Voltaire is widely known as a champion of free speech, but there is one thing he would never have defended: bigotry and racism. The great philosopher would have been appalled by the idea that people can express hateful and discriminatory views.
He lived when censorship was rampant, and he fought tirelessly against it. He believed that every person had the right to express their opinions, even if they were unpopular or offensive. However, he also believed in the power of reason and enlightenment. He believed that through dialogue and debate, people could be convinced to abandon their prejudices and embrace a more tolerant worldview.
It is unlikely that he would defend racists and bigots.
Voltaire’s defense of free speech was based on the idea that it promotes reason, progress, and tolerance. He believed that speech should be free but not without consequences. He argued that people should be held accountable for their speech and that hateful or discriminatory speech was not constructive and could harm society.
In his book, “Treatise on Tolerance,” Voltaire wrote, “I detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” However, this quote is often misinterpreted to mean that he would defend any speech, regardless of its content. In reality, Voltaire’s defense of free speech was always in the context of promoting reason and progress. He would likely have opposed the speech promoting hatred, discrimination, and intolerance.
It is, therefore, absurd to suggest that Voltaire would have supported the right of bigots and racists to spew their venom without consequence. To him, freedom of speech was not a license to say whatever one pleased but a tool for promoting understanding and progress. He would have seen the promotion of bigotry and racism as antithetical to the principles he fought for.
In fact, if Voltaire were alive today, he would likely be leading the charge against hate speech. He would use his pen and wit to challenge those who seek to divide and oppress others based on race, gender, religion, or other characteristics. He would be using his voice to amplify the voices of those who are marginalized and oppressed.
The idea that Voltaire would defend the right to be a bigot or a racist is a grotesque distortion of his legacy. It reflects our cultural moment, in which hate speech and intolerance are rising. We must remember that free speech is not an absolute value but a means to an end. We must use it wisely and responsibly to serve a more just and equitable society.
So, those who claim that Voltaire would defend the right to be a bigot or a racist have fundamentally misunderstood his philosophy. They have missed the point of his life’s work. If anything, Voltaire would have fought tooth and nail against the very views that they sought to defend.