Voltaire A History That Never Moved Essay — страница 2

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phenomena. “Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time”. These impressions exist independently, and can exist separately from each other. There is no whole, no organic definition of the world, no true totality. This is essential Voltaire, phrased through Hume’s comprehension of mind itself with regards to his history. Hume’s analysis makes mind irrelevant. Voltaire’s reasoning made history impossibly confused, though brilliantly illuminated. Here Voltaire has to reason with an extraordinary paradigm -the notion of causation in a world that runs in accordance with divine dictates. Whilst anti-clerical, Voltaire cannot help but revere the Newtonian religious adoration of the physical laws of the

universe that he is a part. At work here was an iconoclasm against the causal God. Voltaire’s Elements partly worshipped the divinity of Space and the enormity of God. In this scheme of the Universe, time is eternal, space only relevant in filling time. There is ultimately no problem for Voltaire if what he was illustrating was the distance of God from the acts of history and the acts that influenced human life and human creation. By emphasising the enormity of infinite space and time, one emphasises the untouched distance to the highest pillars of divinity. God is simply one with the Universe, a natural phenomenon of nature itself. Thus history cannot be explained in the Augustinian sense of God revealing himself, nor can it even be explained as the Hegelian self-revealing of

the Absolute. God is quite simply an incoherent part of history that began with him but also ceased with his creation. In effect history never existed and God never intervened after creation. Voltaire’s agnostic tendency renders his history inquisitive but distant, factual, but inconclusive. It was as if history, like matter has its own secrets, almost impossibly impenetrable, a case he exhibited, imitating Hesiod, in his Philosophical Dictionary: “O man! God has given thee understanding to guide thee aright, and not to penetrate into the essence of things He has created”. Voltaire reduces history, a hidden element, the living unknown, to an anecdotal picture of folly, lunacy and criminality. But history is not after all merely a “tableau of crimes and misfortunes”.

There must be some other basis of reason. He uses the beauty of theatrical writing to symbolically portray his intellectual insights, through mind, and perhaps through the heart itself. Reading Voltaire is reading the expression of emotion itself, but an emotion that is guided by the versatile mind of the author. Such a theme could be found in the Siecle de Louis XIV. But the Voltairean emotion is the desire to see no single nation glorified in zealous patriotic idolatry, no nation seen as exceptional. History, whilst confused, is nonetheless a canvass which every nation has left its mark upon positively. The task for Voltaire, is a task to reason history not in terms of the vulgarity of human misfortune, but in terms of some equitable inquiry: I would like to discover what human

society was like, how people lived in the intimacy of the family, and what arts were cultivated, rather than repeat the story of so many misfortunes and military combats – the dreary subject matter of history and the common currency of human perversity. The history that results from this method is one typical of the Enlightenment. But rather than confronting the institutions of the day, as he did in his other letters and publications, Voltaire explored history as a sociological phenomenon that cultivates within itself – spirits, manners and institutions. He was depressed by history as perversity and therefore focused on its cultural variations that lead to creation rather than destruction. Thus, by featuring a medium as art, we focus on a medium that is difficult to reason in

terms of progress. Art changes, but this does not confer upon it the mobility of progress. Likewise with manners and mores. Whilst Monstesquieu can say that some ages were crude and rude, whilst others were civil and humane, Voltaire whether consciously or not used a changing medium without the discernible mark of progress: manners. Despite his refusal to expressly recognise some teleological method, he inadvertently classifies ages as rude and crude in their outlook and their mores. He thus merges a teleological perspective with a non-teleological method. Thus Voltaire the historian becomes the figure we know best, Voltaire the idealist. Historical change does not become external, but idealised by mind – the intellectual conditions of mind that are affected by the external