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Modern History Sourcebook:
Voltaire: Patrie, in The Philosophical Dictionary, 1752

A young journeyman pastry cook who had been to college, and who still knew a few of Cicero's phrases, boasted one day of loving his fatherland. "What do you mean by your >fatherland'?" a neighbor asked him. "Is it your oven? Is it the village where you were born and which you have never seen since? Is it the street where dwelled your father and mother who have been ruined and have reduced you to baking little pies for a living? Is it the town hall where you will never be a police superintendent's clerk? Is it the Church of Our Lady where you have not been able to become a choirboy, while an absurd man is archbishop and duke with an income of twenty thousand golden louis?"

The journeyman pastry cook did not know what to answer. A thinker who was listening to this conversation, concluded that in a fatherland of some extent there were often many thousand men who had no fatherland.

You, pleasure-loving Parisian, who have never made any great journey save that to Dieppe to eat fresh fish; who know nothing but your varnished town house, your pretty country house, and your box at that Opera where the rest of Europe persists in feeling bored; who speak your own language agreeably enough because you know no other, you love all that, and you love further the girls you keep, the champagne which comes to you from Rheims, the dividends which the Hôtel de Ville pays you every six months, and you say you love your fatherland!

In all conscience, does a financier cordially love his fatherland? The officer and the soldier who will pillage their winter quarters, if one lets them, have they a very warm love for the peasants they ruin? Where was the fatherland of the scarred Duc de Guise, was it in Nancy, Paris, Madrid, Rome? What fatherland have you, Cardinals de La Balue, Duprat, Lorraine, Mazarin? Where was the fatherland of Attila and of a hundred heroes of this type? I would like someone to tell me which was Abraham's fatherland. The first man to write that the fatherland is wherever one feels comfortable was, I believe, Euripides in his Phaeton. But the first man who left his birthplace to seek his comfort elsewhere has said it before him.

Where then is the fatherland? Is it not a good field, whose owner, lodged in a well-kept house, can say: "This field that I till, this house that I have built, are mine; I live there protected by laws which no tyrant can infringe. When those who, like me, possess fields and houses, meet in their common interest, I have my voice in the assembly; I am a part of everything, a part of the community, a part of the dominion; there is my fatherland"?

Well, now, it is better for your fatherland to be a monarchy or a republic? For four thousand years has this question been debated. Ask the rich for an answer, they all prefer aristocracy; question the people, they want democracy; only kings prefer royalty. How then is it that nearly the whole world is governed by monarchs? Ask the rats who proposed to hang a bell round the cat's neck. But in truth, the real reason is, as has been said, that men are very rarely worthy of governing themselves. It is sad that often in order to be a good patriot one is the enemy of the rest of mankind. To be a good patriot is to wish that one's city may be enriched by trade, and be powerful by arms. It is clear that one country cannot gain without another loses, and that it cannot conquer without making misery. Such then is the human state that to wish for one's country's greatness is to wish harm to one's neighbors. He who should wish his fatherland might never be greater, smaller, richer, poorer, would be the citizen of the world.


Source:

From: H. I. Woolf, ed., Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary (London, 1923), pp. 131-132.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.


This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu