Voltaire Defines Patriotism | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

Voltaire Defines Patriotism



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.

More from