Voltaire and the ‘parlements’ of France

Author: James Hanrahan

Volume: 2009:06

Series: SVEC

Publication Date: 2009

Pages: 278

ISBN: 978-0-7294-0970-4

Price: £65


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.


Part I. From admiration to outrage

1. Voltaire and the parlements, 1715-1750

2. Voltaire and the parlements, 1750-1762

Part II. Judging the judges

3. Frenchmen before the magistrates of France

4. Magistrates before the tribunal of history

Part III. Voltaire’s politics: absolutism, but not absolutely

5. Voltaire’s politics after the Histoire du parlement de Paris

6. Voltaire and the Maupeou revolution

Conclusion: a politics of action


French Review

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 Studies

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

Modern Language Review, Volume 107, Part 3

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.

Voltaire Foundation

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