Voltaire A History That Never Moved Essay — страница 4

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the credentials of an individual in an age, only to revert to an emphasis on aggregate movements in the spirits of the age in his Essai sur les moeurs. But Voltaire’s history is not a hero’s history. Voltaire’s iconoclasm was too advanced for that. Yet he makes a concession that individuals do have their place, just as nations have their place. In fact everything has a place in the Voltaire’s paradise. And they all remain basking in a glorious inertia. Arguably his greatest work Candide where the adventures of Candid and Professor Pangloss take centre stage, history’s futile adventures are as futile as the exploits of Candide. When the anticlimactic conclusion arrives in its humble form, the master and student engage in a conversation that perfects the model of

Voltairean history: Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle; … if you had not been out into the Inquisition; if you had not walked over America; … if you had not lost all your gold; … you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.” “All that is very well,” answers Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.” This world is the world of events, a world of achievement and ill luck, yet a world seemingly mobile and yet need not have moved at all. Drama, discussion and finally a quiet life of gardening. The history of the journey seems futile. Candide need never have moved. There is no discernible movement with an aim. There

is no progression, and one might even say, no modernity except in the present. The events happened, one the sine qua non of the other, but that is the nature of all life, of all events. A link exists but no more. Life returns to a humble agrarian existence in a garden, an idiosyncratic conclusion to a tumultuous history. And it is Voltaire who is smiling at the end of the journey, somewhat sardonically, to those who hoped to find a pattern when there was none to find. But this journey must realise one thing: “All is for the best in the best of possible worlds”. Voltaire’s accounts might as well be stories of kingdoms, not entirely insular, but enough to assume a separateness that never unites. Voltaire’s history laughs. There are events in history. But there is no

movement in the causal sense enough to make progress. All events happen as a scheme, but it is a futile scheme, a needless one. Man will always be restricted but he will always need to be happy. His freewill will always be burdened but it occurs for the purpose of happiness. The events will happen and will persist in happening. People have honour but events will occur in their folly as fits of lunacy if people will not change. But all men have virtue or comprehension of it. This tendency of Voltaire to contextualise history in the form of human behaviour and universal virtues entrenches the immobile or ‘needless’ composition of history as teleological. We need good government, we do not need theocracies and we need good climates. Ultimately the movements between the

collective and mind and individual endeavour are too sporadic to form a historical fabric of progression. *** As a historian Voltaire is not considered seriously by contemporary standards. But his use of history as a rhetorical device, a polemical tool has had followers. A final verdict is out: he was no historian. By mobilising intellect against intelligence as Roland Barthes put it, he grounded the paradox of confrontation against that of conciliation. History could thus never move. Even in his age, when he decried the crude slavishness that the documenting of history had become, he was criticised by some of his contemporaries, sometimes in envy, that his breadth of intellect was too capricious to detail a proper history, too fickle to render order to a chaotic world.

“Voltaire will never write a good history,” wrote a sceptical Baron Montesquieu, “He is like the monks who care little about the subject they are treating, but only about the glory of their order. Voltaire writes only for the monastery”. He had condemned his age for revering fantasies and fictions in history, but his polemical pen only knew the dream. His love of humanity gave the first history of the world that was generous in its recognition of men as equals. But the only true progress for Voltaire lay in the present, whether it was the English parliamentary system, or the virtues of the Prussian King Frederick the Great. He never defined clearly how history had moved to attain that end. History just happened to dictate these terms by the rule of nature. And arts and