Why Voltaire Said: You Must Cultivate Your Own Garden

What did Voltaire mean with his gardening advice? That we must keep a good distance between ourselves and the world, because taking too close an interest in politics or public opinion is a fast route to aggravation and danger. We should know well enough at this point that humans are troublesome and will never achieve – at a state level – anything like the degree of logic and goodness we would wish for. We should never tie our personal moods to the condition of a whole nation or people in general; or we would need to weep continuously. We need to live in our own small plots, not the heads of strangers. At the same time, because our minds are haunted and prey to anxiety and despair, we need to keep ourselves busy. We need a project. It shouldn’t be too large or dependent on many. The project should send us to sleep every night weary but satisfied. It could be bringing up a child, writing a book, looking after a house, running a small shop or managing a little business. Or, of course, tending to a few acres. Note Voltaire’s geographical modesty. We should give up on trying to cultivate the whole of humanity, we should give up on things at a national or international scale. Take just a few acres and make those your focus. Take a small orchard and grow lemons and apricots. Take some beds and grow asparagus and carrots. Stop worrying yourself with humanity if you ever want peace of mind again. Who cares what’s happening in Constantinople or what’s up with the grand Mufti. Live quietly like the old turk, enjoying the sunshine in the orange bower next to your house. This is Voltaire’s stirring, ever relevant form of horticultural quietism. We have been warned – and guided.

Author: betterblokesnz