Monday, 24 January 2011

Voltaire DID care about liberty

I said (here) that De Tocqueville said that the philosophes weren’t interested in England, and (somewhere) that I've started reading Voltaire’s Letters on England. Well, the latter seem to refute Voltaire: see the following (Penguin, 44-5):

Here is a more essential difference between Rome and England which gives all the advantage to the latter: the outcome of civil wars in Rome was slavery, and that of the troubles in England liberty. The English nation is the only one on earth which has succeeded in controlling the power of kings by resisting them, which by effort after effort has at last established this wise system of government in which the prince, all-powerful for doing good, has his hands tied for doing evil, in which the aristocrats are great without arrogance and vassals, and in which the people share in the government without confusion….

The government of England is not made for such great glory [as Roman conquests] nor for such a terrible end [as the suppression of the plebs]; its object is not the brilliant folly of making conquests, but to prevent its neighbours from making any. These people are not only jealous of their own liberty but also of that of others. The English were fiercely hostile to Louis XIV simply because they thought he was ambitious. They made war against him with a light heart, certainly without self- interest. No doubt liberty has only been established in England at a heavy cost, and the idol of despotic power has been drowned in seas of blood, but the English do not feel they have paid too high a price for good laws. The other nations have had no fewer troubles and have shed no less blood, but the blood they have poured out in the cause of their liberty has only cemented their servitude.

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