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Voltaires Impact from the Enlightenment to Today’s Time Essay

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Like so many of his peers, including a number of the founding fathers of the United States, Voltaire was a deist who believed that God had created everything but then let it evolve on its own. Although educated by the Jesuits, Voltaire hated the Catholic Church. He is famously quoted to have said “Ecrasez l’infame” ‘Crush the horrible thing!’ referring to the Church. He had written most of his life on religious tolerance but the Jean Calas affair gave him the focus he needed and in 1763 he published A Treatise on Tolerance that focused entirely on the case.

Making a powerful case for religious and intellectual freedom gave the fledgling Scientific Revolution in France a much needed boost. The Roman Catholic Church which in France had become the only official state-sanctioned religion thanks to King Louis XIV. Voltaire in a tireless campaign argued that people should be permitted to worship as they pleased or not at all. Just as well, his tireless efforts to promote the empirical methods of Francis Bacon and John Locke of England as the only legitimate way to practice science were a direct challenge to the French rationalist tradition of, for example, René Descartes.

Both traditions, religious and rationalist, proved difficult to dislodge, but change was in the air and intellectual freedom especially, became a rallying point. Voltaire spurred the third estates people into revolting along with many others. As a political theorist, he believed that the world is governed by natural laws which are discernible by human reason. Natural laws are good and reasonable and man will be happy if they live by them. He would criticize the government, such as he did both England and France which made people realize the rights of which they did not have and gave them more reason to overthrow.

He helped clarify the peasants, city workers, and middle classmen’s reasons why to revolt against the over taxing, controlling, unjust, unfair and wealthy owned government that still resembled Feudalism in class structure and working conditions. This is in itself why governing institutions feared his word and rejected his theories very often. Voltaire had a great impact on his time and these ideas and theories are very relevant with today’s time. He created many satire plays, poems, and books of which were best sellers. He also inspired a revolutionary perspective to inspire an enlightenment of new thinking amongst the political and societal order. Voltaire’s Enlightenment impact will continue to fade in and out of societal cycles shaping the world we live in, even in its small impacts.

Works Cited

“Ecrasez L’infame – PANGEA PROGRESS.” PANGEA PROGRESS. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

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