Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

And, Incidentally, of Liberty.

No power can reproach the Venetians with having acquired their liberty by revolt; none can say to them, I have freed you — here is the diploma of your manumission.

They have not usurped their rights, as Cæsar usurped empire, or as so many bishops, commencing with that of Rome, have usurped royal rights. They are lords of Venice — if we dare use the audacious comparison — as God is Lord of the earth, because He founded it.

Attila, who never took the title of the scourge of God, ravaged Italy. He had as much right to do so, as Charlemagne the Austrasian, Arnold the Corinthian Bastard, Guy, duke of Spoleto, Berenger, marquis of Friuli, or the bishops who wished to make themselves sovereigns of it.

In this time of military and ecclesiastical robberies, Attila passed as a vulture, and the Venetians saved themselves in the sea as kingfishers, which none assist or protect; they make their nest in the midst of the waters, they enlarge it, they people it, they defend it, they enrich it. I ask if it is possible to imagine a more just possession? Our father Adam, who is supposed to have lived in that fine country of Mesopotamia, was not more justly lord and gardener of terrestrial paradise.

I have read the “Squittinio della libertà di Venezia,” and I am indignant at it. What! Venice could not be originally free, because the Greek emperors, superstitious, weak, wicked, and barbarous, said — This new town has been built on our ancient territory; and because a German, having the title of Emperor of the West, says: This town being in the West, is of our domain?

It seems to me like a flying-fish, pursued at once by a falcon and a shark, but which escapes both. Sannazarius was very right in saying, in comparing Rome and Venice: “Illam homines dices, hanc posuisse deos.” Rome lost, by Cæsar, at the end of five hundred years, its liberty acquired by Brutus. Venice has preserved hers for eleven centuries, and I hope she will always do so.

Genoa! why dost thou boast of showing the grant of a Berenger, who gave thee privileges in the year 958? We know that concessions of privileges are but titles of servitude. And this is a fine title! the charter of a passing tyrant, who was never properly acknowledged in Italy, and who was driven from it two years after the date of the charter!

The true charter of liberty is independence, maintained by force. It is with the point of the sword that diplomas should be signed securing this natural prerogative. Thou hast lost, more than once, thy privilege and thy strong box, since 1748: it is necessary to take care of both. Happy Helvetia! to what charter owest thou thy liberty? To thy courage, thy firmness, and thy mountains. But I am thy emperor. But I will have thee be so no longer. Thy fathers have been the slaves of my fathers. It is for that reason that their children will not serve thee. But I have the right attached to my dignity. And we have the right of nature.

When had the Seven United Provinces this incontestable right? At the moment in which they were united; and from that time Philip II. was the rebel. What a great man was William, prince of Orange: he found them slaves, and he made them free men! Why is liberty so rare? Because it is the first of blessings.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01