Voltaire: Candide (nor Optimism)


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I had half of an essay on the Lisbon Earthquake that I wanted to post on All Saint’s Day…

    Anyway, Candide was the funniest book I had ever read until I got about halfway through at which point, with *ZERO* change in tone, it became the most depressing existentialist essay I’d ever read.

    I’d like to bring Voltaire to here/now and go for a walk with him. I wonder if he’d want to go back or not…Report

  2. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Rufus, such high-brow stuff and on a Friday? I was already going to start drinking early, now you’ve given me something else to read.Report

  3. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    When philosophy and music come together like this one has to mention it, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide shouldn’t be missed. Bernstein himself conducting the Overture. And a neat production with Kristin Chenoweth and Paul Groves.

    Let dreamers dream
    What worlds they please
    Those Edens can’t be found.
    The sweetest flowers,
    The fairest trees
    Are grown in solid ground.

    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow.
    And make our garden grow!


  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    most of us remember next to nothing about Leibniz

    Other than inventing calculus?Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    How much evidence is there that Voltaire was versed in Eastern philosophy? Your point about Candide floating down the river and ending up in El Dorado sounds suspiciously Buddhistic.

    The Lisbon Earthquake, I’ve thought, was a problem for Enlightenment thinkers like Liebniz, who needed to reconcile rationalism to teleology. To me, Voltaire is not a post-Enlightenment author, I see him as a late Enlightenment author, and Candide is in a real way the climax of the Enlightenment for this reason — he rejects teleology as irreconcilable with empirical reality.Report

    • Avatar Benno in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I’m going to guess: not much.  There wasn’t that much cultural exchange of that type until philologists really got busy in the 19th century.  The Panchatantra, for example, may have arrived in Europe as early as the 11th century, but from Arabic or Persian sources.  Work on Sanskrit (and the attending interest in religious texts) didn’t really begin until the end of the 18th century,  I would guess – and it is only a guess – that work on Chinese religious texts on Buddhism would similarly be left until the colonial ethnographic spirit took hold.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I don’t know, honestly. But I suspect he was familiar with the basic ideas because in a few places he brings up Buddhism as a response to those who would say that a society can’t function without a belief in God.Report

  6. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Geez, RufusF, liberal arts education worth going into debt for!  I wouldn’t be so crabby about Big Ed if a tenth of my teachers had been in your league.  Mega-props, sir; you continue to astound and inspire me.

    [On a personal note, I have been thinking on theodicy and Leibniz a lot lately.  Had the creator–God, if there is one–made this mortal coil significantly more horrible or even less horrible, there would be less place for free will, faith, and yes, reason, all postulated by Leibniz as why things are as they are, why the human equation is exactly what it is.]


    [In short, why.  Leibniz’ is a completion-backwards thesis, after all, an attempt to explain why we’re here atall, a posteriori.  Quid sit deus—if there is a God, what would He/It be?  The rest follows, to the best of Dr. Pangloss’ ability to theorize and explain.]Report