Voltaire and the parlements of France

BookVoltaire and the parlements of France

Voltaire and the parlements of France

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2009:06


June 9th, 2009

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Voltaire’s turbulent relationship with the courts of law of ancien régime France reveals much about his social and political thought, but its representation in many studies of the philosophe is often simplistic and distorted. In the first in-depth study of Voltaire and the parlements James Hanrahan looks afresh at this relationship to offer a new and challenging analysis of Voltaire’s political thought and activity.
Through examination of Voltaire’s evolving representation of the parlements in his writings from La Henriade to the Histoire du parlement, Hanrahan calls into question the dominant historiography of extremes that pits Voltaire ‘defender of the oppressed’ against ‘self-interested’ magistrates. He presents a much more nuanced view of the relationship, from which the philosophe emerges as a highly pragmatic figure whose political philosophy was inseparable from his business or humanitarian interests.
In Voltaire and the ‘parlements’ of France Hanrahan opens up analysis of Voltaire’s politics, and provides a new context for future study of the writer as both historiographer and campaigner for justice.

'Méthodiquement, rigoureusement, scrupuleusement, Hanrahan ne laisse rien au hasard, se refuse aux généralités, se démarque d’une schématisation dichotomique aisée.[...]La subtilité et la précision avec lesquelles James Hanrahan analyse les vues et la pensée politique de Voltaire sont particulièrement a souligner.'
- French Review

'Hanrahan provides an impressively detailed account of Voltaire’s evolving views regarding the parlements after the execution of Calas in 1762.'
- French Studies

'Voltaire and the ‘parlements’ of France is an erudite reassessment of the philosophe’s political thought across a long and prodigious lifetime; […] its complexity and depth make it a necessary read for postgraduates and specialists in eighteenth-century studies, as well as cultural and intellectual history.'
- Modern Language Review, Volume 107, Part 3

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Intellectual history and socio-cultural history14
Comparative politics of the philosophes19
Voltaire and the parlements35
I. From admiration to outrage44
1. Voltaire and the parlements, 1715-175046
The parlements of France46
‘Sauf accident, il sera bon gentilhomme et robin consciencieux’52
Early reactions to the magistrates56
Voltaire and the magistrates as censors66
2. Voltaire and the parlements, 1750-176276
The parlements and the administrative monarchy76
The 1750s: from apathy to outrage80
Voltaire and his local parlements88
The Damiens affair and its effects on the philosophes92
Philosophic tactics99
II. Judging the judges102
3. Frenchmen before the magistrates of France104
Parlementaire opposition in the provinces105
Voltaire, parlements, clergy and crown110
Calas and Sirven before the magistrates of Toulouse117
The chevalier de La Barre before the magistrates of Paris127
La Chalotais before the tribunal of public opinion132
Voltaire: historian of the parlements of France139
4. Magistrates before the tribunal of history146
The pretensions of the parlement to a political role146
The historiography of the parlements151
Critical interpretations of Voltaire’s Histoire du parlement de Paris155
The Histoire du parlement de Paris: attacking parlementaire pretensions158
The anti-parlementaire rhetoric of Voltaire’s Histoire du parlement de Paris167
Contemporary history in the Histoire du parlement de Paris176
III. Voltaire’s politics: absolutism, but not absolutely188
5. Voltaire’s politics after the Histoire du parlement de Paris190
Voltaire’s politics: critical interpretations190
Political histories: the Histoire du parlement de Paris and the Précis du siècle de Louis XV199
6. Voltaire and the Maupeou revolution210
The Maupeou revolution: the historians’ view211
The origins of the Maupeou revolution214
Voltaire during the ‘pre-Revolution’219
The extent of judicial reform under Maupeou227
Voltaire’s reaction to Maupeou’s reforms230
Voltaire’s works: a strategic reaction?233
Epilogue: the Maupeou years and beyond248
Conclusion: a politics of action256