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Author Topic: Let's Ban Voltaire...
Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 03:31 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
In addition to not publishing offensive cartoons, let’s also ban the Voltaire play "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet":

quote:

SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France -- Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France's border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe's commitment to secularism. The play, "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet," uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance.

(snip)

"This play...constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community," said a letter to the mayor of Saint-Genis-Pouilly, signed by Said Akhrouf, a French-born café owner of Moroccan descent and three other Islamic activists representing Muslim associations. They demanded the performance be cancelled.

(snip)

"Fanaticism," the play that stirred the ruckus in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, portrays Muhammad as a ruthless tyrant bent on conquest. Its main theme is the use of religion to promote and mask political ambition.

(snip)

Hervé Loichemol, a French theater director who produced the recent readings of Voltaire's play in Saint-Genis-Pouilly and Geneva, says he wasn't trying to provoke Muslims but knew from experience his production might anger some. He pushed ahead anyway. Banning blasphemy "admits private beliefs into public space," he says. "This is how catastrophe starts."

(snip)

Mr. Akhrouf, the café owner and activist, says that in early December, he got an agitated phone call from a friend who had just received a leaflet advertising the event. Mr. Akhrouf found a copy of the play on the Internet and started shaking with rage as he read the portrayal of Muhammad as a fanatic.

Shortly afterward, he attended Friday prayers at a big mosque in Geneva and talked about his concerns with Hafid Ouardiri, a mosque official and veteran of the earlier anti-Voltaire campaign. They drafted a letter to the mayor demanding the play be cancelled "in order to preserve peace."

Mr. Ouardiri, an Algerian-born former leftist radical, came to France in the 1960s and says he used to chant the 1968 student slogan, "It is forbidden to forbid." Now a devout Muslim, he says he champions "the need to forbid." Algeria and other Muslim countries, he says, were colonized by Europeans "nourished by Voltaire."


ETA: Since this is a subscription service, I can email the full article to anyone who is interested in reading it.

[ 06 March 2006: Message edited by: Sven ]


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
JPG
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posted 06 March 2006 04:12 PM      Profile for JPG     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Voltaire once said:

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it. "

Seems like he was telling the truth. THis censorship thing is getting ridiculous.


From: Toronto/Ottawa | Registered: Sep 2005  |  IP: Logged
thwap
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posted 06 March 2006 04:15 PM      Profile for thwap        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"When did you first decide that you were God?"

"I noticed that whenever I prayed, I always seemed to be talking to myself!"

......great line from "The Ruling Class" by Peter O'Toole.

might've used it on babble before. but i always bring this up at parties, get-togethers, weddings.


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jeff house
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posted 06 March 2006 04:15 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Voltaire was a raving antiSemite. Much of what he said about Jews shouldn't be rescued from the toilet, even though people are legally free to do so.

It doesn't surprise me that he was anti-Muslim, too.

People interested in chapter and verse on his antisemitic writings should read Peter Gay's book on the Enlightenment, called The Party of Humanism.
(Not to be confused with an earlier two volume work on the subject by the same author.)


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skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 04:18 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think that most people who have read much of Voltaire can do the reconstruction of this unfortunate development from that summary.

In the service of his main political campaign - against the C18 French Roman Catholic church, and very specifically against that target - Voltaire was willing to write a lot of stuff that many people would today consider hate speech. He repeatedly wrote scabrous summaries of Old Testament history, eg, reviling Jews in cartoonish, stereotypical terms, mainly because he believed in undermining the foundations of the Catholic church by any means possible.

I'm sure that the notion of anti-semitism and how evil it is simply never occurred to him, although I'm equally sure that if he were to try publishing some of that vile rhetoric in Canada today, he would quickly find himself in court.

It has been a while since I've read Mahomet (thirty years, actually), but as I recall, the logic was the same. He was using an iconic prophet figure as a metaphor for the authority figures of the C18 Catholic church. Voltaire was willing to use any metaphor to attack the undeniably corrupt and bloodthirsty establishment of the C18 Catholic church, so Mahomet was as useful to him as the Jews were in other writings.

Note well: Voltaire was no atheist. He was a deist, a Newtonian deist, and his attack on the C18 Catholic church was focused and, God knows, mostly justified.

But was he sensitive to the hateful nature of his caricatures of Jews or Muslims? Mainly, I think no. I think that kind of reflection was simply socially unrealistic in his time and place.

It is worth noting:

Like a number of his contemporaries, Voltaire was fascinated by the relatively new information reaching C18 Paris of other cultures, especially (in his case) of Islam in the Middle East. Some of his other plays treat heroic figures in Islamic history much more sympathetically, with genuine - if naive - interest.

Yes, he was "orientalizing," as was his near contemporary Montesquieu. But they were also immensely naive, only just beginning to recover a history that had been suppressed in Europe by the Catholic church. So their experiments in dramatizing some incidents in the history of Islam are, well, historically interesting.

I can well imagine that French Muslims, exposed suddenly to Mahomet and given no context at all for understanding that play, would find it offensive. I am certain that Canadian Jews, exposed suddenly to Voltaire's summaries of Old Testament history, would react to them at once. I warn you: some of what he wrote would be, in today's terms, real rot-gut.

Do I think he would grasp that if he were among us today? Yes. I do.


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JPG
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posted 06 March 2006 04:22 PM      Profile for JPG     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Voltaire was willing to use any metaphor to attack the undeniably corrupt and bloodthirsty establishment of the C18 Catholic church,

Don't tell that to the Vatican, they'd be more than happy to jump on the censorship bandwagon as well.


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skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 04:42 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm not sure. I think that everyone knows that the C18 French RC church was a particular beast.

It was very evil; it was truly bloodthirsty; and I doubt that even the Vatican would wish to defend it now.

When Voltaire raised the cry "Écrasez l'infâme," he wasn't kidding: he was fighting murderers.

It's just a shame that he was willing to use any means to an end.


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Cueball
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posted 06 March 2006 04:58 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:
In addition to not publishing offensive cartoons, let’s also ban the Voltaire play "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet":

ETA: Since this is a subscription service, I can email the full article to anyone who is interested in reading it.

[ 06 March 2006: Message edited by: Sven ]



Interesting that you should bring up Voltaire. Voltaire is actually one of the first sources of European anti-oriental racist xenophobia (Semites included as House points out):


quote:
Whereas the Renaissance writers and explorers treated Genghis Khan and the Mongols with open adulation, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in Europe produced a growing anti-Asian spirit that often focused on the Mongols, in particular, as the symbol of everything evil or defective in that massive continent. As early as 1748, the French philosopher Montesquieu set the tone in his treatise The Spirit of the Laws, holding the Asian in haughty contempt and blaming much of their detestable qualities on the Mongols, whom he labeled, “the most singular people on earth.” He described them as both servile slaves and cruel masters. He attributed to them all the major attacks on civilization from ancient Greece to Persia: “They have destroyed Asia, from India even to the Mediterranean; and all the country which forms the east of Persia they have rendered a desert.” Montesquieu glorified the tribal origins of Europeans as the harbingers of democracy while he condemned the tribal people of Asia: “The Tartars who destroyed the Grecian Empire established in the conquered countries slavery and despotic power: the Goths, after subduing the Roman Empire, founded monarchy and liberty.” Based on this history, he summarily dismissed all of Asian civilization: “There reigns in Asia a servile spirit, which they have never been able to shake off, and it is impossible to find in all the histories of that country a single passage which discovers a freedom of spirit; we shall never see anything there but the excess of slavery.”

Genghis Khan became the central figure of attack. Voltaire adapted a Mongol dynasty play, The Orphan of Chao, by Chi Chün-hsiang, to fit his personal political and social agenda by portraying Genghis Khan, whom Voltaire used as a substitute for the French king, as an ignorant and cruel villain. The Orphan of China, as he renamed it, debuted on the Paris stage in 1755 while Voltaire enjoyed safe exile in Switzerland. “I have confined my plan to the grand epoch of Genghis Khan,” he explained. “I have endeavored to describe the manners of the Tartars and Chinese: the most interesting events are nothing when they do not paint the manners; and this painting, which is one of the greatest secrets of the art, is no more than an idle amusement, when it does not tend to inspire notions of honor and virtue.” Voltaire described Genghis Khan as “The king of kings, the fiery Genghis Khan/Who lays the fertile fields of Asia waste.” He called him “a wild Scythian soldier bred to arms/And practiced in the trade of blood.” In Voltaire’s revisionist history, the Mongols warriors were no more than the “wild sons of rapine, who live in tents, in chariots, and in the fields.” They “detest our arts, our customs, and our laws; and therefore mean to change them all; to make this splendid seat of empire one vast desert, like their own.”

Genghis Khan’s only redeeming quality, in Voltaire’s play, was that he reluctantly recognized the moral superiority of the better educated. “The more I see,” Voltaire quoted Genghis Khan as saying, “the more I admire this wondrous people, great in arts and arms, in learning and in manners great; their kings on wisdom’s basis founded all their power.” Genghis Khans ended the play with a question: “…what have I gained by all my victories, by all my guilty laurels stained with blood?” To which Voltaire answered: “…the tears, the sighs, the curses of mankind.” With these words, Voltaire himself began the modern cursing of the Mongols.


So much for the "enlightenment."

Jack Weathorford: “Genghis Khan & the Making of the Modern World”


From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 05:24 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
It has been a while since I've read Mahomet (thirty years, actually), but as I recall, the logic was the same. He was using an iconic prophet figure as a metaphor for the authority figures of the C18 Catholic church. Voltaire was willing to use any metaphor to attack the undeniably corrupt and bloodthirsty establishment of the C18 Catholic church, so Mahomet was as useful to him as the Jews were in other writings.

That’s exactly what the article said (in a snipped-out part of the quote): The play was apparently widely believed that Voltaire’s play was a thinly-veiled attack on the Catholic Church.


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
Cueball
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posted 06 March 2006 05:27 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
So. He was a xenophobe who felt completely at ease using xenophobic caricatures to express his ideas.
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Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 05:29 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
And George Washington owned slaves, Cueball. But, that doesn't mean that everything he stood for was, therefore, garbage.

Same with the Enlightenment thinkers. The very progressive views that you hold are indebted to the Enlightment thinkers.


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skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 05:41 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Sven:

That’s exactly what the article said (in a snipped-out part of the quote): The play was apparently widely believed that Voltaire’s play was a thinly-veiled attack on the Catholic Church.


Yes. And his vicious anti-semitism was also a thinly veiled attack on the C18 French Catholic Church.

You try re-publishing his vicious anti-semitism in C21 Canada today, Sven, and see what happens.


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 05:57 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Yes. And his vicious anti-semitism was also a thinly veiled attack on the C18 French Catholic Church.

You try re-publishing his vicious anti-semitism in C21 Canada today, Sven, and see what happens.


What would happen in Canada?


From: Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!!! | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 06:03 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, are we talking Voltaire, Sven, or would you just be repeating his words under your own name?

You, as Sven, mouthing those words, would be in court very fast under our hate-speech legislation.

Voltaire? Well, he's already here. Walk into any good library, and sit down and read him. The good stuff, the bad stuff - it's all there.

Hardly anyone knows, though, because hardly anyone actually bothers to read what he wrote. But it is all there.

He has a public image in the West, and in my view it is deserved. He was a very great man, but he was a man of his times. Mostly people know him as a champion of civil liberties, and that is a Good Thing. I have no interest in tarnishing his reputation.

I just wish that Westerners weren't so naive that they couldn't handle the whole truth ... about themselves ... about their own traditions. Och, weel. Carry on.


From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 06:12 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Voltaire? Well, he's already here. Walk into any good library, and sit down and read him. The good stuff, the bad stuff - it's all there.

Hardly anyone knows, though, because hardly anyone actually bothers to read what he wrote. But it is all there.

He has a public image in the West, and in my view it is deserved. He was a very great man, but he was a man of his times. Mostly people know him as a champion of civil liberties, and that is a Good Thing. I have no interest in tarnishing his reputation.

I just wish that Westerners weren't so naive that they couldn't handle the whole truth ... about themselves ... about their own traditions. Och, weel. Carry on.


Well said.

Aside from Voltaire’s anti-Semitism, I think the play is a good example of the difficulties of avoiding speech that offends a particular group of people. A fundamental aspect of the concept of “free speech” is to permit speech that is offensive and non-offensive, however one may define “offensive”.

Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves illogically allowing creations such as “Piss Christ” (because it offends only Christians, after all) but prohibiting a “Piss Mohamed”.


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rici
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posted 06 March 2006 06:22 PM      Profile for rici     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Well, are we talking Voltaire, Sven, or would you just be repeating his words under your own name?

That reminds me of Borges' wonderful fable which purports to be a review of Don Quixote as rewritten word for word by a modern writer. The supposed author had not copied the classic; rather, he had arranged his own life and thinking in such a way that the copy would emerge, as it were, organically.

In a few pages, Borges manages to raise profound questions about how we can (or cannot) appreciate literature from a distance of several centuries, as well as what literary criticism means. How could you review such a book?

That form of cultural expropriation -- the casting of a controversy in the culture of the "other" to distance the debate from the particularities of the "us" -- did not begin nor end with Voltaire. (Who was Shakespeare actually talking about when he wrote "there is something rotten in the state of Denmark"?). Much of science fiction is an attempt to do precisely the same thing without expropriating any real culture, but the genre wasn't available to Voltaire.

Well, big deal... carry on...


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skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 06:27 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm sorry, Sven, but I think you're missing the other important half of the commitment of the civil libertarian.

On the one hand, I strongly oppose state measures to suppress or silence any idiot who wishes to say almost any idiotic thing. Form laws to silence the idiots, and for sure they will start to be used against everyone else, sooner or later. (We all seem to be doing this right now. The Americans are ahead of everyone else, but the Brits are catching up, and so are we, in our befuddled way.)

However!

Any civil libertarian who undertakes to defend the liberty of, eg, a fascist to speak his mind ALSO takes on, AT THE SAME TIME, the responsibility to move that debate into the public forum - which is where the civil libertarian has been insisting it should go on - and to keep the debate going there, to prove that enlightened conscience can be kept alive through public debate rather than state suppression.

That means that the civil libertarian has a responsibility to denounce bigoted speech - not in the courts but in the agora, the marketplace, the public space.

You pay homage to both movements of thought, or you are betraying the Enlightenment, Sven.


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Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 06:44 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Form laws to silence the idiots, and for sure they will start to be used against everyone else, sooner or later. (We all seem to be doing this right now. The Americans are ahead of everyone else, but the Brits are catching up, and so are we, in our befuddled way.)

What are the best examples that illustrate that the Americans are ahead of everyone else on the subject of suppressing free speech? And, with regard to “everyone else”, I don’t think you mean that literally, do you?

quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Any civil libertarian who undertakes to defend the liberty of, eg, a fascist to speak his mind ALSO takes on, AT THE SAME TIME, the responsibility to move that debate into the public forum - which is where the civil libertarian has been insisting it should go on - and to keep the debate going there, to prove that enlightened conscience can be kept alive through public debate rather than state suppression.

I don’t necessarily disagree with you but to what degree “must” a person engage in a public debate denouncing bigoted speech? In other words, what is the minimum threshold of “engaging in public debate” that all citizens must participate in, or else risk “betraying the Enlightenment”?


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skdadl
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posted 06 March 2006 06:47 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Up to you, Sven.

Up to each of us.

Depends on how much you care about preserving our civil liberties.

Use 'em or lose 'em, as they say, eh?


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Sven
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posted 06 March 2006 07:12 PM      Profile for Sven     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
Up to you, Sven.

Up to each of us.

Depends on how much you care about preserving our civil liberties.

Use 'em or lose 'em, as they say, eh?


I fundamentally agree with you, skdadl. If we don’t use our right to free speech to castigate, shame, or otherwise condemn bigoted speech, then in some sense we are, at least implicitly, condoning it.

I think that the more immediate and troubling matter is the tension between Western ideals of free speech and Muslim sensibilities regarding Western critiques of Islamic culture. This conflict is not going to go away and I don’t know what the answer is.


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 06 March 2006 08:02 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
That means that the civil libertarian has a responsibility to denounce bigoted speech - not in the courts but in the agora, the marketplace, the public space.

Why don't we all do that here then? This is, after all, only a Pretend Land, where nothing tangible actually happens. And yet if someone comes on here spouting filth and nonsense, they often end up banned. You've reported many a troll to the moderators; what did you hope would happen as a result? Why not just duke it out and allow their ideas enough rope to hang themselves then?

And I know that babble is only "public space" the way the Eaton Centre is; it's still privately owned. But that's all the more reason why babble could choose one or the other: banning or confronting and exposing.

ed'd to add: I'm not picking a fight here, btw. It just seemed a reasonable question.

[ 06 March 2006: Message edited by: Mr. Magoo ]


From: ø¤°`°¤ø,¸_¸,ø¤°`°¤ø,¸_¸,ø¤°°¤ø,¸_¸,ø¤°°¤ø, | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged
Tommy_Paine
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posted 06 March 2006 08:53 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
This thread inspired me to do a bit of quick googling.

I was always forgiving of authors being "a man of his times", that is until I read "Typee" by Herman Melville. Here's a man that seemed able to step outside the bigotries of his times.

And a googling of "Herman Melville, anti-semitism" did not reveal any anti-semitic quotes or references made by Melville.

Similarly, I googled Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and de Sade for anti-semetic remarks, and found none attributed to them.

Not that these were the end all be all guys of the Enlightenment. I googled Paine and Franklin because I was afraid. I have emotional investment in both, and wanted to know just where they stood.

Of course, a quick google and scan of a few links is not deffinative. If anyone has something on this, let me know.

I googled de Sade, not because I have an emotional investment, or philisophical admiration, but because after reading so much de Sade a few years back, I could not recall anything anti-semetic. And I thought, of all those guys of that age, perhaps de Sade might have been the most likely suspect.

But it seems not.

Once again, the Marquis surprises me.

Anywho, I am not so forgiving of Voltaire of his bigotries, nor in later years, Kipling of his.

They were demonstrably smart enough to know better.

Oh, almost goes without saying that I wouldn't ban Voltaire etc., for anti-semetic remarks.

It's always more effective to de-bunk.

[ 06 March 2006: Message edited by: Tommy_Paine ]


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