names historical people such as Louis XI, Tsar Petr, Sweden’s Karl XII, and Eugene of Savoy. Montesquieu exposes prejudices such as royal absolutism and Roman Catholic dogma. A letter by Rica notes that young Louis XV has to struggle between his desire for his mistress and his conscience with his confessor. Letters also describe the political and moral relationships in a Persian seraglio. In 1754 Montesquieu published some “Reflections” on his Persian Letters, writing,

In using the letter form, in which neither
the choice of characters, nor the subjects discussed,
have to fit in with any preconceived intentions or plans,
the author has taken advantage of the fact that he can include
philosophy, politics, and moral discourse with the novel,
and can connect everything together with a secret chain
which remains, as it were, invisible.1

      The most famous of the satires is the “Myth of the Troglodytes” which is set in Arabia. They kill their tyrannical foreign king and quarrel about setting up magistrates. The people decide they should each follow their own personal interest, and so the farmers only plant enough food for themselves. During a drought those in the mountains die of starvation, and then heavy rains flood and wipe out those in the plains. A physician cures people of a terrible disease, but they refuse to pay him. More diseases kill many. Eventually only two families led by virtuous men survive because they realize that justice to others blesses themselves. Gradually this happy Troglodyte community grows. They decide to make a virtuous man king, but he weeps and advises that they are better off without a chief. He refuses to give orders and leaves them to their virtue.
      Montesquieu moved to Paris in 1722 and published anonymously the erotic essay Temple de Gnide in 1725. He attended the literary salon of Madame de Lambert and met the Marquis d’Argenson and the Abbé Castel de Saint-Pierre at the Club of the Entresol. His “Essay on Duty” and other books were influenced by the works of Cicero, Grotius, and Samuel von Pufendorf, but this essay only survives in fragments. He criticized the views of Hobbes and Spinoza but praised the ancient Stoics. Montesquieu believed that justice is eternal and does not depend upon human conventions. Cardinal Fleury objected to passages in his Persian Letters, and this delayed Montesquieu’s election into the French Academy until 1728. That year he traveled to Vienna, Venice, Milan, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, and with Lord Chesterfield through Germany and Holland to England where he stayed from 1729 until 1731. He was influenced by the political views of the Tory leader, Viscount Bolingbroke and read The Craftsman newspaper. While there Montesquieu was elected to the Royal Society and became a Freemason.
      In 1734 Montesquieu published his Considerations on the causes of the grandeur and decadence of the Romans. He observed that the Romans experienced a series of successes as a republic; but this was destroyed by the ambition of men like Julius Caesar and Pompey which led to a long period of decline of the empire which became too big in its territory and in the city of Rome. Some of the causes of its greatness he noted were adopting beneficial foreign customs, adequate laws, honorable consuls, sharing conquered land, an indomitable spirit, taking on enemies one at a time, and self-correcting government. Decadence was explained by wars in distant countries, laws inadequate to the empire, corrupt morals, partition of the empire after government was transferred to Constantinople, Asiatic luxury in imperial courts, monks involved in politics, and barbarian invasions. Edward Gibbon was inspired by this work to write a more comprehensive history of the decline of the Roman Empire.
      In his novel Histoire veritable (True History) Montesquieu described the reincarnations of a soul in the bodies of a dog, a wolf, an ox, an elephant, and many lives as men and women and then as a eunuch.

      Montesquieu worked on his greatest work, L’Sprit des lois, for twenty years before publishing it in 1748. Two years later in his “Defense of The Spirit of Laws” he responded to critics who had accused him of being a Spinozist and a deist by explaining that he had differentiated the physical world from the spiritual, had criticized atheism, accepted the creative role of God, held that belief in God is the most important natural law, and believed that justice and equity precede all positive laws. Also in 1750 Thomas Nugent translated his book into English as The Spirit of the Laws. In 1751 the Vatican placed it on the Index.
      In his foreword he explained that he used the word “virtue” to mean “political virtue” which he defined as “love of one’s country and of equality.” He defined laws as necessary relations arising from nature. The physical world has immutable laws. Intelligences superior to humans have laws, and humans have their own laws. God who created all things preserves them with laws. He called peace the first law of nature. When humans become social and lose their sense of weakness, equality ceases, leading to a state of war. As societies become stronger, wars break out between nations. The laws of nations are founded so that during peace nations may do good to one another and during war do as little injury as possible. Nations can be governed by political laws, and civil laws regulate human relations.
      Democracy is when the people have the supreme power, and aristocracy is when some people have that power. He defined monarchy as when one person governs by means of laws, but in despotism one person rules arbitrarily without following laws by using force and fear. Monarchies rely on honor, and republics depend on virtue. A person who is truthful is free. In a republic the citizens need to learn the difficult virtue of self-renunciation. Loving one’s country and the laws means that the person prefers public interest to private motives, and this love is needed in democracies. Parents can best instill this in their children by example. Not all can render equal services, but all can serve to the best of their ability. Everyone born into this world has a debt to their country. Love of equality enables people to be frugal, and these principles can be established in laws. Moderation of riches can provide compensation for the poor.
      Montesquieu wrote that men with overgrown estates may consider it an injury if they are not allowed to advance their power. Revolutions cannot occur without much effort and work. He also believed that the morals of the young may be preserved by their subordination to the old through paternal authority. In an aristocracy the spirit of moderation may replace that of equality in a democracy. Monarchies have the advantage of using a more expeditious executive power, and a monarch is more secure than a despot. Human nature perpetually rises up against despotism because people naturally love liberty and hate force and violence. Montesquieu found that despotism is more often found in warm climates that stimulate passions. In a despotic state poverty makes usury more common. In most monarchies the supreme commander is not in the military, and monarchies valuing honor need no censors because all the people censor one’s honor. Unlike despotic regimes, monarchies have courts of law to make judicial decisions. The Chinese learned that strict penal laws lead to revolutions. When people are virtuous, few punishments are necessary. In Japan’s despotic government most crimes are punished with death. Punishment should be proportional to the crime. In despotic countries retaliation is more frequent. Monarchs can offer clemency.
      Luxury results from unequal fortunes. Those depraved by luxury have many desires and may violate laws. When the rich do not share, the poor starve. Republics can be ended by luxury, and monarchies can succumb to poverty. Democracy is especially vulnerable to the spirit of extreme inequality. Aristocracy is corrupted when the nobles use arbitrary power. That a confederation is best composed of republican states is shown by the examples of Switzerland and Holland. Montesquieu justified the right of conquest based on four principles even though one of them was the golden rule to do to others what we would have done to ourselves. Yet he noted that a democratic republic which subdues another nation endangers its own liberty because it gives power to those governing the conquered provinces.
      The most influential part of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws is “Book XI. Of the Laws Which Establish Political Liberty, with regard to the Constitution.” He asserted that in societies governed by laws liberty is the power of doing what one believes one should do and in not being constrained to do what one believes one should not do. He differentiated independence from liberty which is the right to do what the laws permit. If a citizen can do what laws forbid, one would no longer have liberty because others could also do that. Montesquieu believed that liberty is found only in moderate governments but not when there is abuse of power. Governments may be constituted to prevent abuse so that no person is compelled to do things that violate the laws nor be kept from doing things the law permits.
      Every government has three kinds of power: legislative, executive, and judicial. The first enacts temporary and permanent laws and can amend or repeal laws. The second protects public security and defends the people. The third judges and punishes those who violate the laws and settles disputes between individuals. Liberty arises from the peace of mind a person has who feels secure. Governments are constituted so that individuals need not fear each other.
      When legislative and executive powers are combined in one person or a small group, there can be no liberty. This is because the monarch or oligarchy could enact tyrannical laws and execute them in tyrannical ways. If the judiciary is also combined with the other two, life and liberty are even more in danger of violence and oppression. Montesquieu found that most European kingdoms had moderate governments because the prince had the first two powers but left the judicial to his subjects. He believed that the Ottoman Empire uniting the three powers under the Sultan caused dreadful oppression. He also thought that Italian republics which united the three powers had less liberty than the monarchies. He admitted that some European monarchs have attempted to unite the three branches of government. He suggested that judges should come from the ranks of the accused as their peers. If the legislature allows the executive to imprison people without their being convicted of a crime, then liberty is lost. The people should be the legislative power; but in large states the people choose representatives to legislate for them, and they should be elected by the inhabitants of districts.
      In his time the Baron of Montesquieu believed that nobles based on birth, wealth, and honors should have the right to legislate proportionate to their “advantages” so as to check the “licentiousness” of the people. Thus he favored a bicameral legislature, and the two parts may check one another by rejecting what the other does. He also wanted the nobility to be hereditary and the executive to be a monarch. The legislature should not go a long time without meeting. The executive may be permitted to reject some legislation but not to make laws. The executive should not be allowed to raise public money which should be legislated from year to year. Armies are to be made up of the people and should live among them, not in separate camps, barracks, or fortresses, and they are to be commanded by the executive. He observed that states usually perish after the legislature becomes more corrupt than the executive.
      Philosophical liberty is the exercise of free will, but political liberty is based on security and good laws. French law required the testimony of two witness to condemn a person to death. If a person deprives another of security, then the state retaliates by taking away that person’s liberty. Montesquieu questioned the punishment of heresy, and he noted that laws only punish overt acts. Writing should not be punishable unless it is high treason. He considered capitation taxes slavery but approved of duties on merchandise.
      Montesquieu discussed the relation of climate to laws and the “rights” of slavery. He argued that sugar would be too expensive if the plants had to be cultivated without slaves. He criticized the “abuses” of slavery and warned of the danger of too many slaves. He described the development and history of laws in various cultures including laws related to commerce from the ancient times. He observed that Catholic nations often had monarchs while Protestants were more likely to be republics. He believed that penal laws should be avoided in respect to religion because he acknowledged that human laws are essentially different from those of religion. He quoted the following passage from Josephus’ On Jewish Wars 2:12:

The Essenes made a vow to observe justice to mankind,
to do no ill to any person, upon whatsoever account,
to keep faith with all the world, to hate injustice,
to command with modesty, always to side with truth,
and to fly from all unlawful gain.

      Montesquieu’s greatest contribution is separating the power of the three main branches of government as legislative, executive, and judicial in order to maintain liberty and prevent tyranny. Yet his favoring an aristocratic senate to check a democratic house to maintain the advantages of his class exposed his prejudice as did his acceptance of the tradition that monarchies and aristocracies should be hereditary. His defense of slavery is deplorable, but he was one of the first to consider how climate affects societies and politics. His analysis of early European history showed the way for the work of Gibbon.

Voltaire to 1747

      François-Marie Arouet was born in Paris on November 21, 1694. Sometimes he claimed to have been born on February 20 which could have coincided with his conception. He came to believe that his genetic father was the officer Rochebrune who wrote songs. His mother died on July 13, 1701, and his older brother Armand, whom he disliked, left home two or three years later. He admired his godfather, the Abbé de Châteauneuf, who was an epicurean and a free-thinker. In October 1704 he was sent to the Jesuit College de Louis-le-Grand for seven years and learned Latin, theology, and rhetoric; his teacher Charles Porée was a humanist. He learned how to learn so that he could educate himself, and he later became fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.
      His father Arouet wanted him to go to law school, but the young François found that he preferred literature. His father sent him to Caen to get him away from Paris before he took a job as a secretary in the French embassy at The Hague. He fell in love with Olympe, but after a failed attempt to elope the French ambassador sent him back to Paris in December 1713. He liked talking with free-thinkers in the Temple, and he became known for his wit and epigrams. After making fun of the Regent Philippe II, François was arrested on May 16, 1717. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year which he spent working on his epic poem about Henri IV and finishing his tragedy Oedipus. He wrote to a friend that prison helped him learn how to harden himself against adversity. After he was released, he began using the name Voltaire.
      Voltaire worked on his tragedy Oedipus for six years before it was finally produced at the Comédie Française on November 18, 1718. In his adaptation of the great play by Sophocles he added a romance between Philoctete and Jocaste, and its initial long run of 45 performances was not surpassed by any tragedy in the 18th century. His share of the profits was more than 3,000 livres. The play reflected on the incestuous relationship between Regent Philippe and his daughter, the Duchess of Berry, who attended the play while pregnant.
      Voltaire’s father Arouet died on January 1, 1722 and left his son François one-third of his estate in trust. Voltaire had 4,000 copies of his epic poem La Henriade secretly printed in Rouen and then released in Paris in January 1724. The poem has 4,300 lines of Alexandrine couplets in ten cantos, was written in imitation of Virgil’s Aeneid, and describes the Protestant Henri de Bourbon, King of Navarre, civil wars in France during the reigns of Charles IX and Henri III, religious fanaticism, the assassination of Henri III, Henri of Navarre’s conversion to Catholicism in order to become King Henri IV of France, his valor and clemency, and finally his entrance into Paris. After this work the Regent gave Voltaire a medal and an annuity of 1,200 livres.
      In February 1724 Voltaire let the actors present his historical tragedy Mariamne about her jealous husband, King Herod the Great; but the audience did not like its portrayal of cruelty, hatred, and tyranny, and it closed after one performance. Then when Augustin Nadal presented his play with the same name, the audience hissed and demanded to see Voltaire’s play. After a revision his Hérode et Mariamne was presented at the Comédie Française in April 1725 and was well received. That year the chevalier Guy Auguste de Rohan-Chabot criticized Voltaire for changing his name, and they quarreled. While Voltaire was dining at the home of the Duke of Sully, Rohan had six servants call Voltaire to the door and beat him. He considered challenging the chevalier to a duel, but Rohan’s family had him taken to the Bastille. After he offered to go to England, he was released.
      Voltaire arrived in England in May 1726. Viscount Bolingbroke had recently returned and introduced the French poet to kindred souls. Voltaire learned English so that he could read the philosophy of John Locke. Alexander Pope had recently published his Dunciad. Voltaire at first felt pity for his physical deformities but soon was admiring his brilliant mind and conversation. He read Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, called him the French Rabelais, and urged its translation. He saw several plays by Shakespeare, recommended them to the French, and wrote much aboutHamlet. To stimulate interest in his epic La Henriade he wrote essays on the civil wars in France and on epic poetry. After quarreling with Bolingbroke he turned to the liberal prime minister Robert Walpole. Voltaire left England before the end of 1728.
      While in England he wrote extensively in his notebooks, and these were published as Letters Concerning the English Nation at London in 1733 and as Lettres philosophiques at Rouen in 1734. The first four letters are about the Quakers. One welcomed him into his humble home and explained that he had never been baptized because they do not believe that sprinkling water on a child’s head makes one a Christian. He noted that Jesus never baptized anyone, and they follow the Christ. The man said they have no ceremonies but a communion of hearts as they oppose “sacraments” they consider human inventions. They never swear, not even in a court of justice. They refuse to take up arms and do not fear death. God commanded them to love their enemies and suffer without regret.
      Voltaire attended an assembly with about 400 men and 300 women, and they sat in complete silence for a quarter of an hour before anyone spoke. Women were allowed to speak. Quakers are open to the Light which enlightens all mankind, and they believe that religion was corrupted almost immediately after the death of Jesus. During the English Civil War that started in 1642 George Fox converted many soldiers, and Oliver Cromwell began persecuting Quakers who also suffered under King Charles II. Voltaire wrote that William Penn established the power of Quakers in America, creating a golden age in Pennsylvania that probably never existed anywhere else. He observed that the Quaker religion was declining in England because in any country where the established religion is mild and tolerating it consumes the rest.
      In his next letter on the Church of England he noted that no one could be employed in England or Ireland who was not a member of the Church of England which adopted many ceremonies from the Church of Rome. In Scotland the established religion was Presbyterians, and he also wrote about the anti-trinitarian Socinians. Voltaire described the English Parliament, its government, and trade. He explained how the English are inoculated to prevent smallpox. He wrote about the life of Francis Bacon, the philosophy of John Locke, and he compared Descartes to Isaac Newton and explained his law of gravity and study of optics.
      Voltaire’s tragedy Brutus opened in December 1730 depicting the ancient Roman consul Brutus during the Tarquin war in 509 BC that had also been dramatized by Nathaniel Lee in 1680. In act 2 scene 1 his son Titus says, “My duty calls, and that shall be obeyed. Man may be free if he resolves to be so.” In the end patriotic Brutus orders the execution of Titus because he supported the Tarquins.
      Early in 1731 Voltaire completed his History of Charles XII. With royal approval he had 2,600 copies printed; but to please August III of Poland, Louis XV ordered all copies but one confiscated. Voltaire secretly went to Rouen and five months later had the history printed again, and by October they were circulating widely. His Charles XII went through many editions and seven revisions by 1768. He also published his adaptation of Julius Caesar as La Mort de César, reducing the speaking roles from 48 to 11, but its production in 1736 failed.
      Voltaire wrote the romantic tragedy Zaire in three weeks, and it was produced on August 13, 1732. This popular play was his first with French characters and was set during the crusades in the time of St. Louis IX, though it is fictional. Muslims had captured the slave baby Zaire who was raised by Nérestan in the palace of Orosmane the Sultan of Jerusalem. While Nérestan is away raising ransom money for Christian slaves the Sultan falls in love with Zaire. Nérestan returns on their wedding day, but the Christian Lusignan notices a cross she wears and says that she and Nérestan are his lost Christian children. Now they do not want her to wed a Muslim and make her promise to be baptized that night without telling Orosmane. She asks him to delay the wedding. He becomes suspicious and intercepts a letter from Nérestan to her and is afraid she has a lover. Orosmane goes to the meeting place, has Nérestan arrested, and kills Zaire with his dagger. When Orosmane finds out the truth, he stabs himself to death. Voltaire played the role of Lusignan who had been imprisoned and exiled.
      Voltaire invested his earnings and became financially independent. In the spring of 1733 he fell in love with married Émilie du Châtelet. A warrant for his arrest was issued in May 1734, and he took refuge with her at Cirey in Champagne. In March 1735 the police advised Voltaire that he could return to Paris. Émilie was involved in scientific research and wrote that the love of study is the passion most necessary for happiness. In later years they both had other lovers, and she died while giving birth to the dead child of Jean François de Saint-Lambert in September 1749. Saint-Lambert destroyed the correspondence between Voltaire and her.
      Voltaire wrote the Christian tragedy Alzire to placate the devout, and it was produced in January 1736. He wrote in the preface that he hoped to discover how the spirit of true religion is superior to natural virtues. Set in Peru he contrasted the beliefs of the Incas to the Spanish conquerors. He argued that badly instructed Christians seldom show much more humanity, though they may say prayers while they conceal their vices; but the true Christian considers all mankind as his brothers and does to them all the good he can and pardons their offenses. In his own works he desires to promote the happiness of all people while hating injustice and oppression. In the play Alvarez passes on the governorship to his son Gusman and asks if he can serve a God of peace with war and slaughter and whether he can teach the laws and tender humanity while plundering gold. Gusman wants to marry King Montèze’s daughter Alzire, but she is in love with the leader Zamore, but believing he is dead, she marries Gusman. Zamore returns, is arrested, and his insurrection fails; but he escapes and mortally wounds Gusman. He offers to spare Zamore and Alzire if they become Christians; but they refuse. Gusman pardons them to show his Christian charity and dies.
      Also in 1736 Voltaire published his philosophical poem “Le Mondain (The Worldly Man)” which satirized Christian myths of the Garden of Eden. This aroused the ire of his enemies, and he visited the Low Countries in December. Madame du Châtelet learned English to translate Newton and The Fable of the Bees by Bernard de Mandeville. Voltaire helped spread the ideas of Newton by publishing his Elements of the Philosophy of Newton in 1738, and he was elected to the Royal Society in England and in Scotland.
      Voltaire lived mostly at Cirey in Champagne with Émilie du Châtelet 1736-41. He worked on his writing, and both conducted scientific experiments. Prince Friedrich of Prussia wrote to Voltaire in August 1736, and in 1737 they exchanged more than thirty letters. In the winter of 1738-39 Mme. de Graffigny visited Cirey for ten weeks. In 1739 and 1740 Voltaire spent much time in Brussels and The Hague.
      Voltaire’s tragedy Mahomet about religious fanaticism was produced at Lille on April 25, 1741 and at Paris in August 1742. Although the play was very popular, authorities, believing it was aimed at all religions, had it stopped after three performances. The tragic plot is fictional within the historical context of Muhammad’s later years when with a growing movement he returned to take over Mecca with his new religion in 628-29. In his dedication to the King of Prussia on January 20, 1742 Voltaire wrote that he was motivated by love of mankind and hatred of fanaticism, and he believed that tragedy should correct and move the heart. He noted that the comedy Tartuffe had benefited the world by exposing religious hypocrisy, and he pointed out that Christians have killed in the name of God. He considered Muhammad an impostor and mocked his revelations, and he noted that to promote superstition his murderous conquests ravished women. He wrote that a spirit of indulgence makes us brothers, but persecution makes only monsters.
      In the tragedy Mahomet Zopir has banished the hypocrite Mahomet from Mecca, but he is considered a prophet in Medina. Zopir says he lost his wife and two children to this, but he killed Mahomet’s son. Zopir’s daughter Palmira and his son Seid have been held by Mahomet for many years. Palmira says that Mahomet has been a father to her. Omar arrives with a message of peace from Mahomet, offering a third of the spoils, but Zopir wants to free his country from the tyrant. Omar says

Men are equal all;
from virtue only true distinction springs, and not from birth:
there are exalted spirits who claim respect and honor
from themselves and not their ancestors;
these, these, my lord, are heaven’s peculiar care,
and such is he whom I obey,
and who alone deserves to be a master.2

Seid is devoted to Palmira and says he will fight for Mahomet to take Mecca. Omar reports that the gates of Mecca have been opened to Mahomet who has proclaimed peace. Mahomet tells them to worship his God. He loves Palmira but realizes that she and Seid love each other. Arabia is arising to renown, and he wants his faith to found an empire. Zopir defies this, but Mahomet will force him to submit. Zopir says his god is justice, and Mahomet tells him his children are alive and are his prisoners. He asks him to give up Mecca and have his people read the Koran, but Zopir refuses. Omar warns Mahomet that half the senate is against him. Seid and Palmira believe they are orphans, and they are loyal to Mahomet. Omar says Zopir must die, and Mahomet orders Seid to kill Zopir, who tells Seid that Mahomet has enslaved him. Seid tells Palmira he is going to kill Zopir, but she says love should not make them cruel. Zopir wants to embrace his children. Seid does not believe him and attacks Zopir with his sword. Seid and Palmira learn that he is their father. Palmira asks Seid to kill her, but dying Zopir embraces them and asks them to avenge his murder. Omar tells Mahomet that Seid has drunk the poison. Palmira calls Mahomet an impostor and a savage. Omar reports that Seid has aroused a rebellion; but when they appear, Seid is dying of the poison. The rebels withdraw. Palmira stabs herself and says the world was made for tyrants as she dies. Mahomet hopes to reign over a deluded world.
      The financier Joseph Paris Duverney supervised military supplies, and he helped Voltaire amass a fortune. In June 1742 King Friedrich II of Prussia renounced his alliance with France to make peace with Austria and gain Silesia, and Voltaire wrote to commend him for forcing European powers to make peace. Voltaire visited him in Berlin on a secret mission for Louis XV. His tragedy Mérope about a mythical Greek queen was produced on February 20, 1743 and was improved for a longer run in 1744. On February 25, 1745 his libretto of the romantic ballet La Princesse de Navarre with music by Jean-Philippe Rameau was produced at Versailles. On April 1 Voltaire was appointed historiographer of France, and after the battle of Fontenoy on May 11 he wrote his famous Poème de Fontenoy to commemorate the heroism and cruelty on both sides. That year he took his niece Marie-Louise, the widow of Nicolas-Charles Denis, as his mistress. Voltaire had to wait to be elected to the Académie Française until Madame Pompadour helped him get admitted in April 1746. After Madame du Châtelet lost much money gambling at the Queen’s table in 1747, Voltaire advised her that she was being cheated. This remark was overheard, and he and Emilie took refuge at the country estate of the Duchesse du Maine.

Voltaire’s Zadig, Candide and Socrates

      In 1747 Voltaire published his philosophical novel Zadig, or The Book of Destiny based on a Persian tale from 1302 and The Three Princes of Serendip by Michele Tramezzino (1557). He attributed the dedication to the great Persian writer Sa'di who died in 1292.
      Young Zadig in Babylon knows how to master his passions and wants to marry beautiful and rich Sémire; but in fighting for her against Orcan he injures an eye, and she weds Orcan instead. Zadig decides to marry well-born Azora, but after their honeymoon he discovers her anger. As a philosopher he studies living things and discovers truths, lives in peace, and fears nothing. An envious man accuses him of writing a poem criticizing the King, and Zadig is put in prison. With the help of the King’s parrot and the Queen, he wins over the King and is appointed prime minister. He makes people feel “the sacred power of the laws,” allows free speech, and lets the laws judge but tempers those that are too severe. He believes it is better to save a guilty man than to condemn the innocent. He brings light to the truth which men obscure.
      Zadig and Queen Astarté fall in love, and he escapes from King Moabdar’s jealousy by fleeing to Egypt. There Zadig kills a man who was attacking a woman, and he is sold as a slave to Sétoc who comes to admire his wisdom. Zadig intervenes to prevent the widow Almona from killing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, and angry priests want him killed. In a discussion with an Egyptian, a Chaldean, an Indian, a Greek, a Celt, and a Chinese, Zadig agrees with the Greek that they all admit there is a superior Being. Almona marries Sétoc and persuades him to free Zadig who heads for Babylon. On his way Arab brigands led by Arbogad tell him that rebels killed King Moabdar. They let him go, and Zadig persuades a fisherman not to take his own life. He meets women searching for a basilisk so that they can marry a lord. One of them is Astarté who tells how she was captured by Arbogad and sold to Lord Ogul. Zadig acts as a physician and has exercise cure Ogul so that he releases Astarté.
      The couple returns to Babylon, and she is accepted as Queen. Zadig in the contest to become king defeats four knights; but while he is asleep, the knight Itobad steals his armor and claims the victory. Zadig meets a hermit who does peculiar things before revealing he is the angel Jesrad. He explains that evil exists on Earth, but only wisdom exists in the eternal home of the Supreme Being who has created millions of worlds. Zadig returns to Babylon and says the answer to a riddle is time, explaining,

Nothing is longer, since it is the measure of eternity;
nothing is shorter, since it is lacking for all our plans;
nothing is slower for him who waits,
nothing swifter for him who enjoys;
it extends right to infinity in greatness;
it is divisible right down to infinity in smallness;
all men neglect it, all regret its loss, nothing is done without it;
it brings oblivion to all that is unworthy of posterity,
and it makes great things immortal.3

He answers that what we receive without giving thanks, enjoy without knowing how, give to others, and lose without noticing it is life. His friend Cador proves that the armor is Zadig’s. The people recognize Zadig as king, and he marries Astarté. The empire enjoys peace, glory, and abundance governed by justice and love.

      Voltaire’s tragicomedy Sémiramis was produced on August 29, 1748 with moderate success, though it became popular in the provinces and abroad. In 1750 Voltaire wrote La Voix du sage et du peuple, arguing that the Church should contribute its share to the expenses of the nation to exemplify its teachings. He complained that the monasteries were wasting the seeds of men and the resources of the land. The Catholic Church put it on the Index, and on May 21, 1751 the French government itself condemned the pamphlet.
      In July 1750 Voltaire visited Friedrich II at his court at Potsdam in Prussia. The King had ordered that devalued banknotes from Saxony bought by Prussians be redeemed at face value. Prussians were buying them at low prices in Holland, and Friedrich prohibited their importation. Voltaire persuaded the Jewish banker Abraham Herschel to buy them in Dresden at 35% of their value, but they both changed their minds. Voltaire tried to bribe Herschel with diamonds, and they quarreled. Voltaire knocked him down and had him arrested. In the trial on December 30 Herschel revealed Voltaire’s plan to buy Saxon bonds, and Voltaire denied it, saying he sent him to buy furs. Friedrich sent an angry letter to Voltaire in February, and in March 1751 Voltaire moved to the Marquisat summer house near the Brandenburger Tor for a more peaceful life.
      Voltaire published his Age of Louis XIV by the end of 1751. The French mathematician Pierre Louis Maupertuis was the head of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres in Berlin. He accused law professor Johann Samuel Koenig of forgery, and on April 13, 1752 he was found guilty. Koenig resigned and wrote an appeal. Voltaire believed that his conviction was unjust and in November published his Diatribe of Dr. Akakia to satirize Maupertuis. This offended Friedrich, and Voltaire left Prussia on March 26, 1753. He was held under house arrest for a while at a Frankfurt inn, and Louis XV warned him not to come to Paris. After staying at Colmar for more than a year Voltaire moved to Geneva in December 1754. Geneva stopped him from presenting plays at his Les Délices estate, but in August 1755 his historical play The Orphan of China portraying the Tatar Emperor Genghis Khan was successfully produced at the Comédie Française.
      Voltaire worked for many years on his epic poem, The Maid of Orléans, about Jeanne d’Arc for his own amusement. By 1755 about 6,000 manuscript copies were circulating in Paris. More than twenty pirated editions came out, and so in 1762 he published his authorized edition in 21 books and about 8,300 lines of rhymed verse. The historical account entertained by emphasizing her struggle to maintain her virginity during her brief career as a successful leader of armies. The poem was considered so scandalous that it was banned in much of Europe for more than a century.
      After more than twenty years of work in 1756 Voltaire published his Essay on the Customs and the Spirit of Nations in seven volumes. He endeavored to make his history more universal by including two chapters each on China and India, one on Persia, and two on Arabs and Islam. In the introduction he wrote that he hoped to provide the genius, manners, and customs of the principal nations supported by the facts so that no intelligent person should remain ignorant. In chapter 70 on Europe he wrote, “This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
      Jean d’Alembert visited Voltaire at Les Délices, and his article on Geneva in Diderot’s Encyclopédie in November 1757 aroused controversy. In 1758 Rousseau published his Lettre a d’Alembert sur les spectacles criticizing Voltaire. That year Voltaire purchased the estate at Ferney at the edge of France and only three miles from Geneva. There he could cultivate his garden and promote agricultural reform. He even had the church renovated with “Voltaire erected this to God” carved on the façade.

      Voltaire published his most famous work, the novella Candide or Optimism, in January 1759, claiming it was translated from the German of Doctor Ralph in order to gain some temporary anonymity. On March 5 the Great Council of Geneva ordered it burned, and Voltaire denied he was the author. In the first year it sold about 25,000 copies in France.
      Candide was born the natural son of a baron’s sister in Wesphalia. He is tutored by Dr. Pangloss who teaches him the metaphysical, theological, and cosmological philosophy of Leibnitz by referring to cause and effect, sufficient reason, and the spiritual view that God provides everything for the best. Candide falls in love with the baron’s pretty daughter Cunégonde; they blush, kiss, and their hands wander; but the baron drives him out of the castle penniless. Candide is soon recruited into the army of the Bulgar king as he chooses that and flogging rather than death. He experiences a battle in which 30,000 people are killed. He escapes from the army and is helped by the Anabaptist Jacques. They find Pangloss who tells him that Cunégonde was killed by Bulgar soldiers, and her servant Paquette has a deadly disease (syphilis) that is traced back to the crew of Columbus. Jacques cures Pangloss who loses an eye and an ear but survives. After a shipwreck Jacques drowns while Candide and Pangloss swim to shore. They arrive in Lisbon as the earthquake hits on November 1, 1755 that killed about 35,000 people. This disaster is followed by a ceremony of repentance (auto-da-fé) during which Pangloss is hanged, and Candide is flogged again. Cunégonde finds him and tells how soldiers raped her and stabbed her. Then she was made the sexual slave of the Jewish banker Don Issachar and a grand inquisitor on alternating days. Candide kills Issachar in self-defense and then runs through the prelate with his sword.
      Candide and Cunégonde travel to Cadiz. An old woman tells how she was enslaved in Morocco with her mother, saw her mother and other Italian women killed, and has half her buttocks cut off for food before becoming a servant to Issachar. They travel to Buenos Aires, and the old woman calls on the governor and warns Candide to get out of town. He and his servant Cacambo go to Paraguay where Candide finds Cunégonde’s brother who refuses to let him marry her. They duel with swords, and Candide stabs him in the stomach and flees. Candide and Cacambo see two naked Biglug women being chased by two monkeys. They kill the monkeys, and the women grieve their loss. The Biglugs capture them and plan to eat their enemies, but Cacambo explains that his master killed a Jesuit. This proves to the Biglugs that they are their friends, and they offer them food and girls.
      Candide and his servant find El Dorado which has extraordinary amounts of gold and gems. An old man explains they have only one religion because there is only one God. They are all priests but do not pray because they have everything they need; they only give thanks. Candide decides to leave, and they are given fifty sheep loaded with gold and diamonds, and a machine is built to take them out of country. After a hundred days they have only two sheep left. In Suriname they are robbed. Cacambo goes to Buenos Aires to look for Cunégonde. Candide hires the old scholar Martin, a Manichaean who believes that this world is balanced between good and evil. They sail to France. Candide asks Martin if he believes men have always been murderers, liars, and thieves with other vices; Martin asks if hawks always eat pigeons. Candide becomes ill, and medicine and bleeding make him worse. They go to England and witness the execution of Admiral Byng by a firing squad on March 14, 1757.
      They sail to Venice, where they find Paquette who has become a prostitute. At a hotel they see Cacambo at a banquet with six kings who lost power. Cacambo has been enslaved, and Candide purchases his freedom. Cacambo tells him that Cunégonde is in Constantinople (Istanbul). There they come across the baron and Pangloss who explain how they survived. Candide uses diamonds to ransom the two from Jews. Finally Candide finds Cunégonde, who is now old and ugly. Still the baron refuses to let her marry Candide, and the others decide to send the baron back to the father general in Rome. After all his ordeals Pangloss still believes this world is good. Candide and Martin discuss whether it is better to suffer all these miseries or sit here and do nothing, and they ask a famous dervish philosopher who hears ideas from Pangloss and then slams the door. Candide has little money left but a farm and suggests that they cultivate their garden.
      This great novella written and set during the Seven Years War portrays the misery of the human condition to show the contrast with the optimism of a spiritual philosophy.

      Also in 1759 Voltaire presented his play Socrates in three acts. The first act is taken up in discussing the possible marriages of Aglae who had been brought up by Socrates. She loves her foster brother Sophronimus, whom Socrates also raised, and he wants to marry her. Anitus, the high priest of Ceres (Demeter) also wants to marry Aglae; but she does not like him and refuses to marry at all. Drixa works with Xantippe, the wife of Socrates, to try to get Aglae to wed Anitus without success. Frustrated Anitus then decides to have Socrates put to death by the state.
      In the second act Sophronimus warns Socrates that Anitus will seek revenge; but Socrates says that when they take care never to offend God and to do all the good they can to mankind, then they need not fear anything while alive or after death. Anitus persuades judges to accuse Socrates of being an enemy of the state and of perverting the Athenian youth, and the first judge Melitus agrees to destroy Socrates. Terpander blames Socrates for having offered money so that Aglae could marry Sophronimus. Drixa blames Socrates for criticizing the useless gold and silver in the temple and calls him a deist for denying the gods, for believing in one God, and for being an atheist. Melitus asks the judges if Socrates should be sent to prison. One wants to hear him first, but Anitus argues against that. Aglae pleads for Socrates and offers with Sophronimus to go to prison in his place. Melitus notes how Socrates has corrupted these youngsters. Socrates declines to oppose the will of heaven which speaks by the laws, and he submits to the divine decree. He says he is equally free at home or in prison, and he is grateful for friendship and happy. A judge says they have permission to speak with him before the trial. Anitus warns Socrates that his life is in danger; but Socrates says that does not matter, and he is taken to prison.
      In the third act at the tribunal Melitus accuses Socrates of being a bad citizen, corrupting youth, denying the gods, and being a heretic, a deist, and an atheist. Socrates urges the judges to be good citizens, to direct the young by their example, to teach them to love virtue, and to avoid scholarly philosophy. He tells the judges there is only one God with an infinite nature that is connected to all beings. He advises against turning religion into metaphysics when its essence is morality. The way to become children of God is to please God. To deserve being judges they should never pass an unjust sentence. If they suggest that people worship ridiculous things, they will not believe anything. Learning of absurd doctrines they will not raise their minds to discover the law of truth. They will laugh at deceits and not worship the all-powerful, just, and eternal God. One judge says that Socrates spoke wisely, and he suggests he should be rewarded, not condemned. Anitus questions Socrates who says that virtue acts from the right divine. Anitus and Melitus have Socrates taken away. A judge says it is dangerous to offend Anitus, and another says that Socrates should not be in the right so publicly. Another leaves it to Anitus, and one more says he should be put to death for heresy. Melitus calls back Socrates and tells him that the gods have condemned him to drink hemlock. Socrates says they are all mortal and will die. One judge says Socrates deserves a pension, but another says it is best to get rid of a philosopher.
      Crito and other friends visit Socrates in prison, and he discusses the immortality of the soul which must appear before a just God who will reward virtue, punish vice, and pardon weakness. The jailer brings the hemlock. After saying that his soul, not his body, instructed them, Socrates drinks the poison. He says those who commit legal murders often condemn those who worship one God and oppose superstition. Socrates says he dies content. He obeys the unjust law because it only oppressed him and no one else. He urges Xantippe to curb her temper and his disciples to listen to the voice of philosophy. Then he says farewell and dies. Sophronimus proposes building temples to Socrates, but Crito says that wisdom teaches that temples should be raised only to God.

Voltaire in Exile 1760-78

      On September 3, 1760 Voltaire produced his tragedy Tancrède in verse, and it was well attended. Set in Syracuse in 1005 Tancrède is a Norman knight who champions his fiancée Aménaide and fights heroically in battle before he is killed. Voltaire dedicated the play to Madame de Pompadour and hoped that it would get him attention at court.
      On March 24, 1762 Voltaire produced his tragedy Olympia at Ferney, but it did not play in Paris until two years later. The story takes place after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and depicts two of his successors, Cassander and Antigonus, who compete for some of his recently conquered empire. Olympia is the daughter of Alexander’s widow Statira, and she is torn between her love for her mother and for Cassander. The play was adapted into an opera in 1819 by Gaspare Spontini.
      Voltaire advocated rights for workers and established factories for making stockings and watches at Ferney. He tried but failed to bring about the liberation of serfs in the Jura, but he did manage to get the customs barrier removed on the road between Geneva and Gex in the Jura. These efforts made him popular in the region, and his letters to the Duc de Richelieu, the Duc de Choiseul, Madame du Barry, Friedrich II of Prussia, and Ekaterina II of Russia increased his fame. He supported the Italian scientist Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani who criticized the notion of spontaneous generation of microscopic organisms. Voltaire promoted the civil power of the state. After his death Louis XVI in 1779 freed the serfs in the royal domains but not on property owned by the Church.
      After the Protestant cloth merchant Jean Calas was tortured, he was executed on March 10, 1762 for killing his son Marc-Antoine ostensibly to prevent him from becoming a Catholic. Voltaire investigated the case and came to believe that Jean Calas was innocent. In the next nine months he wrote more than a hundred letters to challenge the verdict. In July he printed the pamphlet “Original Documents” with letters by the Calas family, and in April 1763 he published his Treatise on Tolerance on the Occasion of the Death of Jean Calas from the Judgment Rendered in Toulouse. This book was not released in Geneva until November, and a few copies made it to Paris in December. Eventually in June 1764 the King’s Council unanimously annulled the verdict and the sentence of the Toulouse Parlement. Voltaire later wrote that opinion governs the world and that philosophers govern men’s opinions. In his Traité sur la tolérance he argued that human errors are crimes only if they injure society, and this occurs especially when they are caused by fanaticism. Thus fanatics do not deserve toleration. Voltaire urged men to remember they are brothers, and he asked them to hate the tyranny which enslaves the mind.
      Young Elisabeth Sirven was kidnapped and turned over to the Bishop of Castres who tried to force her to convert to Roman Catholicism. Under the torture she went mad, and after being released her dead body was found in a well on January 4, 1762. Her parents were condemned to death, and two sisters were to witness the executions before being banished; but the four were warned and escaped to Ferney where Voltaire defended them until they were acquitted in November 1771 and finally rehabilitated in May 1775.
      In July 1764 Voltaire began circulating his Dictionnaire Philosophique Portatif (Portable Philosophical Dictionary), and he expanded the Philosophical Dictionary several times during the rest of his life. He continued the work on his La Raison par alphabet and Questions sur Encyclopédie articles, and several volumes were published in 1770. After his death Condorcet and Beaumarchais in their Kehl edition of his works added many of his essays into the Philosophical Dictionary expanding it to ten volumes. Voltaire accepted Locke’s admonition, “Define your terms.” In the article “Superstition” he wrote, “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.” The article “Civil and Ecclesiastical Laws” includes,

Let the punishments of criminals be useful.
A hanged man is good for nothing;
a man condemned to public works still serves the country,
and is a living lesson.

In the article “Tolerance” Voltaire wrote,

Of all religions, the Christian is without doubt the one
which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now
the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men….
This horrible discord, which has lasted for so many centuries,
is a very striking lesson
that we should pardon each other’s errors;
discord is the great ill of mankind;
and tolerance is the only remedy for it.

      In January 1765 Voltaire criticized Rousseau in his anonymous Le Sentiment des Citoyens, and he published his secret letters. During a visit James Boswell asked Voltaire if he wanted no public worship, and the philosopher suggested that people could meet four times a year to thank God with music for all the gifts, adding that there is one God and one sun, and they could have one religion so that all mankind would be brothers. In 1765 he wrote Questions on Miracles and later published them as letters. He is often quoted for his idea, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” The next year he wrote a commentary on Cesare Beccaria’s On Crimes and Their Punishment agreeing with his condemnation of torture, punishment, and the extirpation of heretics, witches, and traitors, and he argued that suicide should not be considered a crime.
      In November he published the pamphlet Idées Républicaines in which he criticized Rousseau’s Social Contract and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. Voltaire favored a civil government that is the will of all who support the laws. In a republic freedom to publish one’s thoughts should be a natural right; but he noted that under the British monarchy men are more free than others because they are more enlightened. The Social Contract was burned for being dangerous, but he argued that it should have been refuted instead. There is no perfect government because men have passions; but a republic is the best because it brings men closest to equality.
      The young chevalier de La Barre refused to doff his hat to a religious procession and was found guilty of this and other “blasphemies,” and he was tortured and executed on July 1, 1766. Voltaire defended his reputation and his companions who had escaped.
      Voltaire wrote some “Instructions for a Royal Prince” that included the advice to sustain justice and to submit to it himself and never to condemn anyone without due process of law nor torture anyone. If he needed money, he should sell his woods, silver and diamonds but never legal offices. In L’Homme aux quarante écus he blamed the injustice of poverty on government and the church because of neglecting agriculture, the unproductive church, luxury, spending money abroad, and war.
      In his story ‘L’Ingénu” in 1767 Voltaire wrote, “History is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.” In 1768 in The Critical Review, or Annals of Literature in 1768 he wrote, “Religion may be purified. This great work was begun two hundred years ago: but men can only bear light to come in upon them by degrees.” In 1769 he published his History of the Parlement of Paris which was mostly a judicial body and had little legislative power except to register royal edicts or “remonstrate” against them. Then the King could attend a plenary session called a lit de justice and force them to submit or face exile or imprisonment. Voltaire suggested that major reform was needed.
      In a letter to the author of the Book on Three Impostors on November 10, 1770 Voltaire quoted himself as having said, “If God did not exist, he would have to be invented,” but then he wrote,

But all nature cries aloud that he does exist:
that there is a supreme intelligence,
an immense power, an admirable order,
and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.

In 1769 in Dieu et les hommes he began by examining the crimes and follies of religion, claiming that Christianity was responsible for murdering 9,468,800 humans. In 1771 in his article “God” he observed that reason was “establishing its reign.” That year in “Rights” he wrote, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” In November 1773 Voltaire satirized the weapons of war in La Tactique and ended the poem by mentioning Saint-Pierre’s “impracticable peace.”
      In February 1777 the Gazette de Berne announced a prize for the best essay on criminal law reform, and Voltaire anonymously contributed 50 louis d’ors to the prize. Eight months later he published Le Prix de la justice et de l’humanité. He excoriated the policy of revenge in criminal law, arguing that it is more important to prevent crimes than to punish them. Property laws are made by the rich and impact the poor. He suggested removing the necessity of begging instead of punishing beggars, and he proposed foundling homes for newborn babies so that desperate mothers would not kill their infants. He considered the death penalty for theft barbaric as well as for heresy and sorcery. He noted that after Christians stopped burning witches, sorcery disappeared. He called it folly to punish people for their words which do not lead to criminal action. Thus speech and writing should be free. He also opposed punishing abnormal sexual relations between adults. He criticized clerics who tried to intimidate informers with threats of punishment in the next world. Often torture was their last argument. He noted that even Caligula and Nero refrained from torturing Roman citizens but only used it on slaves, and that was opposed by Quintilian. He observed that his and others’ efforts led to the abolition of torture in the Russian and Austrian empires and by the King of Prussia and others. He blamed the Catholic Church’s prohibition against divorce for the false vows used to get out of marriages. He also found that witnesses in trials are often untrustworthy. Finally he praised Louis XVI for moderating military laws and for abolishing the death penalty for deserters. Yet Voltaire held on to a few exceptions for torture and the death penalty such as in cases of assassinations of kings such as Henri IV, though Cesare Beccaria advocated the complete abolition of torture and capital punishment.
      Voltaire returned to Paris on February 10, 1778 for the last one hundred days of his life. He was visited by Ben Franklin and blessed his grandson saying, “God and liberty.” On the 28th he wrote in a note to his secretary, Jean-Louis Wagnière this declaration: “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.” He attended rehearsals and was cheered at a performance of his verse tragedy Irene. On his deathbed he was asked if he believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and he replied, “In the name of God, sir, do not speak to me any more about that man, and let me die in peace.”4 He died on May 30.
      Voltaire’s surviving writings are about fifteen million words including 15,284 letters. The Marquis de Condorcet wrote in his biography of Voltaire this eulogy:

The history of what has been done in Europe
on behalf of reason and humanity
is that of his writings and of his contemporaries.
If the absurd and dangerous practice of burying the dead
within the walls of cities, and even in temples,
has been abolished in some countries;
if in some parts of the continent of Europe men avoid,
by inoculation, a scourge which menaces life
and often destroys happiness;
if the clergy of the countries subject to the Roman religion
have lost their dangerous power,
and will lose their scandalous wealth;
if the liberty of the press has there made some progress;
if in Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia,
the states of the house of Austria,
a tyrannical intolerance has vanished;
if men have dared somewhat to diminish it
even in France and some states of Italy;
if the shameful remnants of feudal slavery
have been shaken in Russia, Denmark, Bohemia and France;
if even Poland today feels its injustice and its danger;
if the absurd and barbarous laws of nearly all people
have been abolished, or are menaced by early destruction;
if the need to reform the law and the courts
has everywhere been felt;
if, on the continent of Europe, men have realized that
they have the right to use their reason;
if religious prejudices have been destroyed
in the upper classes of society,
and weakened at court and among the people;
if the defenders of these prejudices
have been reduced to the shameful necessity
of language common to all governments;
if wars have become less frequent;
if nobody dares any longer advance the pride of monarchs
or pretentions which time has rusted as pretexts for war;
if we have witnessed the fall of all the impostures and masks
beneath which privileged castes were able to deceive mankind;
if for the first time reason has started
to diffuse over the people of Europe a pure and steady light;
everywhere, in the history of these changes
will be found the name of Voltaire,
everywhere he will be found beginning the fight
or determining the victory.5

Rousseau to 1754

      Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712, but his mother died nine days later of puerperal fever. His father Isaac Rousseau was a watchmaker and a citizen of Geneva, and his sister Suzon helped raise Isaac’s two sons. His father taught him how to read by the age of six. Jean-Jacques read aloud romances, novels and then classics such as Plutarch’s Lives to his father while he worked. In October 1722 Isaac quarreled with a former army captain and went into exile. Jean-Jacques then lived with his uncle Gabriel Bernard and the pastor J.-J. Lambercier who taught him Latin. Mlle. Lambercier spanked him, and in his Confessions Rousseau admitted that he enjoyed that. He joined a youth gang, and in April 1725 he was apprenticed as an engraver. He found a lending library and did more reading.
      On March 14, 1728 Rousseau was punished for being late and shut out of Geneva with no money. Two days later he called upon the elderly priest Benoît de Pontverre who gave him dinner and treated him well. On the 21st the priest took him to the home of the Catholic Françoise-Louise de La Tour, Baronne de Warens in Annecy. She sent him to a Hospice of the Catchumens in Turin where on April 21 he was persuaded to become a Roman Catholic. He wandered looking for work. The wise abbé Jean-Claude Gaime treated him with tolerance, and Rousseau was grateful for his turning him aside from vice and became his disciple. The Count of Gouvon hired him as a footman, and he did secretarial work.
      After a year away he returned to Madame de Warens, who let him live in her home. He read Voltaire’s La Henriade, essays by Saint-Evremond, Pufendorf on international law, a French translation of Addison’s essays from the Spectator, and La Bruyère’s Characters. He got his only formal education in two months at a seminary, but he did not take to it and went back to Warens. She had concerts in her house, and Rousseau studied music with Jacques-Louis-Nicholas Le Maître while staying in his house. In the summer of 1730 he left and spent another year wandering, teaching music to girls. He returned again to Madame Warens. In the fall of 1732 she invited him to be her lover, and he lived with her for seven years. He read François de Sales and compared him to Fénelon. Her steward Claude Anet also had been her lover, but he died in 1734, possibly by suicide.
      At the age of 25 Rousseau received some inheritance from his mother and gave some to Warens. At times he stayed in her country house and read poetry by Virgil, Horace, and Juvenal, Roman historians, Plato, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Montaigne, Pascal, novels by Marivaux and Prévost, and plays by Racine and Voltaire. He also taught himself geometry, algebra, anatomy, and calculus. In 1736 he published his Dissertation sur la musique moderne, and he had a song published in 1737. In 1739 he moved to Lyons to tutor the children of the provost marshal, Jean Bonnot de Mably, for one year. He composed an operatic drama about Columbus called The Discovery of the New World.
      By 1742 Rousseau was in Paris creating new musical notation, but his system was rejected by the Academy of Sciences. He met Denis Diderot and read Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques. In July 1743 he moved to Venice to work as secretary for the French ambassador, the Count of Montaigu. He wrote the words and music for the opera Les Muses Galantes that was produced privately. He loved Italian music but found the Venetian government secretive. A year later he returned to Paris and resumed his friendship with Diderot, d’Alembert, and Condillac. Rousseau detached himself from Warens, and in March 1745 he returned to his Saint-Quentin rooming house in Paris.
      Rousseau fell in love with 23-year-old laundress Thérèse Levasseur. She moved in with him early in 1750, and they lived together for the rest of his life. He declined to marry her but promised he would never abandon her. In his Confessions he admitted that in the next few years she bore him five children, and each was given to an orphanage. The Enfants-Trouvés received about 6,000 infants a year, and about 70% of them died in their first year. He wrote The Rash Vow modeled after the comedies of Marivaux, and he contributed some music to the score of Rameau’s opera Les fêtes de Ramire with a libretto by Voltaire. From 1746 until 1752 he worked as secretary to the Dupin family. As early as 1748 Rousseau complained of urinary problems that were suspected of being from kidney stones, and these difficulties would plague him for the rest of his life and make him reluctant to be in social situations.
      In 1749 the Academy of Dijon offered a prize for the best essay on the topic “Whether the restoration of the sciences and arts has contributed to purify morals.” While walking to visit the imprisoned Diderot in October, Rousseau got the idea of answering in the negative, and Diderot encouraged him to do so. On July 9, 1750 his Discours sur les sciences et les arts won first prize, and he published it using “by a citizen of Geneva” instead of his name even though this essay had made his name famous. Rousseau criticized social institutions for corrupting and enslaving the essential goodness of nature and the human heart to benefit the rich, writing,

While government and laws provide
for the safety and well-being of assembled men,
the sciences, letters, and arts,
less despotic and perhaps more powerful,
spread garlands of flowers
over the iron chains with which men are burdened,
stifle in them the sense of that original liberty
for which they seemed to have been born,
make them love their slavery,
and turn them into what is called civilized people.
Need has raised thrones;
the sciences and arts have strengthened them.6

Although he found that civilized people have refined taste, soft character, urbane customs, and amiable relations, he wrote that they have the semblance of virtue rather than the reality. Instead of boasting of their own merit, men disparage that of others. They scorn ignorance but adopt a dangerous skepticism.
      Morals and integrity have not advanced along with the sciences and arts. Rousseau briefly reviewed how the empires of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Constantinople became civilized and then fell from corruption. He also found vice in Chinese and Persian empires. Socrates admitted his ignorance and urged people to seek wisdom and virtue, and he was executed by a democratic state. Rousseau asked what is the meaning of all this culture and what the mad men have done. Have the masters of nations enslaved themselves to the frivolous men they have conquered? He argued that luxury, licentiousness, and slavery have punished the arrogant. Sciences and arts have never developed without creating luxury which is opposed to good morals. He asked, “What will become of virtue when one must get rich at any price?”7 The state values people for their domestic consumption. In a note he added to his essay Rousseau defended the ascendancy of women as a gift of nature for human happiness that wisely directed will produce much good, and he urged better education for women as did Plato. He hoped that the learned who are worthy will be rewarded so that their examples may influence the happiness of people, and then he warned,

But so long as power is alone on the one side,
intellect and wisdom alone on the other,
learned men will rarely think of great things,
Princes will more rarely do noble ones,
and the people will continue to be vile, corrupt, and unhappy….
O virtue! Sublime science of simple souls,
are so many difficulties and preparations needed to know you?
Are not your principles engraved in all hearts,
and is it not enough in order to learn your laws
to commune with oneself
and listen to the voice of one’s conscience
in the silence of the passions?8

      Louis XV offered Rousseau a pension, but he declined. The young German Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, invited philosophers to his home, and he would write many scientific articles for the Encyclopédie and publish his controversial System of Nature. Rousseau was repulsed by his militant atheism and that of most of the lumières (enlighteners). During a dinner at the estate of Madame d’Epinay, he said that it is cowardly to speak ill of a friend who is absent and that it is a crime to do so of one’s God who is present, and he asserted that he believed in God. Rousseau endeavored to break the shackles of opinion but did so at the risk of being ostracized.
      In his Observations in 1751 Rousseau wrote that the primary source of evil is inequality which fosters the accumulation of wealth, and he argued that wealth leads to luxury and idleness which promote the arts and sciences. That year he wrote a few pages for an essay contest sponsored by the Academy of Corsica on the virtue needed for a hero including the following:

Men are more blind than wicked,
and there is more weakness than maliciousness in their vices.
We deceive ourselves before we deceive others,
and our faults come only from our errors….
Uncertain judgment and an easily seduced heart
make men weak and small.
To be great, it is necessary only to become master of oneself.9

      He began writing articles on music for the Encyclopédie, and he composed the one-act opera Le Devin du village (The Village Soothsayer) in 1752. Louis XV and Madame Pompadour loved the simple music, but Rousseau refused to accept any patronage. He resigned his job as cashier at the Dupin bank, gave away his valuable property, dressed more simply, and stopped wearing a sword and a watch. He made his living for years copying music. In December his comedy, Narcissus, or the Self-Lover was produced, but it had only two performances. In the preface he justified his artistic and literary work as antidotes to the cultural poison. A second production of Le Devin du village in March 1753 brought him 5,000 livres. Folk songs were beginning to be more popular. In his Letter on French Music he criticized French music and favored Italian melodies that appealed to emotions, but this resulted in the French government putting him under police surveillance. He believed that language began with emotional exclamations and argued that human feelings are what people like to share. In the summer of 1754 he visited Geneva and became a Calvinist in order to regain his rights.

Rousseau on Inequality and Political Economy

      In May 1754 Rousseau again entered the Academy Dijon essay contest, and one year later he published his Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men. The library director Malesherbes gave permission for its publication in France. In the dedication to the Republic of Geneva he wished that no one within the state was above the law and that no one outside should dictate to the state. He was seeking a country in which the right of legislating was vested in all the citizens. He urged people to look into their hearts and listen to the secret voice of conscience. In the preface he noted that if we look at society with calm detachment it shows us the violence of the powerful and the oppression of the weak.
      He began his Discourse on Inequality by differentiating natural or physical inequalities from those he called moral or political which are established by convention or authorized by human consent. In the consciousness of human liberty he found the spirituality of the soul displayed. Humans also differ from other animals by the faculty for self-improvement. Among primitive people he found compassion to be the only natural virtue. The rational maxim, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” inspires all people, but the less perfect maxim of natural goodness, “Do good to yourself with as little evil as possible to others,” was used more. He observed that violent passions need laws to restrain them. Men adopt different methods of living in society which become habits.
      The first man who enclosed some land and declared it was his founded society while others may have warned that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one. The first human instinct is self-preservation, but mutual interest led people to assist each other. They invented implements to help satisfy their needs, and leisure enabled them to seek conveniences. They began to compare objects in regard to beauty and other values. Injuries were resented and led to contempt. Locke had noted that injury is related to property. As property was introduced, some had more advantages, ending equality. The two greatest revolutions were the arts of agriculture and metallurgy. A farmer’s work gave him ownership of the produce and the land. New wants increased and were subjected to nature as some men became the masters of others. Competition led to conflicting interests and the desire to profit at the expense of others, increasing inequality. One man could exploit others, and the rich usurped more property and used slaves. Unbridled passions of the poor led to robbery.
      The horrible state of war arose. Some tried to institute rules of justice and peace to make others conform with obligations for the rich and poor to govern with supreme power for their state and to fight their enemies. These laws put new fetters on the poor, gave the rich more power, destroying natural liberty. For the advantage of a few ambitious men many people were subjected to perpetual labor and wretchedness. When one community did this, then others felt they had to unite as well, eventually resulting in wars.

Hence arose national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals,
which shock nature and outrage reason;
together with all those horrible prejudices which
class among the virtues the honour of shedding human blood.
The most distinguished men hence learned
to consider cutting each other's throats a duty;
at length men massacred their fellow-creatures
by thousands without so much as knowing why,
and committed more murders in a single day’s fighting,
and more violent outrages in the sack of a single town,
than were committed in the state of nature
during whole ages over the whole earth.10

Despite the efforts of legislators the political state stayed imperfect. People set up chiefs and princes to protect their liberty, but often the state of peace was wretched servitude.
      The essential gifts of nature for every person are life and liberty, and it offends nature and reason to renounce them. Instituting slavery violated nature. The people and their chiefs can make a contract to observe the laws of their union. At first governments are elective based on merit, but the influence of wealth gains ascendancy through business. Magistrates become hereditary, then arbitrary, and finally master and slave until the government is dissolved by revolution. Individuals blinded by ambition allow themselves to be oppressed and submit to servitude so that they can enslave others. The inequality is in riches, nobility, rank, power, and personal merit, but wealth is the easiest to use. The state may warn against foreign domination in order to oppress the multitude. Dissension may be sown by setting the interests of different people against each other. The result is honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. The privileged few enjoy their luxuries while the multitude struggles for the necessities of life.
      In the appendix Rousseau noted legitimate profit can be greatly exceeded by illegitimate gain that hurts others. He cited the villainies committed in armies by the contractors with monstrous frauds that cripple even the best armies more than destruction by the enemies. The state grows rich while the people suffer until the nation is invaded by another. He advised respecting the sacred bonds of their communities by loving their fellow citizens and serving them.

      In November 1754 Rousseau’s Discourse on Political Economy was published in the Encyclopédie, suggesting the following remedies for the injustices of inequality: first, equality in rights and duties and respect for the general will of the people to protect their freedom; second, public education of all children; and third, an economic system that pays for public services by taxing excess wealth, inheritances, and luxuries.
      Rousseau began by explaining that the word “economy” comes from the Greek words for “house” and “law.” The domestic economy of household management he left to the father of the family, though today we would add the equal say of the mother. In the political economy of the civil government the chief or magistrate can only see things through the eyes of others and can only have authority over the people by virtue of the laws. Rulers are obligated to keep their promises, and the people have the right to require this. The state treasury is to keep the peace and plenty and must maintain itself over time, but Rousseau warned that increasing it often does more harm than good. Administrators are responsible for serving the public interest; but if they substitute their own interests, society suffers.
      Rousseau described the body politic with the sovereign power as the head, laws the brains and nerves, judges the organs, commerce and agriculture the mouth and stomach, public income the blood, and citizens the body. He considered the body politic a moral being with a general will that creates the source of laws for the preservation and welfare of the whole and every part. In the world the general will of the body politic is the law of nature, and nations are the members. He noted that personal interest is opposed to duty. The most general will is most just, for the voice of the people is the voice of God. Yet even a well governed republic may enter an unjust war, and a council of democracy can pass unjust laws. The general will seeks the common good, but it may be divided by particular ends.
      A legitimate government preserves the liberty of the people, and the authority of government can protect the life, liberty, and property of all people. Civil rights are based on the natural equality of all persons. Rulers are responsible for watching over the observance of the laws. All social relationships are mutual, and thus no one can set oneself above the law. Laws depend on the wisdom of the administrators. The primary law is to respect the laws. Severe penalties “invented by little minds” may substitute terror for that respect. Rousseau noted that where punishment is severe, crime multiplies as the guilty commit more offenses to escape punishment. Any fool can punish crimes, but the true statesman prevents them by influencing the wills of people to do what is right. By using less power the state is more peaceful and needs less correction.
      The first duty of the legislator is to make the laws serve the general will, and the first rule of public economy is to administer justice in accord with the laws. When a law fails, the general will and public interest should be consulted. Rousseau noted that in China the prince in conflicts decides for the people and against his officers, and thus injustice is repaired. The best leaders inspire people to love the laws so that they will know their duties. Virtue is cooperating with the general will. Sumptuary laws that tax luxuries help regulate morals. The hearts of the citizens are the greatest support for public authority, and morality maintains the government. Governmental vices have the worst effect on the laws, and the corruption of the people and their rulers infect the government. The more laws multiply the more they are despised, and so more people break them. Corruption flourishes when officials sell out justice, duty, and the state. The people realize that their own vices are not the cause of their misfortunes. Then rulers use terror and the lure of apparent interest to trick people. The public interest is neglected as personal interests take over. Yet when the public guardians by their example apply themselves to fostering the citizens’ love of duty, then government improves and does not need the “art of darkness.”
      Public morality helps virtue reign, and then governmental talent is less needed. When the people believe that the government is working for their happiness, it saves them the trouble of increasing their power. Rousseau believed that a beloved leader has a hundred times more power than a tyrant. Government must use its power only in a lawful way. The virtuous person aligns one’s will with the general will. A good nation provides for the security of the least of its members as much as it does for the others. The weak are protected by the strength of the public. Only among free people is human dignity realized. Respect your fellow citizens, and you will be worthy of respect. Do not exceed your rights, and they will be unbound. The country is the common mother of her citizens, and the laws guarantee liberty.
      What is most difficult is the integrity of doing justice to all, especially protecting the poor from the tyranny of the rich. The equality of the middle classes are the bulwark of the law against the treasures of the rich and the penury of the poor. Thus Rousseau argued that government must “prevent extreme inequality of fortunes” in order to reduce hatred and corruption. He wrote, “There can be no patriotism without liberty, no liberty without virtue, no virtue without citizens.”11 The way to create citizens is to educate people when they are children. Thus he recommended public education regulated by the government so that children can be brought up in common equality. He considered education “the most important business of the state.” If people love their country, respect the laws, and live simply, they will be happy. Rousseau also believed that the general will also implies that providing for public needs is an essential duty of government. Property is not extended beyond one’s life, and so he favored an inheritance tax.
      Rousseau warned against military conquest that increases government and oppresses people. He noted that great fortunes acquired in one place are usually spent somewhere else. Entire countries have been impoverished to enrich a single city. He did not believe that people should have to support armies and garrisons. Taxes can only be legitimately established by the consent of the people or their representatives. Those who have only the necessities of life should not have to pay anything while others can be taxed on their wealth beyond the necessities. Society naturally gives many advantages to the rich and powerful. He noted that in England, Holland, and China farmers pay little tax, and the land is best cultivated. Heavy taxes can be put on the luxuries of the very rich.
      I find this Discourse on Political Economy to be especially relevant in the 21st century.

Rousseau’s Peace Plan

Saint-Pierre’s Plan for Peace in Europe

      Rousseau’s writing about a federation to establish lasting peace was actually a summary and critique of the plan devised by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and first published in 1712. In 1754an admirer of the late Abbé, Madame Dupin, suggested to Rousseau that he bring to life the good ideas in Saint-Pierre’s writings. In his Confessions Rousseau gave his reasons for taking up the project.

Not being confined to the function of a translator,
I was at liberty sometimes to think for myself;
and I had it in my power to give such a form to my work,
that many important truths would pass in it
under the name of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre,
much more safely than under mine.12

He also explained why he felt Saint Pierre’s ideas were not effective.

In the offices of all the ministers of state
the Abbé de St. Pierre had ever been considered
as a kind of preacher rather than a real politician,
and he was suffered to say what he pleased,
because it appeared that nobody listened to him.13

It is noteworthy that out of the twenty-three volumes of Saint-Pierre’s works Rousseau selected “Perpetual Peace” for his first essay, which was published at Geneva in 1761.
      Rousseau began his description of Saint-Pierre’s project by expressing the feelings in his heart.

Never did the mind of man conceive a scheme nobler,
more beautiful, or more useful than that
of a lasting peace between all the peoples of Europe.
Never did a writer better deserve a respectful hearing than
he who suggests means for putting that scheme in practice.
What man, if he has a spark of goodness,
but must feel his heart glow within him at so fair a prospect?
Who would not prefer the illusions of a generous spirit,
which overleaps all obstacles, to that dry, repulsive reason
whose indifference to the welfare of mankind
is ever the chief obstacle to all schemes for its attainment?…
 I see in my mind’s eye all men joined in the bonds of love.
I call before my thoughts a gentle and peaceful brotherhood,
all living in unbroken harmony,
all guided by the same principles,
all finding their happiness in the happiness of all.14

Yet Rousseau was aware of the need for hard reasoning, and he promised to prove his assertions and asked the reader not to deny what one cannot refute.
      To remedy the dangers of war Rousseau argued that a federal form of government must be devised to unite nations, as nations unite individuals, under the authority of law. In his time this type of government was fairly new; but he noted that it did exist in the Germanic Body, the Helvetic League, and the States General of the Netherlands, and the ancients had the Greek Amphictyons, the Etruscan Lucumonies, Latin feriae, and the city leagues of the Gauls.
      Rousseau pointed out that Europe has much in common—the history of the Roman Empire, the Christian religion, geography, blood-ties, commerce, arts, colonies, and printing. Yet the violence in practice contradicts the moral ideals and rhetoric of governments. Treaties are temporary and very unstable; there are few or no common agreements on public law; and in conflicts between nations might makes right as weakness is taken for wrong. Nevertheless the boundaries of countries remain fairly stable because of the natural conditions of geography and culture. No one country is powerful enough ever to conquer all the others; but if nations ally together for conquest, they end up fighting among themselves. The Germanic states and the Treaty of Westphalia stabilize the international situation. The conflicts, which do continually agitate, never seem to result in any advantage to the sovereigns. Commerce and economics tend to keep the power of states fairly balanced. Since it is so difficult for one nation to conquer others, it is easy to see that the federation would be able to force any ambitious ruler to abide by the terms of the league.
      Rousseau delineated the following four necessary conditions for the success of the federation: every important power must be a member; the laws they legislate must be binding; a coercive force must be capable of compelling every state to obey the common resolves; and no member may be allowed to withdraw. His plan proposed five articles. The first establishes a permanent alliance with a congress so that all conflicts may be settled and terminated by arbitration or judicial pronouncement. The second article determines which nations shall have a vote, how the presidency shall pass from one to another, and how the contribution quotas shall be raised to provide for common expenses. The third declares that existing boundaries shall be permanent. The fourth specifies how violators shall be banned and forced to comply by means of the arms of all the confederates. The fifth article recommends a majority vote at the start, but three-quarters after five years, and unanimity to change the articles.
      Rousseau explained how the six motives which lead to war are all removed by this plan. These motives are either

1) to make conquests or
2) to protect themselves from aggression or
3) to weaken a too powerful neighbor or
4) to maintain their rights against attack or
5) to settle a difference which has defied friendly negotiation
6) or lastly to fulfill some treaty obligation.

Actually the federation makes every purpose easier to accomplish except the first, that of conquest, which it most effectively deters by gathering all powers against the aggressor. Also under the alliance a country need not fear a powerful neighbor because the alliance together has far greater power.
      Sovereigns should not complain of losing their prerogatives because the federation merely is forcing them to be just. Rousseau estimated that nations would save approximately half of their military budgets. He enumerated the many evils and dangers of the prevailing conditions in Europe such as injustice because of might, insecurity of nations, military expenses, attacks, no guarantee for international agreements, no safe or inexpensive means of obtaining justice when wronged, risk and inconvenience of wars, loss of trade during crises, and general impoverishment and lack of security. The benefits of arbitration are: certainty of settling disputes peacefully, abolition of the causes of disputes, personal security for rulers, fulfillment of agreements between rulers, freedom of trade, smaller military expenses, and increase in population, agriculture, public wealth, and happiness.
      Rousseau wrote a brief critique of Saint-Pierre’s project, but it was not published until 1782, four years after he died. First he wondered why Saint-Pierre’s plan had not been adopted, and he suggested that it was because the princes were short-sighted in their ambition and greed for power. They were too proud to submit themselves to arbitration, and their wisdom was not equal to their confidence in good fortune in the risks of war. They were too blinded by their self-interest to see the wisdom of the general good. Rousseau recounted how Henri IV had tried to use self-interest with the powers of Europe to mold together a commonwealth, but he was assassinated. Rousseau finally concluded that the only way a federation could be established would be by means of a revolution; but sensing the violence in that, he considered it as much to be feared as to be desired.

      In 1756 Madame Louise d’Epinay let Rousseau live at her country estate near Montmorency. There he began writing the romantic novel Julie. In March 1757 he published his play, The Natural Son, or Virtue Put to the Test with a commentary. Based on a plot in a play by Carlo Goldoni, it was not produced until 1771. Also in 1757 he had a brief and mostly platonic love affair with Madame Sophie d’Houdetot, and that year his friendships deteriorated with Madame d’Epinay and her lover Friedrich Melchior Grimm and with his close friend Denis Diderot.
      In response to an Encyclopédie article on Geneva by Jean d’Alembert, Rousseau published in 1758 his Letter to M. D’Alembert on the Theatre in which he criticized the aristocratic society of the French classical theatre from Molière to Voltaire but favored the social clubs of Geneva that the patricians considered subversive. The clergy agreed with Rousseau as he argued that the clever rogues in modern plays would corrupt audiences. He particularly complained about how the virtuous Alceste was satirized in Molière’s Misanthrope because he identified with such a truth-telling character. Rousseau’s motto was to devote his life to truth, and the Latin phrase Vitam impendere vero was taken from the satirist Juvenal. He suspected that d’Alembert was trying to help Voltaire get his plays produced in Geneva. D’Alembert was not annoyed, but the criticism especially aggravated the animosity of Voltaire who said Rousseau wrote a bad play and turned against the theatre. Rousseau wrote to Voltaire that he made it intolerable for him to live in his country. The philosophers also blamed Rousseau for criticizing d’Alembert’s article when the Encyclopédie was being threatened; but Rousseau wanted the public to distrust atheists such as d’Holbach. Rousseau asserted that the only authority he recognized was reason. Voltaire hated Rousseau for the rest of their lives that ended in 1778.
      In 1759 Rousseau became friends with the wealthy Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg, and he often stayed on their estate at the Petit Chateau designed with beautiful gardens by the painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.

Rousseau’s Novel Julie and Emile (on Education)

      Rousseau’s Julie: Ou La Nouvelle Héloise, was published in January 1761 as an epistolary romantic novel similar to those by Samuel Richardson except that Julie had no villains. In this romance Rousseau expressed his passionate feelings for women as well as his ideas about how virtue can control them. This work was one of the most popular novels in the 18th century. Clearly autobiographical, many believed that he was influenced by his relationship with Sophie d’Houdetot. Yet his greatest inspiration was probably Madame de Warens, though Julie was more loyal to her country, religion, and husband.
      Like Rousseau, young Saint-Preux is Swiss with extraordinary talent and sensitivity. Madame d’Etange hires him to tutor her daughter Julie and her niece Claire. After Claire departs to visit her family, the tutor declares his love for Julie. After a while she admits that she is in love with him. However, her father, the Baron d’Etange, promises his friend M. de Wolmar that he can marry Julie. She knows that her father would never accept the commoner Saint-Preux despite his ability and writes to her cousin Claire asking her to come back to protect her, fearing that her mother would learn the truth. Claire returns, and the romance blooms. The Baron has been away for a year, and Julie and Claire persuade Saint-Preux to go away for a while. The Baron returns, is pleased with the girls’ progress, and recalls the tutor. The romance develops, and Julie becomes the mistress of Saint-Preux who is dismissed because of her coming marriage to de Wolmar. Julie becomes very ill, and Saint-Preux secretly helps her get well. They continue to meet secretly and consider themselves married.
      The British Lord Edward Bomston was living in Switzerland and visits. He becomes friends with Saint-Preux and proposes marriage to Julie but is rejected. Bomston suspects that she has a lover, but she prevents a duel between her tutor and Bomston by telling him about Saint-Preux. Bomston apologizes to him, and they renew their friendship. Bomston urges the Baron to let Saint-Preux marry Julie to no avail, and she refuses to elope to England with Saint-Preux. Meanwhile Claire has married a friend of Bomston and Saint-Preux, and he aids the lovers’ correspondence. After visiting France and England the tutor returns to Switzerland as Julie is about to wed de Wolmar. Bomston arranges for Saint-Preux to travel around the world. After her mother dies, Julie agrees to marry de Wolmar. When Saint-Preux returns four years later, she has two children. De Wolmar asks Saint-Preux to tutor the children. Saint-Preux advises Bomston not to marry two disreputable women. Claire has become a widow, and Julie learns that she loves Saint-Preux. Julie writes to him, but he replies that he is still in love with Julie. When her boy falls in the lake, she goes in to save him but is exhausted and dies after writing to Saint-Preux asking him to educate her children and Claire’s.

      In October 1761 Rousseau published Emile or On Education, his revolutionary book on educational theory. He described how a boy can learn most naturally by direct experience. He recommended awakening the inner goodness that comes from the heart and warned against the evil contrivances of “civilized” society. In his Confessions he recalled that this book had the most praise from private persons but little public approval. In his preface to Emile Rousseau wrote that the art of forming men is still forgotten despite Locke’s book on education. Rousseau advised teachers to study their pupils better. He expected many would see his educational treatise as visionary’s dreams, and he admitted that he is often reproached for having different ideas.
      Book 1 of Emile begins,

Everything is good
as it leaves the hands of the Author of things;
everything degenerates in the hands of man.15

He addressed himself to tender and foresighted mothers who nurture babies with their nursing. Humans are born weak, unprovided, and stupid, and they need strength, aid, and judgment. Natural education develops faculties and organs. From birth humans have the use of our senses, and we are affected by our surroundings. Since humans are all equal, they have a common calling to a human life. “Our true study is that of the human condition.” The child needs to learn to preserve oneself. When mothers nurse their children, natural sentiments are awakened. “Observe nature and follow the path it maps out for you.” The mother is the nurse, and the father is the preceptor; but the tutor claims all the rights and duties for Emile. “The body must be vigorous in order to obey the soul.” Hygiene is the best medicine and is a virtue, and the practice of bathing is essential. He noted that peasants eat less meat and more vegetables than city dwellers, and cities have bad air. A vegetarian nurse gives better milk. At first children perceive only pleasure and pain, and they can complain only by crying. Their fury, spite, and anger requires attention. Only reason helps us to know good and bad, and conscience loves the good. Rousseau suggested these four maxims: let them use their strength; give them their physical needs, but not their whims and unreasonable desires; and study their signs and language with care. These will give children more freedom and less dominion. A child’s body and arms should not be bound, and they should not be weaned too soon.
      The first duty is to be humane. Love childhood with its games, pleasures, and amiable instincts. Diminish excessive desires to equalize power and will. Humans are not immortal, but a better life follows the pain of this one. Be concerned with only what is within your power. “Draw your existence up within yourself.” Let your freedom and power only extend as far as your natural strength and do not set up soldiers, chains, and prisons. The first good is freedom, not authority, and “the truly free man wants only what he can do and does what he pleases.” The happiness of children is also their freedom. Words such as “obey, command, duty, and obligation” should not be used. A child should not be allowed to assert authority on a whim. A pupil is to be treated according to his age. Avoid verbal lessons so they can learn through experience, and inflict no punishment. Do not blame others for your own faults; the evils children see corrupt them less than what you teach them. If an ill-tempered child ruins things, put them out of reach. Avoid pretense by setting a good example. The basic lesson of morality for all ages is never to harm anyone. Children do not have the strength of a man nor the reason, but their senses work well.
      Do not teach geometry until the child can understand the reasoning; otherwise you are using only authority to develop memory. Let students attend to nature and develop curiosity. Do not make speeches or read poetry the child cannot understand. More important than teaching many things is letting only accurate and clear ideas enter their brains. To know nothing is better than making mistakes. “Do not judge, and you will never be mistaken.” That is the lesson of nature and of reason. “Reason and judgments come slowly; prejudices come in crowds.” Natural happiness comes from health, freedom, and the necessities of life. Moral happiness comes later. Ask children, “What is that good for?” The only book Rousseau recommended for children was Robinson Crusoe. Near the end of book 3 Rousseau concluded, “Emile has little knowledge, but what he has is truly his own.” His knowledge is natural and physical, and he is “laborious, temperate, patient, firm, and full of courage.”
      In book 4 Emile is about fifteen and is going through what Rousseau called “the second birth” as the boy becomes a man. At the time when the education of many ends, he believed his education was just beginning. He wrote that our passions help preserve us. To try to destroy them is as ridiculous as trying to control nature or reform God. What God wants us to do is written in the depths of our heart. The source of our passions is self-love which precedes and modifies all others. Love of oneself is always good and conforms with order. We love ourselves to preserve ourselves, and from this we learn to love what preserves us. Every child is attached to one’s nurse, and the second sentiment of the child is to love those nearest who are loving and assisting him. Thus a suitable study for man is his relations and to study oneself in relation to things. This is the beginning of the moral being. With the need for a companion the heart is no longer alone. The attraction between the different sexes is the movement of nature. Preferences and personal attachments are the work of enlightenment and habits. Through time we learn how to love, and one loves only after having judged by comparison.
      Rousseau believed that puberty arrives earlier in more civilized people. The first sentiment of a carefully raised young person is friendship. Humans have common miseries which make them sociable and turn their hearts toward humanity. Pity is the first sentiment that touches the human heart. Children feel pity for those who suffer as they have. The major feelings of a child are joy and pain. As one becomes attached, one becomes sensitive to others. Gratitude becomes a natural sentiment. For Rousseau the moderation of the heart, not the strength of arms, is what makes people independent and free. In nature equality is real and indestructible because the differences are not great, but in the civil state public power enables the stronger to oppress the weak. One knows people by seeing how they act and by hearing them speak; but history reveals their actions, and then one judges them on the facts. By comparing what they do with what they say, one sees what they are and how they disguise themselves. Rousseau warned against reading historians who make judgments instead of presenting facts by which one may make one’s own judgments and learn to know people. Philosophy and maxims are suitable only for those who have experience. The young should not generalize but be instructed with particular rules. In studying lives Montaigne was more interested in intentions than in results, in what goes on within people not outside them.
      Rousseau was not surprised that few people know how to take care of themselves because they are taught so many useless things and not the art of action. In doing good one becomes good, and Rousseau knew of no practice more certain. He criticized the dogma: “You must believe in God to be saved” because it causes intolerance. He did not believe that repeating certain words was enough to merit eternal salvation. In a long section Rousseau presented the “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar” that he learned from wise preachers during his wanderings. For Rousseau his most important teaching was the immortality of the soul rather than materialism.
      Most of the last book is about the woman Sophie who becomes the bride of Emile, but unlike some of the other philosophers of the enlightenment Rousseau maintained the traditional view of women as passive and weaker with the obligation to obey their husbands. He did write, “Women are the natural judges of men’s merit as men are of women’s merit.” Emile’s father teaches his son to follow the eternal laws of nature and what is written in his heart by conscience and understood by reason. Following these one will be free. The only slave is the one who does evil. Freedom is not found in any government but in the heart. The free person carries this everywhere as the vile take their servitude.

Rousseau’s Social Contract

      Rousseau published The Social Contract at Amsterdam in April 1762, and copies arrived in Paris on May 15. Rousseau’s Emile was released there one week later. On June 9 the Parlement condemned Emile. Books were burned in front of the Palais de Justice, and a warrant was issued for Rousseau’s arrest. A few days later copies of The Social Contract were burned publicly in Geneva. The Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg helped Rousseau escape from their estate, and he moved to the village of Môtiers by the Neuchatel lake where he was protected by Maréchal George Keith.
      Rousseau began the first chapter of The Social Contract by asserting that humans are born free but everywhere are in chains. Some believe they are masters of others, but they are even less free. He aimed to suggest solutions to this problem. He urged the people to shake off their yokes and recover their freedom. Children depend on their parents; but when they reach the age of reason, they become sole judges of what is proper for themselves. Force made the first slaves, and cowardice perpetuates them. He defined the social contract as essentially this:

Each of us puts his person and his full power in common
under the supreme direction of the general will;
and in a body we receive each member
as an indivisible part of the whole.16

In the social contract a person loses one’s “natural freedom and unlimited right to everything that tempts him,” and “what he gains is civil freedom and property in everything he possesses.” For Rousseau the only advantageous social state is when all have something, and no one has too much of anything. The general will can err, and sovereign power can be limited. Common interest is what unites the general will as everyone must submit to the conditions imposed on others. This common interest and justice confer civil equality. He defined a republic as a state ruled by laws governed in the public interest. Laws are conditions of civil association and should be created and regulated by the common agreement of the people. Because the force of things tends to destroy equality, the force of legislation is needed to maintain justice. He wrote,

Nothing is more dangerous than
the influence of private interests in public affairs,
and abuse of the laws by the Government is a lesser evil
than the corruption of the Lawgiver, which is
the inevitable consequence of particular considerations.17

      Rousseau warned that democratic or popular governments are more susceptible to civil wars and internal turmoil because they change their form more easily. Therefore democracy requires greater vigilance and courage. Citizens must be strong and dedicated to prefer perilous freedom to quiet servitude. A nation of gods would govern themselves democratically. Subjects praise tranquility, but citizens value individual freedom. The former is more concerned about securing possessions, the latter cares about persons. The former demands that crimes are punished, the latter prefers that they be prevented. One wants to make money, the other wishes to see the people’s needs met. A government responsive to the general will provides for the general welfare. Such a state governed well needs few laws.

      Rousseau’s political writings stirred up controversy and threatened the established powers. He answered critics in letters and published them as Letters Written from the Mountain in 1764. In January 1765 Voltaire’s anonymous Sentiment of the Citizens viciously attacked Rousseau. In September his house was vandalized, and he moved to the small island St. Pierre before fleeing to England in January 1766 to stay with David Hume. After a while they quarreled, and he returned to France in May 1767. He used the name Renou and was given refuge by the Prince of Conti at his Château de la Trye where he published his Dictionnaire de musique. In June 1768 he left Trye, and after living with her for 18 years Rousseau married Thérèse Levasseur in an informal ceremony not recognized by the state. That year a populist revolt protested for more rights against an oligarchy of twenty-five councilors in Geneva. Rousseau counseled against violence but encouraged them in their struggle and predicted that in ten or twenty years the times would be far more favorable to the cause of a representative party. In fact the American Revolution was about ten years away and the French Revolution about twenty.
      Rousseau had been working on his Confessions at least since 1766, and in 1770 he moved to Paris using his own name. He discussed many different forms of government and indicated that there are various factors to consider in deciding on the best government for any given state. Generally he favored “elective aristocracy”—not hereditary but republican. In his Constitutional Project for Corsica he advised them to adopt democratic government and to abolish hereditary nobility. He recommended that the state own most of the property with individuals allowed to share property in proportion to their services, and he favored the model of the Swiss cantons. He wrote of the Corsicans,

These brave people have recovered
and defended their liberty with such valor and constancy
that they deserve to have some wise man
teach them how to preserve it.
I have a premonition that
one day this little island will astonish Europe.”18

In 1771 noble Polish nationalists asked Rousseau to reform their political institutions, and he completed his Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne in April 1772. He recommended the gradual enfranchisement of the serfs and a multi-level civil service system whereby one could advance by merit.
      In pain often from a prostate disorder and urinary problems, Rousseau’s moodiness and paranoia of other influential people increased in his later years. Fearing distortions of his life by others, which actually were written later, Rousseau tried to tell all honestly in his Confessions.He began giving readings in 1771 until the police ordered him to stop. For four years he worked on trying to justify his life in the long Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques. In 1776 he began writing his Reveries of the Solitary Walker about his experience on St. Pierre island. At the beginning of the ”Third Walk” he recalled the statement often repeated by Solon: “Growing older, I learn all the time.” He read and annotated The Imitation of Christ. After suffering from a stroke and a head injury, Rousseau died on July 2, 1778. His Dialogues were published in 1780 and his Confessions in two parts in 1782 and 1789. On October 11, 1794 his remains were moved to the Pantheon in Paris. Rousseau would have much influence on modern government, education, and romantic literature.

Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie

      Denis Diderot was born on October 5, 1713 and was educated by Jesuits at Langres, went to a college in Paris, and earned his master of arts degree at the University of Paris in September 1732. He studied on his own, taught, worked for a publisher, and was paid for writing sermons for missionaries. He once borrowed 2,000 livres from a monk, saying he would join his order, but his philosophy was shifting toward deism and eventually atheism. He met Rousseau at a coffee house in 1741, and they were friends for the next fifteen years and were joined by Etienne Bonnot, the Abbé de Condillac, (1715-80) for regular dinners. Diderot wanted to marry Antoinette Champion; but his father disapproved and confined him in a monastery, though he escaped and secretly married her in 1743. That year he translated Temple Stanyon’s History of Greece, and in 1745 he published his translation of the Earl of Shaftesbury’s Inquiry concerning Virtue.
      The next year Diderot’s Philosophic Thoughts criticized Christians for hypocrisy and intolerance, and the Paris Parlement ordered the copies burned. He pitied atheists for missing consolation, and he prayed to God for sceptics who lacked knowledge. He and two collaborators spent three years translating the six folio volumes of the Medical Dictionary by Robert James. Diderot also had long talks with Rousseau, Friedrich Melchior Grimm, Abbé Guillaume Raynal, and Baron d’Holbach. In 1749 his “Letter on the Blind” suggested teaching the blind to read by touch; but his theories of natural selection and variation aroused controversy, and Diderot was arrested by a Lettre de cachet on July 24 and imprisoned at Vincennes until November 3. Rousseau visited him regularly even though he had to walk from Paris because he could not afford a carriage.
      In 1747 the publisher André Le Breton asked Diderot to translate Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia. He and d’Alembert worked as co-editor of what became the Encyclopédie with Diderot paid twice as much. In November 1750 Diderot published 8,000 copies of his Prospectus, and this was followed on June 28 1751 by d’Alembert’s Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot and the first volume of the Encyclopédie with about 4,000 articles including 1,984 by Diderot. He developed his philosophy in Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature and System of Nature in 1754.
      Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717-83) was a mathematician and wrote his Treatise on Dynamics in 1743, Elements of Music in 1752 based on Rameau’s principles, and his Elements of Philosophy in 1759. He wrote more than a thousand articles for the Encyclopédie before resigning in 1758.
      In his Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia d’Alembert wrote that the aim of the Encyclopedia is to order and connect the parts of human knowledge. As a Reasoned Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Trades it was to form the basic principles of each science and art, liberal and mechanical, with their essential facts. The sciences and arts are mutually supporting. It is as difficult to reduce them to specific rules as it is to unify all of human knowledge, and he was influenced by Condillac’s Essay Concerning the Origins of Human Knowledge (1746). D’Alembert defined direct knowledge as what enters the soul without resistance or effort, and he considered indirect knowledge what the mind acquires by reflection. Following Locke’s empiricism he reduced direct knowledge to what is received through the senses.
      Yet d’Alembert did note that the exertions of the soul are valued by the truly wise. The communication of ideas required the invention of language and led to the formation of societies. Not all members of society have an equal share of its advantages although all have the same right. From this understanding of justice and injustice comes moral good and evil. Experience of vices produces the reflective knowledge of the virtues that oppose them. The idea of justice enables us to consider how we should act. Thus what we are is made up of soul and body. Understanding these principles lifts us to contemplation of an all-powerful intelligence as the source of our being. Concepts of vice and virtue lead to the necessity for laws, the spiritual quality of the soul, the existence of God, and our obligations toward God.
      From these truths we turn to the necessity of providing for many needs. Preserving ourselves is directed toward preventing evils that threaten us. From these needs were born agriculture and medicine and from them necessary arts. In the study of the natural world mathematics is useful. The most useful liberal arts are grammar, logic, and ethics. The study of history helps us understand diverse societies and how they develop different governments, laws, and languages. Politics is the ethics of society. The science of God includes natural theology which is based on reason and revealed theology which learns from sacred history. Human science begins with knowledge of the soul and its operations. Natural science is the knowledge of bodies.
      In the second part of his Preliminary Discourse d’Alembert reviewed recent advances in knowledge made by Francis Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, and Leibniz. The third part is a revision he made with Diderot of his Prospectus. In explaining the system of human knowledge in more detail they related history to memory, philosophy to reason, and poetry to imagination.
      The Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers would eventually have seventeen large folio volumes of text with about twenty million words in 60,600 articles with eleven volumes of illustrations. They sold 2,000 subscriptions, and this would eventually double. Volume 1 had only topics beginning with the letter A. Jesuits criticized the Encyclopédie in the Journal de Trévoux. After Volume 2 was published in January 1752, the theology faculty at the Sorbonne condemned the Encyclopedia’s ideas promoted in the thesis of the Abbé de Prades. The Bishop of Auxerre argued against them and for the doctrines of original sin, the fall of man, and the need for grace. The Royal Council banned further publication, but the official censor Malesherbes had this lifted later that year. In October 1753 in the preface to the third volume the co-editors defended their right to publish. The “Clitoris” article described its anatomy and explained, “This is an extremely sensitive part & the principal seat of the woman’s pleasure.”
      In the fourth volume Diderot wrote the article “Droit naturel (Natural Right)” in which he wrote that right is the foundation of justice which is the obligation to render to each person what is due. Moral good and evil imply that one has free choice and establishes the reality of free will and liberty. For humanity the good of all must be their passion. Private wills are not to be trusted because they can be good or bad; but the general will is always good. Everyone has the sacred natural right to everything that is not forbidden by the human species as a whole. Submission to the general will is what holds societies together, and equity is to justice what cause is to effect.
      TheEncyclopédie” article appeared in Volume 5 in 1755. After explaining the etymology of “encyclopaedia,” Diderot wrote,

The aim of an encyclopaedia is to collect the knowledge
that is scattered across the earth,
to reveal its overall structure to our contemporaries,
and to pass it on to those who will come after us,
so that the work of past centuries
may be useful to the centuries to come,
so that their children, becoming more informed,
may become at the same time more virtuous and happy.19

He asserted that the influence of government should be limited to giving assistance so that “men of letters” can work independently. He noted that philosophy was making great advances in his time and was increasing its influence so that authority and tradition were giving way to reason. There may be infinite points of view in the physical world and in the world of ideas, and so the number of possible systems of human knowledge is also infinite. All issues are to be explained using fundamental principles and reasons to indicate causes and effects when they are known.
      Two years later Rousseau attacked d’Alembert’s “Geneva” article in Volume 7, and d’Alembert resigned. In July 1758 Claude-Adrien Helvétius (1715-71) published De l’esprit, criticizing Catholic clergy and reducing human motivation to self-interest, and the Church and the Parlement ordered the book to be burned. On Man by Helvétius was published after his death, and Diderot criticized it in 1772. In November 1758 he published his Discourse on Dramatic Poetry writing about moral drama. Because every people has prejudices, vices, and abuses, theatres are needed to shape public opinion for reforms. In 1760 d’Alembert in his “Reflections on the Present State of the Republic of Letters” wrote that there is a

group of philosophers, who hold that it is possible
to be a good Frenchman without courting those in power,
a good citizen without flattering national prejudices,
a good Christian without persecuting anybody.
These philosophers believe it right to make more of
an honest if little-known writer than of a well-known writer
without enlightenment and without principles,
to hold that foreigners are not inferior to us in every respect,
and to prefer, for example, a government under which
the people are not slaves to one under which they are.20

      On July 21, 1759 the Paris Parlement condemned the Encyclopédie, revoked the license to publish, and ordered refunds for subscribers. On September 8 Malesherbes gained consent for the volumes of illustrations (plates). In May 1760 Palissot’s comedy Les Philosophes satirized the philosophers and especially Diderot. In 1762 they began publishing the plates. Louis de Jaucourt wrote more than 17,000 articles or half the entries in the last ten volumes of text which were printed for 4,000 subscribers in April 1766 and were allowed to be distributed outside of Paris. The last volume of plates was completed in 1772. By then the expenses for the Encyclopédie had been 1,158,958 livres with revenues of 3,730,000 livres making a profit of 2,571,042 livres. Le Breton became rich and bought the house of Jaucourt, who was paid nothing for himself nor his secretaries, and he was not even given a free set of the volumes. Diverse viewpoints included Rousseau’s article “Political Economy” and those by the physiocrats Turgot, Quesnay, and Véron de Forbonnais who favored free trade. Baron d’Holbach contributed many of the science articles, and Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton wrote on natural history. The Abbé André Morellet wrote on theology and philosophy, and Voltaire took on various subjects.
      In March 1769 Antoine de Bougainville completed his circumnavigation of the globe, and in 1771 he published his account in A Voyage Around the World. Diderot wrote a Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage, Or, a Dialogue between A and B On the Difficulties of Attaching Moral Ideas to Certain Physical Acts That Carry No Such Implications which focuses on the week they spent in Tahiti, but it was not published until 1796. The chaplain is invited to stay with Orou and his family, and after the meal Orou urges the chaplain to sleep with his youngest daughter who has no children yet. The chaplain replies that his holy orders do not permit him to do that, and they begin a long discussion of the differences in their social customs. Orou asks if the chaplain knows better ways than a rule of judgment based on the general welfare and individual utility. They find that there is a conflict between the natural man and the artificial man that has been formed inside one. In Tahitian wisdom the male who is excited quickly must stimulate the female’s desire while the woman’s pleasure is slow but lasts longer and so must resist to maintain the lover’s passion. The Tahitians believed that no human may enslave or own another, and Orou criticizes the chaplain. Diderot suggests that unhappiness occurs when a man converts a woman into an exclusive possession as his wife. He does not adopt the sexual freedom of the Tahitians, but instead he recommends that divorce be made legal as a solution to marital jealousy.
      Queen Ekaterina (Catherine) II of Russia had offered to print the Encyclopédie in Russia, and in March 1765 she purchased Diderot’s library and generously allowed him to maintain it as librarian with a stipend. In June 1773 Diderot went to St. Petersburg and visited Ekaterina II for five months, talking with her for hours nearly every day. He argued that no human laws are eternal and that they need to be examined and reformed to suit the times. He believed that justice is what a person owes to oneself, others, one’s country, family, friends or to a lover. He suggested that she curtail luxury which corrupts everything, reduce royal expenditures, sell the assets of the church, and make nobles and military officers pay taxes. He could not persuade her to free the serfs, but he urged her to increase the number of small landowners. He advocated divorce so that harmful marriages can be dissolved. He recommended government-financed education for everyone including the study of human physiology. He was also writing his Memoires pour Catherine II with a commentary on the constitutional reforms she proposed. He submitted a plan of a university for Russia’s government.
      In 1777 Diderot began contributing anticolonial and humanitarian principles to the radical work of Raynal in his Philosophical and Political History of the European Establishments and Trade in the East and West Indies. In the 1783 edition Diderot wrote,

We live under three Codes,
the Code of nature, the Civil Code, the religious Code.
It is obvious that as long as these three kinds of laws
contradict each other it is impossible to be virtuous.
It will sometimes be necessary to trample on nature
to obey social institutions;
and sometimes we will have to go against social institutions
to follow the precepts of religion.
What will be the result? It is that,
contravening these different authorities, we shall respect none;
and that we shall be neither men, nor citizens, nor devout.21

In 1779 Diderot wrote his Essay on the Philosophy of Seneca, and in 1778 he expanded this biographically in his last work, Essay on the Reigns of Claudius and Nero. He had come to believe that philosophy is an exchange of ideas to unite humanity and improve mutual good works.
      In 1749 Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, aided by several scientists, published the first three volumes of his Natural History, and 32 more volumes including twelve on quadrupeds, nine on birds, and five on minerals came out over the years before his death in 1788. Each species was named in ten languages, and the work was translated into English, German, Swedish, Russian, and Italian. He studied fossils and suggested that all animals have a common origin. In 1751 the Sorbonne condemned fourteen propositions related to evolution in his Natural History, and Buffon signed a statement abandoning any idea that contradicted the book ofGenesis. In 1754 Pierre Louis de Maupertuis defended the idea of evolution in his Essai sur la Formation des Corps Organises.


1. Persian Letters by Montesquieu, tr. C. J. Betts, p. 283.
2. Mahomet act 1 scene 4 by Voltaire tr. William F. Fleming, p. 26.
3. Zadig by Voltaire tr. Donald M. Frame, p. 171.
4. Quoted in Voltaire by Theodore Besterman, p. 368.
5. Quoted in Voltaire a Life by Ian Davidson, p. 460.
6. The First and Second Discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Roger D. and Judith R. Masters, 36.
7. Ibid., p. 51.
8. Ibid., p. 64.
9. Social Contract, Discourse on the Virtue Most Necessary for a Hero by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Judith R. Bush et al, p. 10.
10. A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. G. D. H. Cole, p. 355.
11. Discourse on Political Economy by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. G. D. H. Cole, p. 375.
12. The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. W. Conyngham Mallory, p. 635-636.
13. Ibid., p. 661.
14. A Lasting Peace through the Federation of Europe by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. C. E. Vaughan in Gateway to the Great Books, Volume 7: Man and Society, p. 405.
15. Emile or On Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Allan Bloom, p. 37.
16. The Social Contract and other later political writings by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, tr. Victor Gourevitch, p. 50.
17. Ibid., p. 91.
18. Quoted in Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius by Leo Damrosch, p. 386.
19. Quoted in The Irresistible Diderot tr. John Hope Mason, p. 201.
20. “On Men of Letters” by Jean Le Rond d’Alembert tr. Crane Brinton in The Portable Age of Reason Reader, p. 91.
21. Quoted in The Libertine Reader ed. Michel Feher, p. 61.

Copyright © 2017 by Sanderson Beck

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