Voltaire A History That Never Moved Essay

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Voltaire: A History That Never Moved Essay, Research Paper Voltaire: A history that never moved By Binoy Kampmark Why should history move? Consider it a frozen tableau, an unchanging picture. There are only emotions rather than causation. Even if there is historical causation, Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet) (1694-1778) wrote in his works History of Charles XII, History of Louis XIV and his Essai sur les Moeurs et l’Esprit des Nations against its usefulness. This is largely because Voltaire, through his desire to write a history freed from a chronology, merely reshaped it by means of adventure rather than exegesis. Rather than explaining causes, he merged them in forms that could not be said to be true causes of change. Voltaire’s history so contended is not a view of

progress, but in its method of stillness in history, the inevitable stasis of change that was no change. It is true that Voltaire used movements, ideas, individuals and nations to develop history. He tried to define allegorically the chronological morass of history, by looking at the motivation behind history. But by attempting to do so, Voltaire wrote of a sequestered history disunited by the exploits of unique individuals and unique historical phenomena. Evolution is not linked but disparate. Trapped by a France that produced Descartes, a figure disinterested of history, and Melebrance’s ahistorical stance, Voltaire is reduced to a teller of fables. Along with that it is a France that loves history as fiction rather than history as fact. “The fear of the Bastille and a hope

for government pensions had a dismal effect on the historian’s taste for truth and objectivity.” Well and good ? the fable teller was out and ready to produce. But did the fables reveal a teleological purpose? Voltaire must have reasoned that progress was possible ? there must have been progress from a maleficent God who destroyed Lisbon to a disinterested God who had deferred his authority to destroy to an amoral nature. Without some definitive progress the pleasantries of the present age would not have been possible. There would be no Turgot, no Condorcet, no Diderot. What is being submitted is that it was never clear how that resulted. Was it Idea? Was it Spirit? Not free will, since free will is constrained. Not God who lies too high in the sky. Voltaire mentions the

figures from the past, Suleiman the Magnificent for instance or Charles XII, he mentions the Oriental perspectives brilliantly, but he does not link them definitively. Like Umberto Eco?s William of Baskerville, he sees signs without a connection. He displays a delight for exoticism. He is far too interested in his present, where modernity is undertaking a dynamic revolution through literature. *** Voltaire’s history begins where Gibbons account of it ends. Thus Voltaire’s history is a modern history made by modern men. For Voltaire truth resides in the spontaneous brilliance of men, manners of nations, spirits of endeavour. It is a world brilliantly illuminated by such geniuses as Newton, a world that Voltaire nourishes to an extreme. This is one paradox of the intellectual

thought of Voltaire. Suddenly the universe seems full of men who shaped history. To this end his history does assume some structural definition ? history cannot be still as great men are never quiet. He writes of Louis XIV as if he shaped Europe. But Voltaire?s galaxy is one of non-related phenomena, almost in the version of Hume’s self-scepticism. There is minimal causation. “I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception,” wrote Hume. Thus this history is a perspective isolated which can never observe anything but itself. Louis XIV with the Bourbons is by itself. But once one is dead that is the end of the matter. No thought, no perception, no love, no pleasure, and no history. The world is merely one of confused