Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary
The Philosophical Dictionary
Selected and Translated by H.I. Woolf
New York: Knopf, 1924

Scanned by the Hanover College Department of History in 1995.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

Local Crimes

TRAVERSE the who1e earth, you wiIl find that theft, murder, adultery, calumny are regarded as crimes which society, condemns and curbs; but should what is approved in and condemned in Italy, be punished in Italy as an outrage against the whole of humanity? That is what I call a local crime. Does not that which is criminal only in the enclosure of some mountains, or between two rivers, demand of judges more indulgence than those outrages which are held in horror in all countries? Should not the judge say, to himself: "I should not dare punish at Ragusa what I punish at Loretto " ? Should not this reflection soften in his heart the hardness that it is only too easy to contract during the long exercise of his office?

You know the kermesses in Flanders; in the last century they were carried to a point of indecency which might revolt eyes unaccustomed to these spectacles. This is how Christmas was celebrated in some towns. First there appeared a young man half naked, with wings on his back ; he recited the Ave Maria to a young girl who answered his fiat, and the angel kissed her on the mouth: then a child enclosed in a great cardboard cock cried, imitating the cock's cry : Puer natus est nobis. A big ox bellowed ubi, which it pronounced oubi; a sheep bleated Bethlehem. An ass cried hihanus, to signify eamus: a long procession, preceded by four fools with baubles and rattles, closed the performance. There remain to-day traces of these popular devotions, which among more educated peoples would be taken for profanations. A bad-tempered Swiss, more drunk maybe than those who played the roles of ox and ass, came to words with them in Louvain; blows were given; the people wanted to hang the Swiss, who escaped with difficulty.

The same man had a violent quarrel at the Hague in Holland for having stoutly taken Barneveldt's part against an extravagant Gomarist. He was put into prison in Amsterdam for having said that priests are the scourge of humanity and the source of all our misfortunes. What!" he said. " If one believes that good works make for salvation, one finds oneself in a dungeon; if one laughs at a cock and an ass, one risks being hanged." This adventure, burlesque though it is, makes it quite clear that one can be reprehensible on one or two points in our hemisphere, and be absolutely innocent in the rest of the world.

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