It has been argued that if Locke is the idealist of the enlightenment, then Voltaire is the realist. This statement is totally true. Although the works of these two philosophers overlapped, they differed a lot in the ideology of some issues.
Both of these people were philosophers during the enlightenment era in Europe which occurred sometime during the eighteenth century. During this era there were movements which were lead by intellectuals who believed that scientific knowledge and information should be incorporated into the human beliefs as an aid of understanding the universe in a better way (Palmer 8).
According to the philosophers, people should abandon traditional and religious beliefs and embrace this new idea. Locke was among the enlightenment philosophers in England and used this idea to fight for equal rights for all people in the society. He believed that every man was equal and that no one should be treated in the society.
Despite his fight for human rights and equality, he did not advocate for the rights of women and slaves in the society and neither did he believe in democracy (Delaney 18). Through his works people referred to him as an idealist. Idealism is a doctrine that reality is based in the mind of an individual and has a relationship with the mind structure. Idealism relies mainly on the ideas rather than the ideal situation and is related to metaphysics therefore contrasting with materialism and realism (Creatorix.com 2010).
Voltaire on the other hand has been referred to as a realist. Realism entails an ideology which acknowledges the object world with reality which people perceive to be true when they are in contact with them (Creatorix.com 2010). In his works and literature Voltaire believed that one did not need to follow traditions or religion to believe in God but rather one needed to have a reason to believe in God.
According to him, it was evident in the mind of people that there is a more powerful and intelligent being who is eternal thus one does not need faith to believe in this because it is a fact. He developed mixed reactions to the bible and as a result of the skeptical attitude of his works and ideologies, he was separated from Unitarians and biblical-political writers like Locke (Nosotro 2010).
In his book Second Treatise of Government Locke talks about the various aspects of life and politics. He states that for the proper understanding of the origin of political power, one must understand the origin of mankind in the state of nature (Locke 14). During this period no one had control over the other but each one of them was a judge of what the law required. In this state every individual is equal since they are all born indiscriminately with similar advantages and disadvantages.
Since each individual interpreted the law in his own way, there are instances where one might breach the ideals of another person and even if there was a universal judge his decisions may be biased. This is the point where the state of nature which seemed to be so ideal starts to fail (Locke 15). Although Locke fought for equality, he did not consider the rights of serfs, women and children.
As a matter of fact chapter four and sixteen of his book entitled slavery and conquest respectively posed a lot of confusion since the latter advocated for the justification of slavery and the former talked about the rights of conquerors. He was therefore seen by other scholars and intellectuals as being a supporter of the slave trade. Others say that he was a hypocrite since he talked about equality yet he does not consider the rights of the slaves and women.
Voltaire idea of realism is brought out in his book Candide; or the Optimism in which the protagonist, Candide, was always optimistic in his life even thought he faced a series of misfortunes in his life as a result of the evils of the world. He faced prosecutions, murder, earthquakes, tsunamis and death of his loved ones (Voltaire 18).
Voltaire uses this method to bring out the evils which people are currently facing in the world. His work is different to that of Locke since he is advocating for a change which will improve the lives of everyone in the society unlike the Locke whose works only focused on a specific group in the community. Voltaire worked hard to bring the light to the people of France and free them from the oppression they were facing.
He was against the religion which was being practiced in France at that time especially Orthodox Christianity thus introduced his idea of natural religion. In this religion it is believed that the Lord is the creator of nature which evolved with time and lead to the emergence of man. In this respect therefore, man was not created directly by God (Voltaire 21). This is a notion which up to the present moment scientists and pagans believe in.
As it is seen the works of Voltaire on were mainly against religion and the fact that religion gave the leaders (kings and emperors) the divine power to rule other people and in return the leaders would protect the church.
Through his works people started to demand for democracy, equality and freedom from their leaders. According to people, these factors were necessary values for the development of the society since they will lead to better political systems based on democracy, economic development, capitalism, and religious tolerance (Ayer 44).
Enlightenment in the 21st Century
The 21st century needs the concepts of equality and democracy to be embraced so that the world can become a better place to live in. This is because we need to filter the negative effects of the twentieth century that were diminishing these concepts.
That is why we need to apply the ideas of John Locke who preached for human equality and embracing of the scientific knowledge. Although the world people may think that there is equality in the world, traces of oppression are still present in some parts of the world. People are still being discriminated on the grounds of skin color, race, ethnicity, gender and religion.
Societies have become enlightened over the years especially the African states in the 21st century. Most of the African states were colonies of European countries but gained their independence in the second half of the twentieth century. However the leaders who took power became dictators and took over all power and control of the state. This has lead to civil wars in many African states over the years.
Sudan for example, has been in war for the last couple of decades. The country has been divided into two, the northern part composed of Muslims and the southern part composed of Christians. This division came about as a result of political and religious difference between the people of the north and the south.
Development is mainly found in the north with the southern people being oppressed. The people of the south therefore had been fighting for the country to be divided into two different states so that they can enjoy their rights and freedom as a sovereign state.
In January 2011 the people of Southern Sudan held a referendum which if passed will lead to the division of the country into two different states. The referendum was passed as majority of the people voted in favor of the proposed constitution (Tehrant Times 2011). They now have a chance of having a country which will give them absolute rights and freedom, something which they have been dreaming of for a long time.
Locke and Voltaire works in philosophy have changed the perspective of life in many different ways. Before their works, many people who were oppressed did not know about their rights. Now, thanks to their works many people have realized that they need their freedom so that they can exercise their rights. In the 18th and 19th century, slave trade was abolished and most colonies got their independence like in America and France (where the monarch was overthrown).
From there people have also been fighting for equality and human rights in the society. At the present moment, women and the gay community all across the globe are fighting for their rights and equality in the society. This struggle will continue even in the future all as a result of the enlightenment.
Ayer, Johnson. Voltaire. New York City: Random House, 1986
Creatorix.com. Glossary. Creatorix.com. Retrieved on 8 March 2011 from
Delaney, Tim. The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism. New York:Oxford University Press, 2005.
Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Ed. Richard Cox. Maryland :Davidson, 1982
Nosotro, Rit. Locke and Voltaire-A Tale of Two Exiles. Hyperhistory.net. Retrieved on 8 March 2011 from http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw20lockevoltaire31131504.htm
Palmer, Robert. The Age of the Democratic Revolution. Surrey, England :Ashgate, 1964
Tehrant Times.Sudan Referendum Ends Peacefully. Tehran Times. Retrieved on 8
March 2011 from http://www.tehrantimes.com/Index_view.asp?code=233845.
Voltaire, Francois. Candide; or the Optimism. Ed. John Butt. Riverside :Penguin Books:, 1950.