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How The French Far Right Is Perverting Voltaire

To counter Islam, conservative groups are twisting the ideas of the Enlightenment writer famous for his advocacy of freedom of religion.

Marie Lemonnier

PARIS — A recent headline on the French anti-Islam website Riposte Laïque (Secular Response) read: “On Islam, Voltaire was three centuries ahead of us.”

To support his thesis, columnist Maurice Vidal quotes a famous article about fanaticism from Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. In the Enlightenment writer’s work published in 1764, there was absolutely no mention of Islam. Instead, he targeted the Catholic upper-class involved in the killings of thousands of protestants during St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Oh well.

Three months earlier, Vidal called for French support of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen for the sake of “France’s ideals.” Created in 2007, Riposte Laïque switched from far-left to far-right over a matter of weeks, saying that “Islamophobia was not a crime but self-defiance.”

Robert Ménard, the former Reporters without Borders representative who also changed his political leanings and is now a candidate supported by the French far-right party Front National, launched a website called Boulevard Voltaire last year. Although Ménard claims he comes from the Enlightenment tradition, he doesn't hesitate to characterize French President François Holland as “infamous” or to form an alliance with Catholic activists of the so-called French Spring — a movement launched during the debate on same-sex marriage that divided the country a few months ago.

Voltaire’s label

An association founded in 1994 by the conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan is yet another example of the many perverted uses of Voltaire as a symbol of the right. To wit, Meyssan’s organization is called “Réseau Voltaire,” or the Voltaire Network.

Buried in the Pantheon in 1791 by revolutionaries looking for a hero, a Republican icon, Voltaire is now a code name used for defending secularism against religion. There is no doubt the sarcastic philosopher would have found the right words to counter the Islamist folly of our time. But it’s difficult to imagine him laughing at raucous jokes over pork-and-wine free-for-alls where the far right mocks Islam. It is likely that he would have called it silliness, because Voltaire’s war, as Nietzsche writes in Ecce Homo, was a war “without warrior behaviors or pathetic gestures and squirming.”

Secular fundamentalism

As he fought the infamous, Voltaire spoke in favor of tolerance. He was striving to make fools of the most powerful people, and to defend the oppressed. Opposed to religious dogma as much as atheistic materialism, he did not mistake the system for individuals.

This tendency to invoke the Enlightenment — but apparently just Voltaire’s French Enlightenment — is flawed. “This desire to find a secular golden age, like all fundamentalists vis-à-vis their religion, is a sign of secular fundamentalism,” argues historian Jean Baubérot.

Voltaire’s century wanted to look toward the future. To be faithful to him, the 21st century should not get stuck in the past.

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How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.

Photo of a hand holding a phone displaying an Union Pay logo, with a Mastercard VISA logo in the background of the photo.

Mastercard has just been granted a bank card clearing license in China.

Liu Qianshan


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

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Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

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