We would refer to Voltaire’s, satirical novel, “Candide,” read, decades ago, as college freshmen. In the plot, the protagonist, Candide, experiences crushing, disappointment upon, painfully, learning by experience, the complete fallacy in the (Leibnitz’s) optimistic philosophy, taught to him, by his childhood tutor, viz., “It is the best of all worlds,” and, “Everything happens for the best.” At the conclusion of the novel, Voltaire portrays the miserable and defeated, protagonist, exhaustedly, as exclaiming (Voltaire’s lesson) that man should (just) “stay home and plant his own garden.”
At the time, we summarily dismissed Voltaire’s pessimistic advice, which served to negate our then, virtually, “Quixotic,” mindset, anticipating our bold, yet untested plans, for significant future contributions toward a more morally improved and societally advanced, mankind. We were dismayed, at age eighteen, at the pessimism of the great philosopher, and, reactively, questioned the purported greatness of his reputation as a referenced thinker. We, did also, subtly, speculate somewhat, at the remote possibility, that Voltaire’s pessimistic view was worthy of acceptance, and whether he was, in reality, sadly, declaring a sage, and empirically, analytic conclusion.
As time and maturity evolved, we became apprised of a profusion of unsavory periods in our National history and, unhappily, as well, in contemporary, society, and were, to a degree, prompted to understand and give proportionate acknowledgment to Voltaire’s pessimistic, observations. However, we did not, as Voltaire advised, “stay home and plant our own garden” (vegetables); albeit, apprising ourselves of certain empirical, negative phenomena, attributable to humanity and its less than perfect, innate persona. Fortunately, we were, also, greatly relieved to be enabled, by experience, to perceive, as well, a great many positive, uplifting, and admirable features evinced by man’s societal behavior.
On our Nation’s perceived, negative, side, the declarations, “that this is the best of all worlds,” and, “all things happen for the best,” are easily disproven, by its historical record of, enslavement of black people and the slow and contested, contemporary efforts toward universal equality, by the persistent, existence of its violent, Nazi-style, White Christian Militias and their sympathizers; by the existence of a vast number of inadequately, educated and ill- informed citizens, the latter, proven vulnerable, to demagogic influence and, accordingly, evincing acceptance of instructed, “alternate facts” and delusional ideation, in derogation of metaphysical truth; by the inability to regulate its overabundance of firearms, despite countless instances of horrific shooting tragedies; by its angry divisiveness and partisan roadblocks to progress, in the attainment of universal equality, including, (unconstitutional, religious) prohibition of women’s natural authority as to their own bodies,; by widespread lack of concern, regarding environmental issues, including, global warming, and further, by selfish opposition to immigration (in a Nation, populated 100% by immigrants and their progeny).
Yet, on the positive side, weighed against such negative phenomena, specified above, are, many idealistically, positive features of the Nation. These include programs of compassionate capitalism, freedom of speech, and peaceable action, progress in civil and gender rights, citizen voting rights and the attendant dynamics, of a representative democracy, a steadily improving justice system, concern for safety and health, as declared in labor, food and medical regulations, a National Constitution, limiting the rights of the federal government to interfere with the basic rights of citizens (Bill of Rights), schools, universities, professional schools and other institutions of learning and advancement, libraries and museums, hospitals and clinics, concert halls and other institutions of aesthetic experience and growth.
In the philosophy (of Leibnitz), satirized in Candide, it seems to us that the most egregious error is its, all-encompassing, universal generality, painting all human experience and the world, itself, in bright, Pollyannaish colors. A great deal of the World’s phenomena, good and bad, are not subject to human control. Among the good, are, rain, breezes, sunlight, and change of seasons, flowers, sun and moonlight; and bad, global warming, windstorms, frigid weather, floods, landslides, disease and volcanic eruption. When the satirized philosopher, Leibnitz, declared that it was the “best of all possible worlds,” we shall dare to assume that he was not referring to the natural phenomena.
With specific reference to Leibnitz’s satirized philosophy that “everything happens for the best,” to the extent that it relates to human character and behavior,” we, as an empirical matter, need not require Voltaire’s, brilliant, literary novel for critical instruction. However, the philosopher’s chosen, symbolic recommendation, to “stay home and plant your garden,” understood, in its usual, literal meaning may have some practical and realistic merit.