“I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it.” I often hear friends and readers say that Voltaire said it. In-fact, teachers of history, political science and believers of democracy absolutely love Voltaire for writing this in one of the 20,000 letters or 2,000 books and pamphlets he wrote. But if you ask them which book, they’d probably not know. While Voltaire remains one of the greatest advocate of freedom of religion and expression, it’s time we realize that Voltaire did not really write this quote.
This quote is certainly the most recognizable of Voltaire and the whole idea of free speech, and is from a book called Friends of Voltaire which is about his ideas and philosophy. In this book, the author Evelyn Beatrice Hall says that everything Voltaire stood for can be summed up in one poignant sentence, and hence the above quote. For some reason, people took this to mean that Voltaire himself had said it.
While a quote being misquoted is no big deal, and happens all the time. And since this misquotation retains its context and purpose, it indeed adds to the greatness of Voltaire, and Madame Hall must be proud of it. But it’s time we understand that history is filed with such typos, errors and misunderstandings, and not every time the context and purpose are kept intact. While History has lessons to teach, it is ideas and ideas alone that prevail. Ideas are meant to be rejuvenated and rethought. Ideas, or history are not meant to be directly followed because some one we believe in or love, has said it. Questions, thoughts and work are the wheels of progression of the human existence and, no matter what – we must stand by it.