Frydenberg knows nothing of Voltaire

Jan 19, 2021

Fydenberg’s misuse of Voltaire is a complete travesty, a total misrepresentation of Voltaire’s beliefs and values. Voltaire fought against the kind of political power enabling the incarceration of people deemed to have no rights under the law, as in the imprisonment on Christmas Island of children by Frydenberg’s government.

Credit – Wikipedia

Josh Frydenberg has ignorantly followed many other so-called supporters of “freedom of speech” by soliciting Voltaire as a prop for his thoughts on the matter.

Frydenberg has been quoted by numerous media outlets as saying that “freedom of speech is fundamental to our society. As Voltaire said, I might not agree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it”.

It has long been established that the source of the quote, in its various manifestations, cannot be traced back to Voltaire, and even if it could be it would mean something entirely different from the meaning Frydenberg seeks to give it.

But let the question be thrown back to Fydenberg. Where, in all that Voltaire wrote, is the quote to be found? Was it in one of his poems? Or one of his letters, perhaps to Catherine the Great of Russia? One of his plays, or his political essays, his history books, his philosophical writing?

And just because others before Frydenberg failed to do their research on what Voltaire said, or believed, does not excuse the Treasurer from falsely using Voltaire to support Frydenberg’ juvenile, shallow and dangerous interpretation of “freedom of speech” without responsibility.

It might interest Frydenberg to know that Voltaire’s interest in freedom of speech was not in giving support to autocrats to incite violence against critics or political opponents, but exactly the opposite. He was a strong opponent of the authoritarianism of the French monarchy of the ancien régime and its accompanying ecclesiastical partner, the Catholic Church, and spent much of his life in exile from France due to his opposition to the régime.

Freedom of speech to Voltaire was not the defence of unacceptable lies, nor of the George Brandis notion of the “right to be a bigot”, nor its use by those in power to disenfranchise opponents, vilify those with different views or those without civil rights.

Frydenberg is “uncomfortable” that Trump has been banned from Twitter, which can only mean he has no concerns that Trump’s tweets “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack”, to use the words of Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice-president Dick Cheney, when she stated she would vote for Trump’s impeachment.

Fydenberg’s misuse of Voltaire is a complete travesty, a total misrepresentation of Voltaire’s beliefs and values, for Voltaire actively fought against the kind of political power enabling incarceration of people deemed to have no rights under the law, as in the imprisonment on Christmas Island of children by Frydenberg’s government.

When Voltaire owned a property close to the French-Swiss border he actively supported workers in the district who had no civil rights and called for the elimination of serfdom in the nearby Jura region. Voltaire chose to live near the border because it enabled him to cross to either country to avoid arrest.

Frydenberg has nothing in common with Voltaire, and can’t even quote him accurately.

The person who wrote what Frydenberg falsely attributes to Voltaire was historian Evelyn Hall, writing in 1906 in her book The Friends of Voltaire. They were her words, and she always insisted they were her words. But people like Frydenberg aren’t interested in such essential distinctions. All they have come to learn is that truth is unimportant and that they have some sort of entitlement to appropriate the name of a famous writer in a fatuous attempt to give weight to their intellectual dishonesty.

Evelyn Hall wrote before the First World War and before the advent of Nazism. I wonder what she would have thought about her words being so thoroughly taken out of context and then misappropriated by generations of self-serving propagandists, lazy journalists and others before and after the end of the Second World War.

In 1939 she wrote about the matter to Professor Burdette Kinne, of Colombia University’s French Department, who was also a writer for the New Yorker during the 1930s. In 1943, Kinne wrote an article published in the John Hopkins University journal Modern Language Notes entitled “Voltaire Never Said it!”.

Too many have fallen into the trap of believing that “balance” is served by giving equal voice and credence to quacks, liars and charlatans who have no evidence-based knowledge and sitting them at the same table as qualified and experienced scientists, medical practitioners, engineers and other highly qualified professionals who rely on accumulated knowledge based on detailed research. Such people should sort out in their muddled minds that giving credence to Trumpist lies is little different from those Australian politicians who gave credence to Mussolini and Hitler during the 1930s.

Maybe Frydenberg should read that story. In the meantime, his use of Voltaire to support his views must be condemned as dishonest and fraudulent and contemptible.

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