No Comment, Quotation — October 10, 2009, 6:28 am

Voltaire Defines Patriotism

huber-voltaire

Il est triste que souvent, pour être bon patriote, on soit l’ennemi du reste des hommes. L’ancien Caton, ce bon citoyen, disait toujours en opinant au sénat: «Tel est mon avis, et qu’on ruine Carthage. Delanda est Carthago.» Être bon patriote, c’est souhaiter que sa ville s’enrichisse par le commerce, et soit puissante par les armes. Il est clair qu’un pays ne peut gagner sans qu’un autre perde, et qu’il ne peut vaincre sans faire des malheureux. Telle est donc la condition humaine que souhaiter la grandeur de son pays, c’est souhaiter du mal à ses voisins. Celui qui voudrait que sa patrie ne fût jamais ni plus grande, ni plus petite, ni plus riche, ni plus pauvre, serait le citoyen de l’univers.

It is lamentable that to be a good patriot we must make of ourselves the enemy of the balance of humanity. That good citizen the Cato the Elder always concluded his senatorial orations with the formula: This is my opinion, and Carthage must be destroyed. “Delanda est Carthago.” To be a good patriot is to wish our own state be enriched by commerce, and powerful by arms; but such is the condition of humankind, that to wish the greatness for our own country is often to wish evil to our neighbors. He who would bring himself to wish that our country shall always remain as it is neither larger nor smaller, neither richer nor poorer, would be a citizen of the universe.

–François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire), Dictionnaire philosophique, “Patrie,” sec. iii (1764)(S.H. transl.)

Listen to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s overture to the opera Zaïs (1748) – in the composer’s description it is a piece “which depicts the disentangling from chaos and the shock felt by the four elements as they are distilled” – here performed by the Musiciens du Louvre. Around the time of its composition, Voltaire is consumed with scientific experiments designed to distill the properties of fire, which he, like the rest of the scientific community, supposes to be an element. He is also heavily involved in joint projects with Rameau, including the comédie-opéra Le temple de la gloire and the comédie-ballet La Princesse de Navarre.

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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