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The Political Background Behind Candide and Adventures of Telemachus

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This article traces a historical shift in moral and political thought. There is a commonplace in François Fénelon’s ‘The Adventures of Telemachus, Son of Ulysses’ and Voltaire’s ‘Candide’, as the two authors base their tales in the political context of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. They both imply the devastation which the French and neighboring people suffered due to Louis XIV’s eager for glory and expansion. In this paper, we relate Fénelon and Voltaire to each other, underlining the similarities and the differences between two of the best-read tales of that period. Both authors influenced a wide range of people not only in France, but all-around Europe, and they inspired the philosophers who followed. We focus on their work with new perspectives and fresh look in order to better understand the contribution of these literary works in anti-dogmatic education. We point out elements which present the mentality of the society which cultivated an insatiable taste for exotic items, making the trade of luxurious products an economic fact and we discuss the opinion of the two writers.

In The Adventures of Telemachus, Fénelon’s views are engaged with the political wisdom, he denounces the expansionist wars, the greed for wealth, he condemns the moral consequences of trade, whilst Voltaire in Candide criticizes war, politics and society in his special linguistic style. Although, in his early work Voltaire shows contemn to the ideas of Fénelon, we realize that in Candide his attitude changes and he seems to owe a significant intellectual debt to the line of thought of Fénelon. The ideological background of the two men is completely opposite; Fénelon is religious and his work is based on his faith, whereas Voltaire struggles against Church. Nevertheless, they are both deeply interested in denouncing the atrocities committed during war, the vanity of wealth and they both use a utopia to describe the ideal society.

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The study is based on the historical analysis method (Isari et al. 2015, 13). We discuss the social and philosophical background of the writers and the difference in their writing style. Our goal is to capture and compare the innovative ideas and the didactic issues of the two books, interpret them and understand them. We present their similarities and differences on war, wealth, as well as the use of utopia, how the authors support their beliefs when they approach the factors that lead to human suffering, their proposals on anthropocentric policy, which should be followed by the leaders for the avoidance of war and the support of peace and justice. Moreover, we note the debates on toleration and the way the authors encourage their readers to behave, how they both try to enlighten their readers and guide them to the search of truth, to the love for peace and work. We mention social, philosophical, religious, political and pedagogical elements that can affect today’s society in order to cultivate humanitarian awareness, because they are themes which concern modern people and the humanistic value of literature lessons has been greatly acknowledged in the civilized world. The moral value and the didactic spirit of the two books are integral parts of the phenomenological existence, and the persuasiveness of their words is related to the way both writers influenced the philosophical and pedagogical thinking. These specific books can contribute to the development of moral values to students, they can become useful manuals for the teachers to help their students expand their perspectives, intensify their awareness and help them become more tolerant.


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