Quotable: Jean Raison on Voltaire

“Sir, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ was said not by a Frenchman but by an Englishwoman; it is not a genuine quotation from Voltaire but an imaginary one claiming to express ‘his attitude’ in The Friends of Voltaire (1906) by S. G. Tallentyre, the pseudonym of E. Beatrice Hall. In fact this was not his attitude; although he took a great part in the struggle for toleration, he also took great care not to risk his liberty, let alone his life, for the cause: no wonder, considering the treatment he suffered for careless talk in his youth, and the treatment so many of his writings suffered at all times.

“It would be better not to attribute to Voltaire a rhetorical statement he never made, and to remember instead the practical things he actually said (in the Treatise on Toleration and the Philosophical Dictionary) and did (in particular cases and in the general campaign) to crush the infamy of intolerance and to make it possible for us to take the freedom of speech for granted.”

–Jean Raison, letter to the Times of London, August 8, 1981

(‘Bina’s note: Are they sure that’s an Englishwoman, and not a Frenchman whose name, in English, would be “John Reason”? In any event, what a relief not to have to defend fascist speech to the death, but rather to FIGHT it to the death in the original spirit of “écraser l’infâme”!)

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4 Responses to Quotable: Jean Raison on Voltaire

  1. Well, according to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist via Google, “Jean Raison is the pen name of the late Nicholas Walter”. Now that sounds more like an Englishman!
    Interesting to know that the oft-heard quote isn’t accurate though.

  2. Aha! Mystery solved. Thanks!

  3. Mexfiles says:

    I just saw a slightly humorous misuse of this quote in the far-right U.S. site, “Free Republic” where it was attributed to…. some French dude named “Volare” (whooo-hoooo,
    “Volare” was being quoted to fend off criticism from the Anti-defamation League which had warned that the astro-turfed “teabagger movement” was attracting white supremacists and neo-nazi groups.

  4. I thought the freepers hated France. ¿Qué pasa?
    In any case, I’m not surprised to see them get Voltaire wrong in all aspects–from what he said (and thought!) right down to the spelling of his name. Those people only believe what they want to believe, and it seems to vary depending on which way the wind is blowing the gaseous emanations from Rush Limbaugh’s butt.
    Funny, too, how they don’t disavow their connections to the white supremacists and fascists! One would think that if they really cared about freedom, they’d be in a hurry to distance themselves from those people. But they’re desperate for warm bodies at their widdle events, I guess…or they secretly agree with the cretins. Or both. LOL.

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