Once after I delivered a paper, a professor commented to me,"Your understanding of Voltaire is really very different from mine. You make him sound like such a good person."
And on the whole I do think he was. In The New Yorker Adam Gopnik explains Voltaire's enduring appeal:
There couldn’t be a better model of an improvisatory, anti-authoritarian intelligence, whose whole creed rests on individual acts and case-by-case considerations. He believed in the English model of trade and toleration, not the Jacobin model of ideology and intemperance... Voltaire’s spirit was one of tolerant cosmopolitanism, even though he didn’t have the insight to see that one challenge for the cosmopolitan spirit would be how well it tolerated those who had no wish to be cosmopolitan.He was not perfect by a long stretch--but there is still a lot to admire. [Via Arts & Letters Daily; crossposted to Positive Liberty.]
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William Marina - 3/3/2005
One of V's more insightful moments came as he began to reject some of the more fanciful notions about China being brought back by the Jesuits to the European Enlightenment, realizing the Mandarin System meant bureaucracy. Tocqueville realized this, Jefferson nenver did.
I also liked the Gopnik piece.