Long before Monty Python, The Simpsons, and Jon Stewart, Voltaire’s satirical comedy laughed at inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and the blind following of dogma embedded throughout mass culture.
Candide, published in 1759, is perhaps Voltaire’s best effort to show a blind, indifferent society how it creates needless suffering, carnage, cruelty, and chaos.
This short book, full of over-the-top encounters and troubles enough to fill ten lifetimes, is meant to hold up a mirror and coax reflection. Nationalism, war, prejudices, and division abound, but contentment and happiness are scarce.
It ends with a curative note. Here’s how Voltaire recommends we live.
- We should not become overly engaged in worldly problems and politics and instead devote ourselves to tending our own livelihood and welfare.
- Don’t take on more than we need. Leave our neighbors alone and not bother about what they do for their own welfare.
- Voltaire implored, to be at peace we must accept the world as it is, not as we want it to be.
- Give up utopian ideas of societies perfected by science and reason. And know that “tying our personal moods” to human affairs is to invite endless misery.
- We can ease life’s hardships through action.
We must cultivate our garden.