A partial reprint of the article Ferney-Voltaire, on Wikipedia (Sept 8, 2021)
Ferney-Voltaire (French pronunciation: [fɛʁnɛ vɔltɛʁ]) is a commune in the Aindepartment in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpesregion of Southeastern France. It lies between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss border; it forms part of the metropolitan area of Geneva. In 2017, it had a population of 9,766.
Ferney was first noted in 14th-century Burgundian registers as “Fernex” and changed several times until the 19th century to Fernay, Fernaj, Fernai or Fernex before adopting its current name as ‘Ferney-Voltaire’ in 1791, after the French Revolution which saw a number of city names unchristened and then given more republican names.
During Voltaire’s residence in Ferney in the second part of the 18th century, the town saw rapid expansion. Today Ferney is a peaceful town with a Saturday market and a large international community, due to the proximity of CERN and the United Nations Office at Geneva. Ferney is growing very quickly. It is also home to the Lycée International. Voltaire still presides over Ferney with his statue in the center of town.
From 1759 to 1778 Ferney was home to French writer and philosopher Voltaire, sometimes referred to as “the patriarch of Ferney.” His influence on the town was profound. He built the local church and founded cottage industries that produced some of the finest potters and watchmakers of modern France. The town was eventually renamed “Ferney-Voltaire” in his honor.
In 1759, after having lived in Geneva less than two years, Voltaire purchased the estate of Ferney in France, near the Swiss border. A prime reason for his leaving Geneva was that theatre was forbidden in that Calvinist city, so he had decided to become the enlightened “patriarch” of the little village of Ferney, setting up potteries, a watchmaking industry and, of course, theaters, attracting rich people from Geneva to watch his plays.
During Voltaire’s residence, the population of Ferney increased to more than 1,000. Voltaire lived there for the last 20 years of his life before returning to Paris, where he died in 1778.
Ferney’s main attraction is Voltaire’s house (château), built 1758–66, now owned and administered by the Centre des monuments nationaux (an arm of the French Ministry of Culture). It is open to visitors between May and September.
The chateau includes the main building, with a reconstruction of Voltaire’s room (moved from its original location by later private owners), a garden with a fine view of the Alps, and a church dedicated, contrary to custom, directly to God. In the church’s inscription, “Deo erexit VOLTAIRE” (“Erected to God by VOLTAIRE”), Voltaire’s name is written in the largest characters.
A few dozen meters from the chateau is another impressive house, built in 1900 by Monsieur Lambert (the sculptor of the statue of Voltaire; his family owned the chateau before it was purchased by the French government). The house, now privately owned, had been used to store provisions and wine for the chateau, and to accommodate the household staff.
The village features 18th-century houses and artisans’ workshops; a life-size statue of Voltaire; a smaller bust of him, surmounting a fountain; many restaurants, French and foreign; and proximity to the nearby cosmopolitan city of Geneva, Switzerland.
Every Saturday, a market is held in the main street of Ferney.
The old road at the centre of the village is a remnant of the time when Voltaire resided at the chateau in Ferney-Voltaire.
The pedestal of the Voltaire statue, erected in 1890, dedicates that memorial to the town’s “benefactor,” noting that he built over a hundred houses for the inhabitants, as well as a school and church, gave the town interest-free loans, and fed its inhabitants in time of need.
I am aware of the distain Voltaire treated his assorted women and children, as well as his well-known hostility to the Christian faith.
On the other hand, it is important that the whole story be known, and not just part of it. Real justice is based on all the evidence that can be reasonably gathered in a timely manner. Not just the parts that plays to pre-established prejudices.
I am curious to know how many of today’s successful Western Christians — many of whom are far more wealthier than Voltaire ever was — will leave an equivalent legacy for their community.
Don’t you think it’s time we rose to the level of good works that Voltaire reached?
Especially if we – quite rightfully – remain deeply suspicious of the Free Stuff that our current aristocracy offers? Free Stuff that’s bought with Other People’s money and/or printed with fiat currency?
Better that we build communities with our own resources, that we ourselves have earned. He who paid the piper called the tune, as Voltaire well knew.
“Erected to God by VOLTAIRE” and the Rise of Epistemological Self-consciousness
In the Bo Marinov articles stored on this website, you will find, in the “MARINOV – CR Christendom & AV Articles (2009++) v7” file, an old article outlining the religious drive of the bureaucrats at Brussels to ban in 2011 “the claim that regular consumption of water can reduce the risk of dehydration.”
The reason for the decision must be sought elsewhere. Like everything else, it must be sought in the religious commitment of the bureaucrats in Brussels. Of course they know the conclusions of the three-year “scientific study” are stupid, and they are at odds with reality. Of course they know they will be ridiculed by all who still have at least a portion of common sense remaining. And yet the decision was made, against all reality, against the expected public outrage, against the ridicule and criticisms from the press.
Such tenacity can’t be explained with stupidity. It can only be explained with sticking to one’s religious guns. The bureaucrats have a religion that places higher demands on them than public opinion, reality, common sense, and personal reputation do.
But in order to understand that religious commitment as motivation, we will have to go back in history.
In 1770, the 76-year-old Voltaire published his most curious but least known work. It was a poem-letter-response titled Epistle to the Author of the Book the Three Impostors. It was a reply to a book by an anonymous author, The Treatise of the Three Impostors, which circulated in France at the time. The story of The Treatise is longer and goes deeper in history than France in the 18th century, so we won’t spend the time and space to review it here. The book was a piece of radical atheism denouncing any belief in any god whatsoever, and advocated militant atheism and opposition to faith in any supernatural or transcendent being. By the 1750s the book had become a fad among the intellectual elite in France. Given the enormous influence of Voltaire and his indefatigable intellectual war against Christianity and the Church, it was taken for granted that the popularity of the book was due partly to the popularity of Voltaire and his arguments against Christianity. After all, by his unsurpassed wit and the superb quality of his writings, he almost single-handedly changed the reigning intellectual paradigms in France. Even in his time the atheists – few and far between at the time – were looking up to him as their champion. There were also rumors that Voltaire himself could have been the author of the Treatise in his young years.
Voltaire, the last sane critic of Christianity to ever walk the earth, decided to take on the anonymous pamphlet. He hated Christianity with a vengeance, and that was obvious. But he also was faithful to his ideal of “reason,” of building a world of order, liberty, and justice. Quite a few times in his life he would wake up from his hatred and look at Christianity for what it really was, beyond the imperfections of the Roman clergy dominant in France at the time. Try as hard and he could, he couldn’t see how rational men would be able to define ethics, morality, aesthetics, values, even reality without God. A few times before writing the Epistle he had used the phrase, “If God didn’t exist, we would have to invent him.” It wasn’t an empty phrase, nor was it tongue-in-cheek, as his modern atheist admirers are desperately trying to prove. He was so serious about it that he wrote to a friend that “I am rarely satisfied with my lines, but I confess that I have a father’s tenderness for that one.” Voltaire meant it, seriously. He knew that once God was removed from the picture, there was no foundation for any order, reason, or ethics whatsoever. He himself tried to imagine such a world, and couldn’t. So while he may have been tempted to become a radical atheist, rejecting the existence of God whatsoever, his reason led him to adopt a less radical anti-Christian position: Deism. No God, no reason. Voltaire wanted reason; so he had to accept the existence of God, even if only for the purposes of remaining sane and reasonable.
Voltaire’s response bears no resemblance whatsoever to his previous works. Gone is the skillful irony, gone is the almost magical ability to convey ideas in an indirect manner; the laid-back philosophe with the subtle smile and relaxed style is nowhere to be seen. In the Epistle, Voltaire’s style can be compared to an intellectual sledgehammer upon the head of the poor anonymous author. Voltaire points to him the obvious: that there would be no system of ethics, and there would be no liberty nor safety nor hope of justice if it wasn’t for the existence of God:
My lodging is filled with lizards and rats;
But the architect exists, and anyone who denies it
Is touched with madness under the guise of wisdom….
This sublime system is necessary to man.
It is the sacred tie that binds society,
The first foundation of holy equity,
The bridle to the wicked, the hope of the just.
If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
Could ever cease to attest to his being,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.
Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain
The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,
My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.
And then Voltaire asks: What fruit do you expect?
But you, faulty logician, whose sad foolishness
Dares to reassure them in the path of crime,
What fruit do you expect to reap from your fine arguments?
Will your children be more obedient to your voice?
Your friends, at time of need, more useful and reliable?
Your wife more honest? and your new renter,
For not believing in God, will he pay you better?
Alas! let’s leave intact human belief in fear and hope.
No wonder this poem of Voltaire is the least known among his works today; modern atheists refuse to even mention it, and even professors of French literature at universities duly miss to reveal its existence to their students. In several verses, Voltaire, the homeboy of the modern atheist connoisseurs of philosophy, completely destroyed the case for atheism and argued the case for Christianity better than most Christians in his time. In fact, given the fact that Voltaire made the connection between the faith in God and the social values of justice, liberty, marital fidelity and family integrity, economic honesty, which even most Christians today don’t make, he argued our case better than 90 percent of our modern pastors!
Voltaire had only one flaw in his argument. His own hatred toward God was tempered by his honest desire to keep the reason, the meaning, the order, the ethical restraints, and the view of reality that the Christian faith produced. He thought that all men would be like him, faithful to reason, order, ethics, and reality. But he was wrong. He was unique in his ability to keep his sanity even in his hatred toward God. No one else after him was able to do it.
Even as he was writing his poem, about 200 miles south from his estate, another Frenchman was beginning to write a book that would challenge Voltaire’s assumptions about human reason and motivation. Marquis de Sade, consistent in his rebellion against God, came to the conclusion that a man’s war against God is not over until man has developed his own system of ethical rules that is totally opposed to the one in the Bible. It was not enough to have a system that resembles Christian morality and just declare man as its author; even the existence of such a system of ethics would be a testimony to the existence and the sovereignty of God. Therefore, in order to establish the centrality of Man’s reason and ethics against God’s reason and ethics, the testimony for God in reason and ethics must be destroyed by Man adopting his own system of reason and ethics in opposition to God’s system. Hence de Sade’s sexual brutality against people weaker than him: It was deliberate, an attempt of man to deny God His sovereignty by establishing his own system of ethics, completely opposed to God and His system of ethics.
De Sade was much more consistent intellectually than Voltaire. Ironically, he was confined to asylums for most of his life for his insanity; while Voltaire was praised as one of the greatest minds of the Age of Reason. This is the dilemma for a non-Christian: be either sane and intellectually inconsistent, or consistent and insane.
The controversy didn’t end with the death of de Sade; neither did the dilemma. A century after the death of de Sade, Nietzsche attacked the “English inconsistency” of George Eliot, as Joel McDurmon shows in his article, “When Atheists Had Guts.” Again we see the same dilemma: Eliot, sane (almost) but inconsistent, and Nietzsche, almost inhumanly consistent in his intellectual writings, but insane. Eliot, like Voltaire, couldn’t let go of her love for order and reason and common morality; thus her repudiation of her Christian faith was incomplete because these very principles testify of God. Nietzsche, like de Sade, knew that Christianity was a package deal – faith and ethics – and therefore he threw both out; but paid the price for it: insanity.
Voltaire’s fears were justified when just a few years after his death not just de Sade, but the whole nation of France engaged in an orgy of debauchery, theft, murder, strife. God was thrown out of the churches and replaced with the goddess of Reason. The goddess though did not bring the universal brotherhood of man; she proved to be bloodthirsty, and even the blood of millions could not satisfy her. Later, Hitler and Stalin proved that Voltaire was right, and that a world without God only brings tyranny, oppression, poverty, hopelessness. And blood. A lot of blood. Without God, there is no “bridle to the wicked,” and no “hope for the just.”
But men do not learn. No matter how much Voltaire was proven right, the very idea of God is abhorrent to men whose hearts have risen in rebellion against Him. And the very idea of sound reason and morality are abhorrent to them because they testify of a higher, transcendental authority; any idea of moral rules and scruples tell man that he is not the source of his own meaning, and life, and purpose. God is. So moral rules and scruples must be rejected, twisted, destroyed, so that there is no testimony to bother and annoy the fallen man and his culture. More and more, the pagan world disagrees with Voltaire and Eliot and with their sanity. The pagan world more and more wants moral consistency at the expense of its sanity, and it more and more agrees with de Sade and Nietzsche rather than with Voltaire and Eliot. At the end, consistency trumps sanity; and without the restraining hand of God, men savagely go to war against anything that testifies of Him, even if it means their own destruction and the collapse of their own civilization.
Cornelius Van Til called that “epistemological self-consciousness.”
I am confident that a more crafty flavour of antiChristian collectivism, one where we had huge cathedrals with “Erected to God by STALIN” inscribed on the foundations, would have lasted far longer than 70 years.
Islam presents the proper model here.
“Lots of talk about God… but no Rule of Law, no Trinity (and thus, no liberty),
and the Christians keep their mouth shut and their head down if they know what’s good for them.”
But there was no way for modern secularists, driven by the power of their ideology and the logic of their position, to go that route. They needed to have their mass graves, their lawless, limitless Total States, their GOSPLAN Controlling All Things. They must have their Above-the-Law Leaders and their bureaucratic poverty.
In the same way, they needed to have their same-sex marriages, their abortions, their “sex assignment by government decree.” They must have their sterility and extinction.
Indeed, this same religious commitment drives the demand for free government – not “capitalistic low-cost” – health care. Healing must be in the hands of our Only True Saviour, the State.
(Note that the US Health Care system is extremely expensive – due to government regulations by Our Betters – while also being partly socialized. Not actually free, not completely slave-statist, but just another half-wit fascist fiasco.)
The Dying Imitation,
The Living and Genuine Article
Ferney-Voltaire stands as a lone model of the road not taken by the West.
Indeed, the road that could not be taken by the West.
“At the end, consistency trumps sanity; and without the restraining hand of God, men savagely go to war against anything that testifies of Him, even if it means their own destruction and the collapse of their own civilization.”
Epistemological self-consciousness trumps the physical and social laws of reality and self-interest. Every time.
The old-school charity provided to glorify the name of a man, or today’s government-charity provided to buy obedience (or at least grudging acquiesce) from the public, is a sterile and futile endeavor.
Charity, rooted in the Supremacy of God and His direction (as opposed to the Needs of the State or a Mighty Man), gets things done.
Christians need to do better than Voltaire did.
And for better reasons.