Dialogues of the Dead: Of God and Liberty from Voltaire and Rousseau

I. To Paris From London!

It was with great grief that I have left Victorian London to the city of Paris. A feeling of nostalgia pierced my very heart as I remembered the numerous adventures that my Aunt and I had experienced within a city that has housed and harbored so many great intellectuals. The city boasted writers like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Elliot, and Oscar Wilde. Philosophers and Psychologists, like Marx and Freud had took refuge within its streets. Scientist like Newton and Darwin lay buried within the great Church of Westminster.

The city of London was a city like none other!

Our travels brought us from the magnificent Buckingham Palace to the mysterious Tower of London to the museums of Natural History, Science and Churchill. We explored the British Museum to the British Library. London was a city of both the arts and sciences; two unlikely friends coexisting side by side nurturing each other and finally falling in love within an exciting symbiotic relationship. Nothing could be more fascinating. Even the recent financial crisis that wiped away millions of dollars in the financial markets, and with it the livelihoods of many, could not sweep away the splendor of such a great city.

But everything that has a beginning must have an end. And so it was, that with silent sorrow I boarded the Eurostar train with my Aunt and left behind the city that I have come to love with all my intellectual pursuits and spirit. London now existed only in my fondest memory. I looked ahead, forward, to a new adventure and a new experience like the generals of old leading a cavalry charge.

Paris.

The city is as historical, as ancient, and as mysterious and also probably more intriguing a city than any that I have ever seen. Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame de Paris and Musee du Lourve incited and ignited such curiosity in me largely because of the difficulty of pronouncing each name of each place correctly. Ironic indeed that man has always held in awe what he cannot understand or, in my case, pronounce properly.

“Our first destination in Paris, if I may proposed, is the Pantheon,” I remarked to my dear Aunt as we sat down and got comfortable inside the carriage.

“The Pantheon as in the Church that all the great people of France are buried at?” responded my aunt curtly.

“Yes, yes, that church!”

“The church that Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas was buried in?”

“You are missing Voltaire and Rousseau!” I exclaimed excitedly.

“I can’t believe that I brought you to Paris to see a mass graveyard,” said my Aunt smacking her hand on her forehead.

And I left the conversation just like that.

II. Onward! To The Pantheon!

The Pantheon of Paris reminded me of the Parthenon in Athens. The façade was a pediment resting upon a set of giant Corinthian columns forming what historians and architects of historical buildings would call a Classical entrance. It reminded me a little of a smaller version of the entrance into the British Museum.


After my aunt and I passed through the massive black doors of the Church, we entered into the nave. The dome for some reason looked bigger from the inside compared to the outside. Sculptures depicted the greatest moments of the French Revolution were littered around the pillars supporting the dome. Directly beneath it was Foucault’s pendulum that demonstrated the rotation of the earth. From beneath the dome the church was divided into four arms. Each arm had a cycle of paintings that told the story of Saint Genevieve and the beginnings of Christianity and the monarchy of France.

Wasting no time I left my Aunt in the nave to admire its architecture and walked straight to the back of the church and found the spiral staircase that led to the Crypt. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, feeling a little giddy, I caught sight of my prize. There beneath the great church laid the very symbols of the Age of Enlightenment. To the right was the white statue of Voltaire by Houdon standing erect before Voltaire’s tomb. Opposite it was Rousseau’s tomb, shaped like a rustic temple with an arm reaching out that bore the torch of liberty.

Liberty.

It is such a stimulating word. A word that spark ablaze passions, feelings and emotions.

In my heart I wished that the two men were alive here and now to converse with me. What would I give to see the pit their wits against each other.

III. Do Dead Men Tell No Tales?

A ball of lightning came from nowhere and struck the temple tomb of Rousseau and the sound of its thunder was deafening. And like any piece of wood struck by lighting, I watched in horror as it burst into red and yellow flames.

But the tomb itself did not appear to be burning. It was as though the fire was feeding itself. I could feel no heat coming from its cackling flames. From within the fire materialized a man. He was clean-shaven, not very tall and with eyes that appeared that he was half dreaming. His form was translucent and I could see the texture of the wall behind him. Yet his voice was firm and of a in tempest nature.

“Who dares awaken Rousseau?! Do you not know that it is unwise to awake the dead?” asked the wraith loudly with an ethereal voice.

For a moment, I could do nothing. It was as though I had the reflex of an unanimated object. Then the fight or flight response came into my body and I spun around to flee back up the spiral staircase.

But to my horror, there stand another spirit. This one was glowing with white light. He was a man, both tall and thin. He had a fleshless face and eyes that betrayed mischief. He looked exactly like the statue of Voltaire.

His voice was calm and gentle as he said, “You would wake me up and leave me alone in the company of him?” he pointed at Rousseau’s spirit, “how cruel.”

“ Enough of this nonsense!” said Rousseau rather rudely. “Who are you, boy?”

“I am no boy,” said I gathering some confidence with the insult, “I am 22 years old this year and I am of age regardless of whatever culture you judge me by.” I responded coldly.

“Now, now, Monsieur Rousseau, why does it matter who he is.” Voltaire addresses the angry spirit of Rousseau. “A name is but a word to make life easier in identifying someone or something. He may not be one who carries a great name. But what is more important is that he wins respect with the name he has.”

Turning to me, the white wraith made a curt little bow fit for an aristocrat and said, “My name is Francois Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire, at your service.”

“Are you both…real?” said I.

The fire that Rousseau was burning in seemed to grow bigger and more ferocious. “OF COURSE I AM REAL!” he shouted. And then with a more controlled voice he stated, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

“Don’t worry about him,” said Voltaire. “He has been in this manner ever since he was alive. And there was no reason for him to change after death. A truly miserable creature,” said Voltaire giving a flat stare at Rousseau.

“I asked because I thought that it is nature that have deceived me. That both of you are but a metaphysical mirages in my mind.” I spoke with wonder.

To which Voltaire replied, “Do not use the word metaphysics lightly. When he to whom one speaks does not understand, and he who speaks himself does not understand, that is metaphysics.”

“You speak in riddles, old Voltaire. Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves,” replied Rousseau still staring at me.

“I don’t understand,” I stated innocently, “are you saying that you are not truly standing in front of me and that I am deceiving myself?”

“No, boy,” said the fiery wraith sternly with a huge emphasis on the word ‘boy’, “I AM truly standing in front of you. My last statement was a matter of fact. Not to be confused with my existence. I have always stood on the side of the truth. Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.”

I was beginning to get dizzy with all the multiple syllable words.

“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times,” interrupted Voltaire. “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. We cannot wish for that we know not.”

“Utter nonsense, Monsieur Voltaire,” remarked Rousseau. “The truth is for all men for all times!”

“Do you claim to know the truth then?”

“Yes I do!”

At this point, I felt a little left out of the conversation but the exchange was rather comical so I listened intently.

“In that case, you wouldn’t mind being put through a simple test, would you?” continued Voltaire.

“Try me!” came fire’s reply.

“What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?”

“Trick question, next!”

“I am now not speaking truly. Was I telling the truth in my previous statement?”

“That is playing with words, next!”

“The barber in a certain village is a man who shaves all and only those men in the village who do not shave themselves. Is he a man who shaves himself?”

“You are cheating!”

“But you claimed to know the truth! Surely a few paradoxes cannot plant doubt in the deep recesses of your mind?”

“Surely not! But to trick me with such questions proves that you are a lowlife. A man of no principles and honor!”

“Ah, but Monsieur Rousseau, I live by a simple principle,” said Voltaire with a twinkle in his eye.

“Let us hear it,” cried Rousseau.

“Love truth, but pardon error,” said Voltaire slyly before continuing, “I love you not, but I pardon you.”

IV. Crush the Infamous Thing!

The wraith of Rousseau twisted and turned with rage. The fire that was burning around him rose to new heights. It danced wildly like a wildfire ready to consume a forest. It was as though the fires of hell were burning within him and that he might unleash it at any moment to consume both the ghost of Voltaire and myself. But Voltaire stood undaunted.

Soon the flames went back to its normal shape.

“But I know of a truth that is so self-evident and so infallible that even you and your impish devices cannot prove me wrong,” stated Rousseau in a dangerously low hiss that sounded like a snake about the strike.

“The progress of rivers to the ocean is not so rapid as that of man to error. But pray, do tell,” responded Voltaire.

“I believe in God as strongly as I believe any other truth, because believing and not believing are the last things in the world that depend on me,” said Rousseau.

To which Voltaire responded, “All men are born with a nose and ten fingers, but no one was born with a knowledge of God. The mice living in a few little holes of an immense building do not know if the building is eternal, who is the architect, or why the architect built it. They try to preserve their lives, to people their holes, and to escape the destructive animals that pursue them. We are mice and the divine architect who built this universe has not yet, so far as I know, told His secret to any of us.”

“You are an atheist,” screamed Rousseau. “You should be burned alive!”

“Atheist?” asked Voltaire questioningly. “Did I not tell Benjamin Franklin’s grandson three words, ‘God and Liberty’ shortly before I died?”

“You lie! I remembered that on your deathbed you told the priest that so kindly came to redeem your soul, ‘let me die in peace.’ And also on your deathbed when another priest asked you to renounce Satan, did you not say, ‘now, now, my good man, this is not the time for making enemies?’ And when the last priest came to save your soul and said that he came from God himself, did you not rebuke him by saying, ‘well, well, sir, your credentials?’ I remembered also when you were living that a priest told you that we must ‘confess your sins to one another,’ did you not in disrespect and deceit confessed your sins and dragged the poor priest out from his chair and into the confession box and forced him to confess his sins to you? How then, can you say that you believe in God?!”

“I shall always be convinced that a watch proves a watchmaker, and that the universe proves a God,” responded Voltaire calmly.

The battle of wits and words was getting intense but all the same terribly amusing.  I watched and waited for their strikes and parries of words not knowing if they still remembered of my existence between them.

Rousseau began again, “God cannot be proved.” He must be felt. He must be felt through the emotions of awe or mystery, the sense of right and wrong, and the feeling of aspiration.”

“And by feeling you mean that we must by faith trust that what we feel is God and not just some gust of wind or Goosebumps?”

“Yes, we must have faith to trust in God.”

“I will tell you what faith truly is, Monsieur Rousseau,” stated Voltaire suddenly grinning. “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. Faith consists in believing things because they are impossible. Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.”

“Blasphemy and heresy! Have I not told you that the existence of God is beyond proof and beyond reason?”

“But men cannot live without reason nor can he believe the unreasonable. Do you believe that God is good?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Why?”

“Because the Bible says so. Psalms 34:8 states ‘Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.’”

“Then tell me Monsieur Rousseau, why do natural disasters happen? Remember the volcanic explosion that buried Pompeii. Remember the earthquakes of Lisbon, Kashmir, and Sichuan. Remember Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans!”

“Praise the Lord,” cried Rousseau. “It is in times of peril that man remembers his creator, confess his sins and repent in earnest.”

“You would praise God for inflicting such horrors on mankind?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Even if those horrors were inflicted upon you?”

Rousseau paused before saying. “That is a different matter entirely.”

“I remember that poor old Job was not so jolly when the wrath of the Heavens came down upon him.”

“What are you trying to aim at, you old scoundrel?”

“Oh quite simply,” said Voltaire shifting his pose sideways and now looking directly towards me before stating. “That God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”

“What heresy!”

“The conclusion is simple, Monsieur Rousseau,” said Voltaire. “Either God can prevent evil and he will not, or he wishes to prevent it and he cannot.”

“You would be sent to Hell by God for saying that! You in seeming always to believe in God, never really believed in anybody but the devil, since your pretended God is a maleficent being who according to you finds all his pleasure in working mischief.”

“Just out of curiosity, when you mention God, do you mean the Christian God?”

“Of course I do!”

“Why not the God of the Jews, Muslims, Chinese, Hindus, Buddhist and Shinto? The last I remembered all those religions also called for man to be of good character, to self-reflect, to stay away from evil thoughts and deeds. Tell me, Rousseau, you who claim to know God better than I, tell me why must your God be only for the Christians?”

Rousseau remains silent.

“Please do not tell me that Christianity is the best due to simplicity or ease of adoption. If you would love your Creator as much as I think you do, surely praying more times daily, abstaining from eating particular animals and cutting away a piece of your flesh should be small sacrifices.”

Rousseau grumbles but continues to be silent.

“It does not require great art, or magnificently trained eloquence, to prove that Christians should tolerate each other. I, however, am going further: I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Chinaman my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God? So why then do some Christians treat people of other religions with contempt saying that they are praying to false gods and idols? Should we not respect the religious practices of others so that others would respect our practices?”

“Enough, what happens to the people of other races and religions do not concern me,” rumbled a very angry spirit of Rousseau. “It is sufficient that I firmly believe in the doctrines and principles of my own religion.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Voltaire in a loud voice. “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reason. A brief walk through human history and you will find that it is plagued with men believing to have obtained the divine calling of God to slaughter, steal and sin. Remember how Rome prosecuted the Christians and how in turn the Christians prosecuted the Jews. Bring back to memory the Crusades that brought such death and destruction to the Middle East. Remember how they used to burn people on stakes for heresy and witchcraft.”

“I wish they had burned you!”

“Remember,” said Voltaire ignoring Rousseau. “That the greatest drug exporter was Christian Britain when she approved of the Opium trade into China. Remember that on 11 September 2001, the 19 extremist and fanatics brought down the World Trade Center, killing thousands in the United States.”

“So what would you do? Abolish religion?” commented Rousseau cynically.

“No, Rousseau, but abolish the intolerance, fanaticism, and superstition in religion! Crush the infamous! And by infamous I mean intolerance, fanaticism and superstition! I declare, Rousseau, that superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth. Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them!”

“You speak as though there is no hope for religion, Voltaire,” stated Rousseau, now with a calm and collected voice. “The world needs religion. And maybe even the superstition in it. I cannot foresee a world without organized religion.”

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. The institution of religion exists only to keep mankind in order, and to make men merit the goodness of God by their virtue. Everything in religion which does not tend toward this goal must be considered alien and dangerous.”

“Well spoken from a man that I fear have never spoken to God nor heard what God has to say to him,” remarked Rousseau sarcastically.

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it!”

V. Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, Right?

“Isn’t it more important what men do, rather than what men believe?” I remarked quite innocently. The argument between the two wraiths was getting out of hand and I felt necessary to try and change the topic less the both explode into uncontrollable rage with me stuck in between.

“Well said, young lad,” exclaimed Voltaire with a pat on my shoulder. I swore that his ghostly hand went through my shoulder instead of resting on it. “But I am afraid that in the harsh light of reality, might is right. Hence, the sayings ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ ‘Trust in God and keep your powder dry,’ ‘God is on the side of the big battalions.’ Even if God is not on the side of the big battalions, he is on the side of those who shoot best.”

“Our greatest evils flow from ourselves,” howled Rousseau. “We should not blame immortal God for the sins of mortal men.”

“But do you not see, Monsieur Rousseau,” questioned the white wraith, “All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. Military commanders are butchers! Behold Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Julius Caesar are but war criminals but they were hailed as heroes. War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not color his crime with the pretext of justice. There has never been a just war!”

“The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.”

“So you say,” replied Voltaire quickly, “but if that be true, why then is there still continuous oppression, torture, genocide, bombings and injustice? We have never in our recorded human history lived in an era whereby the entire world is at peace. Even mighty Rome and ancient China had to contend with conflicts from the barbarians at their gates. And when all’s well, it did not end well! Infightings, riots and succession problems plagued the land. All serve to tell us this: life is strife and might is right!”

“What an evil and vile reality you have painted atop your canvas,” said Rousseau, mouth wide, in horror. “But I believe that every man has a right to risk his own life for the preservation of it.”

“Ah, but live is evil spelt backwards,” replied Voltaire.

“What then if you had God’s power propose that we should do in order to escape such harsh a reality? What virtues can overcome such vices?”

“Froth at the top, dregs at bottom, but the middle excellent. Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy. Did not the ancient Greeks believe ‘moderation in all things?’ Do we not consider them wise to this very day?”

“We must cultivate our own garden,” continued Voltaire elated, “When man was put in the Garden of Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest. All people are good except those who are idle. Not to be occupied, and not to exist, amount to the same thing. If you do not want to commit suicide, always have something to do!”

“The virtues that you propose are as harsh as the reality that you believe,” cried Rousseau in shock.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures, Monsieur. What would be your virtues, may I ask out of politeness?”

“The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least. Happiness means a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.”

“Simple virtues coming from a simple minded man.”

“Ah! But simplicity is the answer to ethics!” claimed Rousseau in quick rebuttal. “Man is by nature good, but he is corrupted and deprived by society.”

“Nay, every man is guilty of all the good he did not do,” responded Voltaire. “Fear follows crime and is its punishment. This is why you see so many pray and confess their sins every week to God. They do that out of fear of divine retribution! How then can you say that man is by nature good? The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year. It evokes sorrow in my heart when I say this: we shall leave the world as foolish and wicked as we found it.”

“Look forth into the world, Voltaire,” pointed Rousseau with both arms spread eagle. “Culture is much more of an evil than a good. Since learned men had appeared, honest men are nowhere to be found. To undo the evil, it is only necessary to abandon civilization!”

“Never has such cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid,” said Voltaire. “One longs, after talking to you, to walk on all fours. But as I have lost that habit for more than sixty years before I died, I feel unhappily the impossibility to resuming it.”

“Do you not see the answer to our problems?”

“Not from your point of view,” exclaimed Voltaire with a flat stare.

“It is human society!” the flame of Rousseau cackled brightly.

“No!”

“It is culture!” the flame turned into a blue hellish glow.

“Never!”

“It is civilization!” the flame erupted into a blinding light.

“Over my dead body.”

“You are already dead!”

“Then over his dead body,” Voltaire gestured to me. Now if you were wondering what I felt, I was rather alarmed and uneasy. Plus the very fact that we were in a crypt and I was talking to two long dead (and crazy) Frenchmen did nothing to comfort me.

“Do you not see that society, culture and civilization as the crux of the problem? They are the cause of social inequality. Inequality of wealth, status and opportunity! All of which brings the plight a mankind to a higher level. Science, letters, and the arts are the worst enemies of morals, and, by creating wants, are the sources of slavery.”

“Inequality of wealth?” I questioned in search for an elaboration.

“Most definitely! Money is the root of all evil,” continued Rousseau within the raging fire.

“I think it is the lack of money that is the root of all evil,” Voltaire stated plainly and quickly added, “When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion. Make everyone poor enough and everyone becomes a criminal.”

“Listen to me, you arrogant fool,” hissed Rousseau, “It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living. Inequality of wealth, status and opportunity plagues us all! The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellow: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belongs to us all, and the earth itself to nobody. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”

“But you are mistaken,” rebuked Voltaire, “we are all born with unequal assets and liabilities. No two men are ever born with the same intellectual faculties. Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game. Those who say that all men are equal speak the greatest truth if they mean that all men have an equal right to liberty, to the possession of their goods, and to the protection of the law. It is impossible for men to be equal as it is impossible for two preaches or two professors of theology not to be jealous of each other.”

“Nonsense!” shouted Rousseau. “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before. This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the Solution.”

“By association, you mean the Government?” asked Voltaire.

“Yes.”

“And by associate you mean individuals?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“How then do you suppose that the individual who surrenders all his rights to the Government would ensure that the Government would act in his best interest or the interest of the society as a whole? Please do note that all men are born with a sufficiently violent liking for dominion, wealth, and pleasure, and with a strong taste for idleness; consequently, all men covet the money, the wives, or the daughters of other men.”

“Speak for yourself, Voltaire”

“But I speak for myself AND for the people. What of private property? Do you not know that the spirit of property doubles a man’s strength? It is certain that the possessor of an estate will cultivate his own inheritance better than that of another.”

“The State, in relation to its members, is master of all their goods,” replied Rousseau. “As long as men united together look upon themselves as a single body, they have but one will relating to the common preservation and general welfare. Then all the energies of the state are vigorous and simple: its maxims are clear and luminous; there are no mixed contradictory interests; the common prosperity shows itself everywhere, and requires only good sense to be appreciated. Peace, union and equality are enemies of political subtleties.”

“Ideal ideas for an ideal world, Rousseau. I beg you to come back to reality and suggest something of practicality.”

“I stand by my ideas!” replied Rousseau. “As long as there are rich people in the world, they will be desirous of distinguishing themselves from the poor. Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

“A witty saying proves nothing. It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere. Your ideas cannot be carried out.”

“I beg to differ,” said the figure in the flames. “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.”

“You would cause a food crisis and starvation to overthrow governments and put into place fascist, communist, socialist, nationalist and the like?” exclaimed the white wraith with both hands raised into the air at the sound of such ridiculous a suggestion.

“Why not?” shouted Rousseau, “Abandon reason for emotion! Let emotion bring action! And lead our actions to revolution!”

VI. Politics and its Problems

“I am afraid that you ideas will harm rather than heal our world,” said Voltaire gravely to Rousseau. “But do me a service and tell me what form of government would you have to rules the world?”

“Government originated in the attempt to find a form of association that defends and protects the person and property of each with the common force of all. But I despise democracy,” began Rousseau. “It is unnatural for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized and united for specific action, and a minority can. The democracies think they are free. They are free only during the election of members of parliament. In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.”

“You would suggest a totalitarian regime? Like the Russia of Lenin and Stalin, the China of Mao and the Germany of Hitler? Sad indeed that history is only the register of crimes and misfortunes. Such sins mostly stem from your ideas! As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities!”

“They have misunderstood and misinterpreted me!” cried Rousseau.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

“Blame me not for the evils that I have not committed!”

“Stupid snowflake.”

“What form of government do you proposed,” asked Rousseau sarcastically.

“Which is better, a monarchy or a republic?” asked Voltaire in reply. “Ask the rich for an answer – they all want aristocracy. Ask the people – they want democracy. Only monarchs want monarchy. Provided Marcus Aurelius is monarch; for otherwise, what difference does it make to a poor man whether he is devoured by a lion or by a hundred rats?”

“I see your logic but not your answer.”

“In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to another and to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third. People should not be afraid of their governments! Governments should be afraid of their people.”

“Social inequality that will be solved by my ideas on socialism and communism!”

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. I shall leave you to your opinion, and shall remain of mine.”

“That is what you always say when you lose an argument, Voltaire.”

“Politics in not in my line: I have always confined myself to doing my little best to make men less foolish and more honorable.”

“Bah! Just admit it. You have loved no country and no country has ever loved you.”

“Patriotism means that one hates every country but his own. It is not through politics that the world shall be a better place but through education. I do not know how I was made, and how I was born. I did not know at all, during a quarter of my life, the causes of what I saw, or heard, or felt. My ignorance as a child blinds me.”

“Alas, I do agree with you,” commented Rousseau in triumph. “All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education. The training of children is a profession, where we must know how to waste time in order to save it. Childhood is the sleep of reason. We cannot teach children the danger of telling lies to men without realizing, on the man’s part, the danger of telling lies to children.

“A lot of words on education coming from the man who abandoned his five illegitimate children,” mocked Voltaire.

“To endure is the first thing that a child ought to learn, and that which he will have the most need to know,” ignored Rousseau on purpose (for he did abandon his five illegitimate children). “At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely know that other being also suffer; seeing without feeling is not knowledge.”

“You would try to teach children by emotions and feelings instead of reason?!” cried Voltaire in disbelief.

“Yes, but of course. We should not teach children the sciences; but give them a taste for them. I consider those who would prevent the birth of the passions almost as foolish as those who would destroy them.”

“It is dangerous to place emotion above reason.”

“What would the Great Voltaire suggest in its place?” asked Rousseau sardonically.

“By placing reason over emotion! The whole known world, with the exception of the savage races, is governed by books alone. Almost the whole of Africa and the Middle East obeys the Quran. China is ruled by the moral book of Confucius; a greater part of India by the Vedas. Persia was governed for centuries by the books of one of the Zoroasters. The rest of the world follows the Christian gospels.”

“Who lead mankind in civilized countries?” continued Voltaire whose white light shone with sparkling brightest. “Those who know how to read and write. Despite to enormous quantity of books, how few people read!”

“I hate books,” said Rousseau bitterly, “they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.”

“But you do write books yourself do you not?”

“I do,” replied Rousseau. His fire seemed to grow smaller.

“You do for obvious reasons what people to read what you write do you not?”

“I do.”

“Then why do you hate books? When you claim to know about education?”

“General and abstract ideas are the source of the greatest errors of mankind. And they largely come from books, Voltaire.”

“General and abstract ideas from your books, maybe,” attacked Voltaire. Did not Santayana say, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it?” How true those words ring in my ears. History is at worse the core of education. Not political or military history but the history of the arts, of commerce, of civilization, in a word of the human mind. History should be written as philosophy. Written by those who love wisdom and written for those who lust for wisdom. The multitude of books is making us ignorant. Not because of their quantity but their quality! We must learn to invest our time in the right books to read.”

“What then is the aim of your form of education?” asked Rousseau.

“To teach people not what to think but how to think!”

“Not to change one’s character?

“Can one change one’s character? Yes, if one changes one’s body. It is possible for a man to be born a mischief-maker of tough and violent character, and, as a result of being stricken with apoplexy in his old age, to become a foolish, tearful child, timid and peaceable. His body has changed. But as long as his nerves, his blood and his marrow remains the same, his nature will not change any more than will a wolf’s and a marten’s instinct.”

“Is there no freedom to change one’s character?” cried Rousseau in his fiery tomb.

VII. Freedom Forever!

The two ghosts of the most famous men of the Enlightenment stared at each other with such heated intensity. It was as though they were not only fencing with words but also battling with their wills with the very force of their existence. The white light surrounding Voltaire seems to reach out towards the flames that engulfed Rousseau.

But it was Voltaire who broke the silence.

“My trade is to say what I think. And what I think is always worth saying. The present is pregnant with the future. Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause. Events are linked to each other by an invincible fatality. This system of necessity and fatality under the name of self-sufficient reason is very ancient. That no effect is without a cause and that often the smallest cause produces the greatest effects, is not a recent idea. But some events are necessary, and others which are not. Every being has a father, but every being does not always have children.”

“Do you mean that men is not free?” asked Rousseau.

“If you discover how, under the law of necessity, man is free, you will do me a service if you will pass on the information to me. When you have shown, in verse of otherwise, why so many men cut their throats in the best of all possible worlds, I shall be exceedingly obliged to you.”

“I do not believe is destiny or in fate but in freedom and freewill!” declared Rousseau. I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery. Free people, remember this maxim: we may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.”

“Do you not believe in God being omnipotent and omnipresent? How then do you conceive a world whereby the absolute will of God coexist with the mortal will of human beings?”

“God is great! Our freewill’s are a gift from God himself!” stormed Rousseau in fury and fiery temper.

But Voltaire continued. “Both of us are equally fools, equally the toys of destiny. Your nature is to do harm, mine to love truth, and make it public in spite of you. The owl, which feeds on mice in its hovel, says to the nightingale: “Stop singing under your beautiful, shady trees. Come into my hole, that I may eat you.” And the nightingale replies: “I was born to sing here – and to laugh at you.””

“You mock me when your arguments fail to disarm me. They will soon sing of songs in my name in my contribution to the equality of all mankind!”

“Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.”

“Use your common sense, do you believe that your lack of solution to the problems of the world could ever defeat my firm, strong and bold ideas that would shake the very foundations of the earth with Communism and Socialism?”

“Common sense is not so common. And in your case, it is rather absent.”
“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.”

“We shall always have passions and prejudices, since it is our destiny to be subjected to prejudices and passions; we shall know that it no more depends on us to have much merit and great talent, than to have a good head of hair and beautiful hands: we shall be convinced that we must not be vain about anything; and yet we shall always have vanity.”

Suddenly the crypt shook with a force that threw me off my feet. The dust from the ceiling fell to the floor below. Cracks were heard louder than thunder from every direction. It was as though an earthquake hit Paris! Without warning, a slab of stone fell upon Rousseau and his temple tomb extinguishing his flames and with it his apparition.

“Our time together is nearing its end,” said Voltaire to myself.

Another crash was heard, and I saw dust and debris coming from the spiral staircase that I used to enter the Crypt.

I was trapped!

“Do not be afraid or alarm, my lad,” continued the white ghost. “I shall use all my remaining power to open a portal in which you shall escape into safety.”

Immediately after saying so, his raised his right arm and a bolt of bright light struck the wall opposite his ethereal form making a gaping hole. I saw the streets of Paris inside the portal. And I moved to my only avenue of safety.

“Before you leave,” said Voltaire with a gentle expression, “I would like to give you some words of wisdom before our parting.”

“Firstly, God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”

“Secondly, illusion is the first of all pleasures. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion. Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”

“Thirdly, stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare the truth thou hast, that all may share; be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.”

“Fourthly, it is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

“Fifthly, God and Liberty!”

“Now go before it is too late!”

I leapt from the place I was standing into the portal. I could hear a faint whisper saying, “I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition.”

I traveled through time and space, floating not flying within a void that was empty of emotions and feelings. All that was left was my reason. My reason for being. Then slowly that too began to fade. My very consciousness began to slowly loosen from my grasp and I sunk into the very oblivion of darkness that consumed my soul and spirit.

VIII. As it Was in the Beginning, is Now and Ever Shall Be

I heard my name being called by a familiar voice. It was so close and yet so distant. It was as though I was dreaming yet present in the real world. Is this what dead men feel before they die? The state of limbo between heaven, hell and earth?

Then without warning I felt a sharp pain on my face.

I was alive.

My Aunt had poked me with a magazine to wake me up.

As I opened my eyes, I saw the familiar surroundings of the interior of the train. My eyes adjusted to the light and I let out a yawn that probably psychologically disturbed the European in front of me.

It was a dream after all!

“You were snoring so loud that I would be amazed in God in high heaven did not hear you,” said my Aunt with a sidelong stare.

“I was in another world,” I replied. Yes, I thought. Literally another world.

“Well we are reaching Gare du Nord station. So wake up and get ready to go to your mass graveyard.”

“Maybe we shall first visit the Lourve instead, my dear Aunt.”

“Ah! What a wise change of priorities!”

I can’t help but admire the good fight that Voltaire led against superstition, fanaticism and oppression. He believed neither in social equality nor in unrestrained political liberty but he campaigned for freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In him was the spirit of the age. The spirit of political liberty, religious tolerance and commercial enterprise. It was he who thought us that, “We can, by speech and pen, make men more enlightened and better.”

Comments
2 Responses to “Dialogues of the Dead: Of God and Liberty from Voltaire and Rousseau”
  1. pochp says:

    You will astound me if you say you didn’t submit this to a journal or book publisher James. But if you will, there’s a small typo in the last sentence:
    ‘It was he who thought (sic) us that,…’ ‘Taught’ was what you mean.
    I’ll reread this excellent piece again. This caught me at a busy time.
    Btw, I envy your new site’s design again.

    • jamesesz says:

      Thanks Poch!

      I am still editing this piece. Will see what i can do with it once I polish it of grammatical and spelling errors.

      ∑2 – S(⊃W⊂)90° – (N)90°H(W⊂)90°G™ = 1

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