Copy of Voltaire's Candide

My lovely copy of Candide in English

I follow Billy Bragg on Facebook and this week, he published a post on Brexit that included the word “Panglossian”:

Once negotiations begin, the ball will be firmly in the Tory court. They will have to square a number of circles that threaten to derail their Panglossian view of a Brexit deal that will somehow be better than our current EU membership.

It’s not often you come across the word “Panglossian”. I like it because it stems from a character in one of my all-time favourite books: Voltaire’s Candide. Pangloss is Candide’s tutor and his philosophy is simple: all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The idea that our world is the best it could be comes from Leibniz’s theodicy: God is good and omnipotent and couldn’t create an imperfect world. For him, all evil is due to humans’ free will, but, ultimately, evil is a means to a greater good. Candide is a satire and a critique of Leibnizian optimism and in the end, Voltaire urges us to “cultivate our garden”, which echoes the Enlightenment.

Bragg could have used “over-optimistic” or “rose-coloured”, but Panglossian has an added flavour of naivety and fervour that those synonyms don’t possess. Just as Pangloss adheres devoutly to his particular philosophy, leading Brexiters seem almost religious in their conviction that they’re leading the UK on the right path. Let’s hope that, unlike Candide, we don’t have to go through untold misery to work out where the truth lies.