Voltaire, the first practical micronationalist


The year 1757 was black year for Voltaire (born Francois-Marie Arouet). The Seven Years' War was becoming bloodier, making all his native French, and adopted British and Prussian social connections useless. The Lettres philosophiques (1734) were blamed for the attempted assassination of Louis XV. In addition, Voltaire lost the sympathy of his Swiss Protestant neighbours on account of remarks that he made about Calvin. After this, his plays were banned in Geneva, so even Switzerland was no longer the perfect haven.

It was in this mood, created by these trying times, that Voltaire wrote his best-known work, Candide (1759), in which he rejects the attempts of the Optimist School of philosophy, led by the German philosopher Leibniz, to explain away the existence of evil in the world. Immediately after, the book became extremely popular, even though it was censured by the French authorities. Cognizant of his own safety, Voltaire consistently denied having anything to do with it.

Towards the end of 1758, and soon to be endowed with a tremendous fortune, Voltaire purchased an estate, and moved back over the French border in order to build his château in Ferney (today Ferney-Voltaire), which he declared to be a "miserable hamlet". He was near enough to the Swiss border to be able to escape in case of danger by French authorities. He was also close enough to Geneva, yet outside of the jurisdiction of Calvinist religious authorities, as theatre was forbidden in the Calvinist city. So Voltaire personally oversaw the building of his château, and while in Ferney he became its enlightened patriarch and patron, setting up potteries, a watchmaking industry and, of course, theatres, attracting rich people from Geneva to watch his plays.

During Voltaire's residence (1759-1778), the population of Ferney increased to more than 1,000. Voltaire lived there for the last 20 years of his life before returning to Paris, where he died in 1778. For almost twenty years, Voltaire entertained numerous distinguished guests there, and declared himself to be the "innkeeper of Europe". Ferney itself became an obligatory destination for an elite who flocked there from all over Europe.

So it can be said that Voltaire was probably the first real, yet accidental or anecdotal micronationalist, who starting with an opulent dwelling (or hamlet), oversaw its development into a parish (he built the local church), and eventually that parish grew into an independent village (with the setting up of pottery and watchmaking cottage industries, and theatres).

Today Ferney-Voltaire is a peaceful French town with a Saturday market, and 7,822 residents (2008). It is also actually a part of the metropolitan area of Geneva (part of a conurbation), and host to a large international community, due to its proximity to CERN, and the United Nations Office at Geneva.

In 1999, the French State acquired the Château de Ferney-Voltaire [1, 2] the place where Voltaire wrote so much in defence of human rights.

I would like to give special thanks to Dr. Ilya Pakhomov, who instigated this research with his insights, and ultimately the writing of this article.

HMRD Cesidio Tallini [3, 4]