Modern historians have come to view Voltaire’s Candide as a brilliant attack of the popular optimistic attitude of 18th century Europe that “one must live peacefully in this, the best of all possible worlds. ” The following essay will examine and outline how Voltaire utilizes satire to point out the critical flaws in the social structure of 18th century Europe and how they can be repaired. By analyzing excerpts from the text, the essay will look at Voltaire’s position on the nature of humanity, how he envisions progress taking place and his opinions on personal freedoms and the roles of individuals.
Voltaire immediately points out a generally limited, self-righteous, and minimalist point-of-view found in 18th century Europe when Candide explains how Doctor Pangloss, “the greatest philosopher in the province and therefore the whole world”, has proved that “My Lord the Baron’s castle was the best of castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses.
” (Ch. 1, p. 4) This naive perception that what one man knows, understands, and believes is ultimately the best and only way is a common attitude of the time and is the seed of the intolerance that haunted the 18th century.
Voltaire confronts the optimistic philosophy, which fails to recognize misfortunes, like those suffered by nearly every character in Candide, as evils, but instead as necessary events that lead to “the best of all possible worlds. ” Within the story, Voltaire goes so far as to allow optimism to cause the death of Jacque the Anabaptist when Pangloss prevents Candide from saving him from the bay of Lisbon, which according to Pangloss “had been expressly created for the Anabaptist to drowned in. ” (Ch. 5, p. 4) Voltaire is making the point that when unrelenting belief in an idea, philosophy, or religion brings about the death of an innocent man, such a belief should be questioned, if not eradicated.
When death of man or destruction of society is no motivation to examine alternatives, it is difficult to give any consideration to such ideals. Voltaire’s pessimistic view of society becomes apparent as Candide’s journey of “fortunate” misfortune brings him broken and beaten to Holland where an orator speaking on Christian charity ironically exclaims, “You don’t deserve to eat,” (Ch. , p. 9) after Candide explains that he has never heard of the Pope being the Anti-Christ.
This is clearly Voltaire commenting on the hypocrisy among the various religious groups, but more importantly the role of individuals. It becomes clear that Candide’s story is not an attack on any particular nation, religion, or tradition, but an exposition on the intolerant state of society as a whole. Extreme religious beliefs and unfounded superstitions were the cause of rash and irrational decisions that led to the destruction of society.
In Candide, Voltaire references the earthquake of Lisbon where “the wise men of that country could discover no more efficacious way of preventing a total ruin than by giving the people a splendid auto-da-fe. ” (Ch. 6, p. 16) It is this instance that Voltaire effectively comments on the absurdity of the burning people at the stake as an “infallible secret for preventing earthquakes. ” (Ch. 6, p. 16) As a leader of the Enlightenment Era, Voltaire believed in the application of science and reason would bring about a number of different explanations for how and why the world works, while also breaking down walls of intolerance.
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