FACT CHECK: Did Voltaire Say, ‘To Learn Who Rules Over You, Simply Find Out Who You Are Not Allowed To Criticize’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims that French philosopher Voltaire once stated, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Verdict: False

There is no evidence that Voltaire ever said this. It appears to have originated with white nationalist writer Kevin Alfred Strom.

Fact Check:

Voltaire is one of many historical figures that routinely have quotes attributed to them that they never said. The quote attributed to Voltaire in the Facebook post appears to be one such example. (RELATED: Did Voltaire Say, ‘I May Disapprove Of What You Say, But I Will Defend To The Death Your Right To Say It’?)

The Daily Caller News Foundation searched a collection of his written works, as well as his correspondence, but found nothing resembling the expression.

“There are lots of quotations that are attributed to Voltaire that aren’t actually by him, and that’s one of them,” said Paul Gibbard, a professor at the University of Western Australia and one of the world’s preeminent Voltaire experts, in an interview with The Guardian. “Voltaire has been copied and imitated and pastiched ever since he produced his first writings.”

The quote actually comes from a 1993 radio broadcast by Strom, but the wording varies slightly, according to etymologist Barry Popik. Strom also confirmed in a 2017 post online that it originated with him, not Voltaire.

It is unclear how the saying became associated with Voltaire, Gibbard told The Guardian, though the “spirit” of the quote was “not un-Voltarian,” likely helping to spur the popular misattribution to the French philosopher and writer.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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