January 11, 2016

Oxford marks Charlie Hedbo anniversary by translating French anthology on tolerance


Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance became a bestseller following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.

Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance became a bestseller following the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January of 2015.

In January of last year, some two-hundred and fifty years after it was initially published, Voltaire‘s Treatise on Tolerance sold out at newspaper kiosks across France—the work was excerpted and included in Tolérance: le combat des Lumières, an anthology of essays of eighteenth-century Enlightenment writers published as an intellectual response to the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hedbo‘s offices in Paris.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the French took up Voltaire and his 1763 treatise as an emblem of grief and defiance in the face of terrorism. Thousands marched down Paris’s Boulevard Voltaire (a gathering that included 44 world leaders) the weekend following the attacks, and it was a portrait of Voltaire that was displayed in tribute to the twelve victims at Versailles.

Now, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Alison Flood at The Guardian reports that Open Book Publishers has published an English translation of Tolérance.

The translation was led by Dr. Caroline Warman at the University of Oxford, with the help and support of more than one-hundred academics and students from fifteen colleges across the university, as well as the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. In addition to Voltaire, the anthology opens with The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and compiles the tracts of over fifty Enlightenment philosophers and thinkers, including Diderot, Rousseau, Montesquieu.

Tolerance: The Beacon of Enlightenment is a response to what Warman refers to as the “intolerable” assault on the freedoms that France holds indelible. In her introduction to the translated edition, she writes of the attacks: “The right to free speech…had itself been attacked, and it felt intolerable. The context in which two vulnerable young French Muslims had grown up marginalized, been radicalized, and become the Charlie Hebdo killers also felt intolerable.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Warman explains how the anthology remains ever-relevant a year after its publication in French:

We thought it was something we could do to show our support for France and for all countries in the world affected by these issues…We want this book to reach people thinking about tolerance and intolerance, and to inspire them to connect with our history, as they discover that major European thinkers of the past also wrote passionately about these topics.

In her introduction, she also echoed the importance of heeding the lessons of history:

History repeats itself, as has been said before, and will be said again. Its battles are still being lost, its triumphs still being struggled towards. This is why we are publishing this book: Tolerance is a collection of some of those violent reactions and fierce debates, written by people who were revolted by the injustice around them and who found ways of saying so, whether they were allowed to or not.

Courtesy of Open Book Publishers, you can download a free PDF of Tolerance: The Beacon of Enlightenment here.



Ena Brdjanovic was formerly Director of Digital Media at Melville House.