Candide: Crash Course Literature #405

Hello and welcome to Crash Course literature,
the best of all possible Crash Courses, discussing the best of all possible novels here on the
best of all possible sets. I am the best of all possible John Greens—which
is saying something, because there are a lot of us. Today we’re discussing “Candide, or Optimism”
a work of fiction by the Enlightenment philosopher François-Marie Arouet, who went by the name
Voltaire, because wouldn’t you if you could pull off the one name thing? I’m feeling incredibly optimistic about
today’s video. So, let’s get started! [Intro]
So, Voltaire was born in Paris in 1694. His dad wanted him to be a lawyer. Voltaire wanted to be a writer. and not for
the last time, Voltaire won the argument. And Voltaire wrote a lot. Like, hundreds and hundreds of books and pamphlets
a lot. And okay, pamphlets are very short books,
but still. He wrote essays and poems and dramas. Much of it pretty satirical. He had a hilarious verse, for instance, accusing
the King’s Regent of incest with his own daughter, which landed Voltaire in the Bastille
prison for nearly a year.. Voltaire was big on two beliefs: Empiricism
and Religious Tolerance. Empiricism is the argument that knowledge
of the world is discovered through experience and evidence as opposed to philosophical speculation. And religious tolerance should be self-explanatory. Although it was not self-explanatory in 18th
Century France. Voltaire himself subscribed to the religion
of Deism: The belief that God is a clockmaker who set the world in motion and then stood
back to watch it tick. So, before we get into the philosophical context
and themes of “Candide,” which was written 1759 and published anonymously, because, you
know, Voltaire didn’t want to go back to the Bastille, let’s review the story in
the Thoughtbubble. When the book begins, Candide, a naïve young
man, is living an easy life on his uncle’s estate with his cousin Cunegonde, whose name
is sort of a dirty joke that we really can’t get into, and his tutor Dr. Pangloss, who
insists that Candide is enjoying the best of all possible worlds. When Cunegonde catches her chambermaid scoodilypooping
with Pangloss, she decides to kiss Candide, and that gets Candide kicked off of the estate,
forced into military service, beaten and nearly killed. Best of all possible worlds? (1) Then Candide escapes the army and is helped
by a nice heretic named James. On the street, he sees a poor victim of syphilis
with half his nose missing, and turns out, it’s Pangloss! Pangloss tells him that the army overran the
uncle’s estate and killed everyone. (2) Then he and Candide and James go to Lisbon
where James drowns, and then an earthquake hits. During the ensuing devastation, Candide and
Pangloss are arrested as heretics and Pangloss is hanged. But Candide escapes and meets up with Cunegonde,
who’s alive and the mistress to both a rich Jewish merchant and a Catholic inquisitor. Candide kills both the men and he and Cunegonde
escape. But then they separate, and Candide makes
his way to Buenos Aires and eventually to El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, and then
eventually, he makes his way to Constantinople, where he meets Cunegonde again, who unfortunately
is now ugly. In Voltaire’s world, there is seemingly
nothing worse. And everyone is pretty unhappy by this point
in the best of all possible worlds, until Candide and Cunegonde realize that maybe the
best thing to do is just farm the land they have. Candide says, “We must go and work in the
garden.” And then the weeding begins. Thanks, Thoughtbubble. It’s a lot of plot. Voltaire–never short on the plot. Lots of sex and travel and murder and not
murder. There are some reasons for all of this. So, Candide is an episodic novel, just like
it sounds, a form based on one episode after another. It’s also in some ways a picaresque novel,
which is a collection of adventures undertaken by a wily hero or heroine, although at the
same time, it’s kind of an anti-picaresque novel, because as you may have noticed, Candide
is not terribly wily, and also it ends not with an ongoing adventure but with gardening. Candide is also a version of a bildungsroman,
a term we’ve mentioned before, which is a novel of a young person’s education. Although we could debate how much Candide
actually learns. A big part of Voltaire’s satire involves
adopting these forms that he’s trying to mock, then turning them inside out. to that point, “Candide” is also an Enlightenment
novel that’s deeply critical of a lot of Enlightenment philosophy. It’s a parody of the classic romance—boy
meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, but now she’s been disemboweled.
also, they probably don’t live happily ever after. So how seriously should we take this book? Is it just a series of potty-humor parodies,
or is it a real intellectual inquiry? Well, I would argue it’s both, just like
the Captain Underpants movie. I mean, the book is definitely funny and extremely
rude. When it was first published, it was banned
in a bunch of countries because of the ways it mocked politics and religion. Even people who didn’t want it banned thought
that its humor was too dark. and that’s certainly one justifiable way
to read the book. But I think there’s more going on here than
just jokes about disembowelment. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? An open letter to disembowelment. Oh, but first let’s see what’s in the
secret compartment today. OH! Look at that. It’s a guillotine! Dear Disembowelment,
I’ve done a fair amount of reading on 18th century methods of French execution,
and wow, does it seem very close to the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to criminal
justice. Torture, was the rule, not the exception. Execution was a common punishment for all
kinds of different crimes, and you were lucky if you got hanged or beheaded. Because you could get burned alive, or disemboweled,
or both. By comparison, the guillotine seemed humane. In fact, it was designed to be humane. In short, disembowelment, when it comes to
you, I’m with Voltaire. I just don’t think you have any role to
play in the best of all possible worlds. Worst wishes, John Green. OK, so at the heart of all that rudeness,
is a big question. How do we understand evil in the world, and
What are we gonna do about it? Difficult questions, and also among the oldest
and most important for religion and for literature. And even though Voltaire was very smart and
deeply opinionated, he doesn’t pretend to have an answer, but he does want to negate
what he sees as bad answers. “Candide” is a direct response to Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz’s “philosophical optimism,” a strand of philosophy arguing that since
god is good everything must be for the best in this “the best of all possible words.” And this was a very common philosophical understanding
at the time, even though, you know, it seems a little bit ludicrous to us. I mean, the great thing about philosophical
optimism is that it solved the problem of what scholars of religious traditions call
theodicy–the problem of evil in a world that is ostensibly overseen by an all-powerful
and all-knowing god. Pangloss’s teachings are straight-up Leibniz. Pangloss’s name, by the way, literally means
“all talk.” This optimistic determinism was a big problem
for Voltaire so he makes it a problem for Candide, too. Quick pause for a bit of history: In 1755
there was an enormous earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal, followed by a tsunami, followed
by a fire. The disasters killed an estimated 60,000 people,
nearly a third of the city. Voltaire of course used this in “Candide.” He also wrote about it in a poem called “Poem
on the Lisbon Disaster,” because Voltaire wasn’t the best at titles. He subtitled the poem, “An Inquiry into
the Axiom ‘All Is Well.’” And it’s clear that for Voltaire the earthquake
was really good evidence that Leibniz’s theory was deeply flawed. The poem reads:
“All is well,” you say, “and all is necessary.” What! Do you think this universe would be worse
Without the pit that swallowed Lisbon? And in the novel, Candide experiences similar
disillusionment, part of it in Lisbon. But good old Pangloss, half-dead from syphilis,
is still arguing that his syphilis is part of the best of all possible worlds. Christopher Columbus after all brought syphilis
a New World disease back to Europe. And Pangloss argues that if Columbus hadn’t
gone to the new world, and caught this disease, “which poisons the source of generations,”
we wouldn’t have chocolate, a New World food. Now I like chocolate. I also like lot’s of other New World foods,
like tomatoes, and corn and peppers and so on. But I don’t think any of that justifies
the horrible parts of the Columbian Exchange, and syphilis is just one of many. Voltaire proves this point, that we don’t
seem to be living in the best of all possible worlds, over and over in the novel, arguably
too often. He probably makes it most explicit when, one
of the novel’s few really good characters, James, drowns saving a terrible person. And yet I don’t think that Voltaire is arguing
for mere pessimism. Like, the old woman, a companion of Cunegonde’s
tells a really harrowing life story, which climaxes with one of her buttocks being cut
off. Because of course it does. But she ends it: “I have wanted to kill
myself 100 times, but somehow I am still in love with life.” Now, she goes on to call this desire to live
a “ridiculous weakness” and compares loving life to “fondling a snake that devours us,”
but still, the novel acknowledges and embraces that humans love life. And it also acknowledges that there’s plenty
to love about life, like candied fruit. And pistachio nuts. Just don’t get carried away thinking that
you’re in a full-on benevolent universe or anything. Tangentially related, Voltaire did not believe,
like the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau did, that the real source of the problems
is modern society. We know this because when Candide escapes
to the new world, things are still quite non-ideal, what with all the cannibalism and syphilis. And it’s worth mentioning that Voltaire
is anything but enlightened when it comes to his imagining of the new world. Voltaire’s racism and misogyny might reflect
his times, but his pseudoscientific justifications for them are worth noting in our times. So the final jab at the “best of all possible
worlds” thing comes late in the novel, when Voltaire takes us to El Dorado, the famed
city of gold, where the streets are lined with jewels. No one is hungry, no one is poor, no one is
oppressed. The king is nice to everyone and the enlightened
citizens just love philosophy and science. And guess what? It’s extremely boring. Candide can’t wait to leave. This novel is so dystopian even the utopia
sucks. At the end of the book, Candide is miraculously
reunited with all of his friends and together they buy a little farm. But again, they are very bored. They go visit a famous wise man in the hopes
that he can explain the meaning of life to them, but he slams the door in their faces. And then, on the way back, they meet a farmer
who seems happy enough and his daughters make everyone sherbet drinks. And then drinking their sherbet, Candide realizes
that he should go back to his farm and try to make it prosper and maybe not worry about
philosophy so much. And then comes the famous last line “We
should go and work in our garden,” or possibly, depending on your translation, “Let us go
and cultivate our garden.” It’s the “our garden” that’s the important
part. Like we should stop worrying about everyone
else’s garden. And I guess that seems sensible enough. A lot of people would probably feel better
if instead of worrying themselves sick about the problem of evil in their lives, and in
other people’s lives, they just grew some tomatoes and worked on their embroidery. But as a conclusion to this particular novel,
it does seem weirdly conservative? I mean, the ending is a return to a garden. What’s more Biblical than that? And there’s also this selfishness to that
choice. Our garden. I mean there is a huge earthquake in the novel,
but most of the suffering is inflicted not by a higher power but by humans upon one another. These humans rape and kill and disembowel
each other, and growing tomatoes may be a way of personally opting out of those social
problems, but I’m not convinced it does much to fix them. I guess Voltaire thinks those problems are
unfixable, and that people will be evil no matter what, but should we succumb to that
pessimism or should we try to work to change and improve this not-yet-best-of-all-possible-worlds? Is it enough to tend your own garden, or do
we have a responsibility to help our neighbors tend their gardens as well? I don’t know. But, I do think we should at least share our
vegetables. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time.

100 Replies to “Candide: Crash Course Literature #405

  1. The comments about Voltaire's "racism" and "misoginy" are out of place. They're not reflecting the times, his stereotypical portrayals of the Jews and the South Americans and the extremely common sexual violence are critically reflecting the times themselves. Voltaire purposely stereotyped ethnic groups and women to say something about stereotyping.

  2. I always thought that last sentence about tending the garden was rather snide. Someone, I don't remember who, starts commenting on optimism again and asks for Candide's input, and he said that in response. I interpreted that as his way of saying, "I've been through too much bad stuff, and I don't want to hear it."

  3. I was waiting for him to say goodbye to Hank in the outro

    Clearly I've been watching too much vlogbrothers videos ._.

  4. I always took the ending to be neither pessimistic nor optimistic but pragmatic: "Let us be productive with what little we have."
    Also, you missed highlighting the most timeless exchange in the entire book:

    “How many plays have been written in France?' Candide asked the abbe.

    'Five or six thousand.'

    'That's a lot,' said Candide. 'How many of them are good?'

    'Fifteen or sixteen,' replied the abbe.

    'That's a lot,' said Martin.”

  5. People lament the "Columbian exchange" [is that the current best word to use] I would say Conquest {in a positive sense) bit OK.  The thing is that the event was inevitable in fact it had happened before several times.  At some point the new world would be conquered or maybe the Old world may have been conquered by the new.  But in any case like much of history the violence is just a part of public policy for most of man's history.  I do not intend to look back with as much horror as is now thought to be the best way to approach history.   Or at least white history.   Is seems to be that which ever group ended up be capable of conquering any other group would  do so.    To make it shorter.  If the Indians had invented guns first Europeans would be speaking Lakota or something like that depending on which group managed to enslave or murder all the others.  In short sighted that we make saints out of native Americans because some few of them had very egalitarian ideas about land ownership (that were unique because of the primitive culture)  not because they themselves were any different than all the other humans on earth.  Like we think Hindus are peaceful because they are vegetarians.    So that God(s) it was your people who did the conquering and not being the conquered.  This who way of thinking were you exalt the morals and character of losers and victims and curse and defame the winners is backwards and I believe very harmful to the self esteem of young Americans who should be taught about how great they are and should be filled with pride in being from a people that saved the world for democracy and whose business is business , etc.   In this way they will feel good about themselves and do more good in return.   The world was advancing faster when Americans had pride.  Now that women have taught our young men to hate themselves because of how bad they are to women and brown people you have slowed the human progress that was driven on by the confidence of young hardworking white men.  Mr. Green even plays himself as a fool and his character is terrible self recriminating.

  6. "Oui, mais il faut cultiver notre (propre) jardin" is one of the most essential quotes in French tought and culture, even to this day. (I'm Belgian so we like to combine Heidegger and Voltaire or Hegel and De Beauvoir 🙂 yeah quite problematic.) When the terrorist attacks on Paris and Brussels happened this phrase popped up a lot and everybody knows this last line because Candide is obligatory literature in middle school. And the explanation you gave is ……… 'not quite how it is understood in France and Belgium'. Candide is about the goodness of the world, and it means you need to create the world as you see fit. 'the garden' is your own life. You want good things to happen? Then start acting like it. Another layer in the book is that Candide is a very passive character. What his tutor tells him (aka Leibniz) doesn't come true but candide does aid in the war, or helps during the earthquake. He just stays an observer, not recognizing he is part of this and that he can change it for the better. In this sense God is totally discredited (echoing Nietzsches 'the death of God' – see, we Belgians combine French and German philosophy) in favor of the individual. You as an individual has the duty to make this world the best of worlds and stop blaming or waiting for God. More so it is your duty, your duty as a citizen. To accomplish this, you need freedom. And here I think is the reason why it stayed unnoticed for you guys. This involves the very different approach of freedom in Europe and the US. Freedom is hereby a duty, a thing for every individual to pursue and to be accommodated by the State, and not a right! When the terrorist attacks happened scolars and jounalists quoted this line to state that we should treat muslims more as our brothers in our own garden, aka our own daily lives. That was the appropriate reaction to the national tragedy. We should not blame a whole religion, our the whole middle east, but we will attain freedom with small acts to make to create a better world. This little sentence is THE baseline of European individualism and liberalism (again these 2 things are very much differently understood in the US).

  7. Rousseau vs Voltaire, was a ridiculously violent and one sided feud. Voltaire was a terrible person and basically the archetype for the polemist. There is a direct genealogy between Voltaire and any intellectual on TV

  8. Hi! Awesome and informational video that gives good background about the author aswell as the plot.
    However I think you lacked a bit of imformation on the plot part. But I do understand that as Candide is written in such way to get as much plot in as few pages as possible it would be impossible unless you want to read the intire book. I also dont agree to a full 100% in some of the points made, howeer I think you checked every neccisary box. Good vid!!

  9. "Let us cultivate our garden" can also refer to stop worrying about what happens in the "best possible world" and focus in our own. In that sense, it is completely in line with what you suggest at the end of the video.

    Also, working in our garden can mean setting ourselves to our tasks, which does include involvement with the world: the task of living and mastery. I can definitely see a critique to overthinking and idleness; such questions, such as one that judges as good or evil the nature of existence, when given a too predominant importance tends to a dispersion of thinking and focus.

    Maybe this is Voltaire telling us to stop complaining and speculating so much about everything, and do something with our life.

  10. I think the episode of the garden does not mean that the best thing is to stop worrying about the problems on the world as there is no solution to mankind's evilness (after all, that was not what Voltaire did), but instead I think that 'cultivating OUR garden' means that the best thing we can do to contribute to combating evil, is to worry about improving ourselves and not others…

  11. I understand that this is absolutely not contributing to the literary analysis, but there was a recent archaeological dig in Hull, England, that disproved the theory that Syphilis originated in the Americas. Subsequent re-examination of skeletons in Pompeii and one ancient Greek settlement on the southern tip of the Italian peninsula provided further evidence of pre-Columbian syphilis in Europe.

  12. Candice is an excellent book. Even grisly but not too graphic and laugh out loud. It explains the how we don't have control of life. Points out that if we did we would be bored. He tells a great tale with politics included of the day. Candice resonates with the fact of the powers that be

  13. i interpreted the last line of the book in a different way, perhaps an incorrect way, but a more charitable one. rather than literally growing vegetables in a garden, i took it to mean improving the world. our garden = the world. "our" referring to all of humanity, not just the main character and his pals. rather than ignoring all of the evil and suffering, it would be like what you were saying: actually trying to fix it

  14. Any chance there could be a Brave New World crash course? Being as we're talking about dystopian fiction and whatnot. Please? <3

  15. Candide wasn't actually "bored" with the so-called Utopia of El-dorado, he was just too much infatuated with Cunégonde that he can't stop thinking about her and so he leaves the place to rescue her.

  16. I just realized that Candide by Leonard Bernstein was based on the novel. I wondered why it sounded familiar.

  17. THANKS SO MUCH FOR THIS….Found a quote by Voltaire that I liked ("God is a comedian, playing to an audience tat is too afraid to laugh) … and I am now trying to educate myself about this very important historical figure and prolific writer who knew Leibniz, Sir Isaac Newton (why was nothing mentioned about him during my schooling ?)….Your video is fast paced, thorough and amusing and has given me the connections to pursue other philosophical connections & people……and you have also prepared me for the time when my translation of 'Candide' arrives via Amazon…(.I hope I can stomach it.)…….Great stuff..

  18. I found throughout the book that Candide and others are constantly trying to go somewhere so they can be happy. As if all that is stopping them from happiness is their location. In El Dorado Candide sees a perfect location and is surprised that he is unhappy. He expects happiness to happen to him. It is only when they retire to the farm that Candide and the others start to actively create their own happiness.

    Another theme I found was that of the importance of relationships. Candide is happiest when traveling with friends, but he doesn't value these friendships until the farm. I took "cultivate our garden' to partially refer to their family. All is well because they are together.

    A third theme seems to follow "idle hands are the Devil's play things". Whenever Candide is busy, he seems content, but when he gets bored, crazy things happen. In the end, he finds joy in using his hands to create something, rather than just sit and think about his plight.

  19. Wow, I read this book once (in French) when I was in grade 7, clearly I missed out on most of the important stuff. I only knew that he ended up really rich from el dorado and eventually found his crush, even though she was uglier and older. 😅😅

  20. I think Richard Taylor pointed out that there are 2 kinds of evil: natural evil and human evil. Human evil is explained by free will. Natural evil is explained by the laws of physics and biology. He then argued that without the laws of biology and physics, we would have a worse world, but as a result, car accidents and earthquakes happen.

  21. He left el Dorado because he wanted to see his beloved. He complains many times that he should have stayed, in the that, the best of all worlds! You guys messed up there! Or just you.

  22. Great video, on one of my all time favorite books of all time!

    Just one thing to expand on, which understandably isn't included in this video, as it's not literary per say.
    Deism doesn't subscribe to the clockmaker analogy necessarily, I feel it leans too heavily on determinism for Voltaire perhaps.

    The other 'mechanisms' that describe deism are perhaps better for insight into Voltaire's thoughts.
    Especially given the duality of someone who thinks empirically and yet believes in a deity.
    Keeping in mind that realism is in direct opposition to mysticism.

    The demiurge is one, wherein the mass collective of consciousness is what forms the nature of God. In the sense that God is the universe, or to retranslate back into our monotheistic interpretation 'God is everywhere, in everything and everyone'.
    In a more typically scientific metaphor; we are more akin to the cells that form the being we call God.

    Likewise, in Daoism there is a great focus on balance, where in said God acts as an 'invisible hand' to maintain a kind of existential equilibrium. An estranged example of this is 'we will be rid of politicians when we no longer need them' or 'if there are too much prey, the predators population will grow. If the predators population grows, the number of prey shrinks. The predators population declines'.

    I think deism focuses on God as more of an abstraction than an entity, and more a metaphor for the nature of existence.
    The nature of our internalised reality depends heavily on our perceptions, to which end we can describe everything as 'happening for a reason'. This doesn't mean that God decided this is how he wants things, no, it means we can perceive these events to have meaning, which better allows us to accept them. In a sense; optimism. Haha.
    We may not have free will, but I bet Voltaire knew much of volition.

    Perhaps I've given someone insight into the nuances of deism, or perhaps I'm simply just mad.
    Either way, great video!

  23. I like to think that cultivate our garden offers an alternative to Eden, the idea that one can better the earth rather than simply accept that this is as good as it gets. The idea of let us not accept that we have been excluded from paradise nor that we must find paradise but that we should build paradise.

  24. 10.00 "meet a famous wise man so that he can explain the meaning of life to them but he slams the door in their faces" – Fault in our stars reference??- Hazel and Gus go to visit the author of An imperial affliction but he doesn't give them any answers.

  25. Your ending seems weak. If Much of the evil in the work comes from people trying to till other peoples gardens ( saving heathens etc.) then it makes sense that you must tend to your own garden. Also realistically the Only actions you control are your own. that does not mean you cannot address social issues but you need to have your own garden well weeded first and be honest as to why you are 'helping'.

  26. Trust me the real meaning of Life is to " Love God with all our heart mind and soul and to love our Neighbours as ourself"…nothing more nothing less.

  27. Cunegonde does not contribute to the conclusion "We must cultivate our garden." She's a catalyst because she's absolutely terrible and cheats on Candide left and right, but she does absolutely no reasoning in the novel beyond "I can make out better here than with Candide". Martin is way more important than Candide.

  28. wow – Candide is one of the best of all possible literary works and has been celebrated through the centuries (just ask Kurt Vonnegut what he thinks of it!), but John Green is just 'meh' about that pesky lesson Voltaire was trying to teach us. lolz

  29. I had a totally different interpretation and the video missed my favorite part.
    My understanding was a critique of two pre-enlightenment ideas 1 – Everything happens for a reason and has it should be 2- leaders are worthy and people should live for the glory of their country, religion or identity.
    Voltaire or Candide's Statement that "we must take care of our garden" is to ignore those nationalist and religions philosophies and identities and take care of what is important. Garden means the real world, the one we live in.
    My favorite part was the meeting of former leaders gathered in a meeting all going through misery, showing that their former positions were purely arbitrary and meant nothing.

  30. Candide made that crazy long journey to meet Cungeon only to find her unfortunately now ugly. I literally lmao at hearing Cunegon who is now ugly, ok so why did she become ugly?

  31. WHEN ONE
    overture riff

  32. It’s a metaphorical garden. He is saying that the best of all possible worlds is our own, not the one we share with others. It is a dangerous act intellectually to take an allegory literally, one must merely look towards religion for a practical example on this. People commonly enjoy discussing how the world might be better if others change, how rare are those who are willing instead to remain silent and observe themselves and how they involved themselves upon what others do to instill their personal outlooks. Overall, one must be careful with these sorts of videos attempting to condense something that was meant to be read in its entirety. Perhaps we should support our loyal publishers who spend their valuable time making sure we have this literature at our disposals there than sitting down and watching a 15 min video after which we can say we think we know everything about a piece of philosophy to provoke others as dinner conversation.

  33. syphilis wasn't taken from the new world, it was genetically traced to have come from Africa, then it travelled to Europe, never had a name and spreaded due to massive rapes that happened in America to other Europeans

  34. I think what voltier mean by going back to our garden, is if every one focus in bettering them self the world will be muck better.

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