Candide: A Heroic Diatribe Of French Institutions

1575 words - 6 pages

Francois-Marie d'Arouet, the author known as Voltaire, was perhaps the most influential philosopher of the eighteenth century; he was the most widely read philosopher of the Enlightenment and his criticisms of powerful French institutions seeded the resistance to orthodoxy imbued in the French Revolution that occurred eleven years after his death in seventeen seventy-eight. The Renaissance instilled in Voltaire the virtues of science and a respect for the natural world that forced him to examine the institutions of France from an objective eye. From this, Voltaire was able to see through the veil over religion and the state to examine the underlying hypocrisy and corruption of these institutions and as a result he was able to produce a biting commentary in his great work, Candide.

Prior to penning Candide, Voltaire was schooled at a Jesuit college in Paris that gave him a great insight into the church, the aristocracy and the French government. Voltaire made numerous friends in aristocratic circles with his wit and humour, but few in the church and government enjoyed his commentary as it was primarily aimed at them. In punishment for his biting remarks Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille and eventually sent into exile in England where he continued to criticize French institutions from abroad. Voltaire's writing gained popularity in France and he was heralded as one of the great minds of the Enlightenment for his humour and stunning critiques. Voltaire's masterpiece Candide was released in seventeen fifty-nine, forty-two years after his imprisonment, and was immediately considered to be his crowning achievement as Voltaire used the form of the philosophical tale to express his doubts about all being for the best.

Candide is the story of a young man, who had always been taught the ethos that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds", but realizes the foolishness of his teacher, Doctor Pangloss, when he discovers a world wrought with horrors brought on by religion, government and greed. When Candide finally settles with Cunegonde in Turkey, he encounters a farmer who Candide believes to be more content that the rich and powerful men he met during his travels; he discovers that "'work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.'" From this point Candide begins to cultivate his own garden, which allows him to be at peace. This story was written by Voltaire as a condemnation of the theory of metaphysical optimism that proliferated amongst philosophes during the Enlightenment. The theory was espoused by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and stated that "God could envision an infinite number of possible worlds...Being benevolent and good by definition, God would choose the best of those possible worlds" and we cannot understand his overarching plan, so small miseries are tolerable or necessary. Voltaire was a deist, and as such believed that God created the Earth and left it to follow scientific...

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