Suddenly, I was at university. It was 1978 and I was free. Sort of. There were all these books to be read in French and German. Prévost’s tedious Manon Lescault and La Double Inconstance by Marivaux: s’il vous plaît... I was interested in the human condition, not this staid tosh. It might have been A Thing in its day but its day had been and gone. Unfortunately, they were required reading, so I couldn’t escape them altogether, but even in the days before Artificial Intelligence one could still use one’s nous and cobble together some acceptable nonsense as an essay.
As an item of light relief, along came Candide, an entertaining 18th century romp and a welcome reminder that one of the best critiques of unsound philosophy is irony. You only have to look at a portrait of Voltaire to know how much fun the grand old atheist and republican had with his advocacy.
This kind of fun, as we know, is a serious matter, and Voltaire’s satires and warnings as a champion of reason remain a safeguard against the divisiveness of religious intolerance, political dogmatism, unfounded conspiracy theories and other persuasions of fear.
“Ceux qui peuvent vous faire croire à des absurdités peuvent vous faire commettre des atrocités.”