This is from an old story about a publisher backing off from publishing a book after having made an initial contract with the author, because of some of the latter's controversial views. Chris Hitchens debated this on Charlie Rose. Towards the end Hitchens makes this statement..

" I dont want to cloak myself in the mantle of Voltaire, but it seems to me a perfectly simple point that it is not ..... upon me to defend anything Irving says or hypothesizes in order for me to defend, not his right to say it so much as my right to read it....".

Could someone explain how Voltaire is related to this view?? Also what is such a use of language called, allegory?


  • 1
    Language tool? Anyway, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." -- Voltaire – JEL Sep 19 '15 at 3:29
  • This comment deserves to be a full-fledged answer. Perhaps by "language tool," the OP meant "trope"? – Dave Land Sep 19 '15 at 4:02
  • I meant, what is such a use of language called? Allegory, metaphor ... – user2277550 Sep 19 '15 at 4:10
  • @DaveLand, I was feeling lazy, and without knowing what was intended by "language tool", the answer got long-winded by reason of the necessary attempts to exhaust the possibilities. Now, the OP has weighed in. – JEL Sep 19 '15 at 4:28

The phrase you quote in your title is a metaphor meaning 'use Voltaire's words to articulate or defend my position' complete with an allusion, an explicit reference to Voltaire.

Later comes another allusion, much more indirect, to this quote from Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The initial metaphor, as is later revealed, is wrapped in a proslepsis, a form of paralipsis, "stating and drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over".

Altogether, then, what you've cited in your question is an anamnesis, a referral to authority (usually by allusion). In this case, the authority referred to is Voltaire, and specifically the quote from Voltaire.

For definitions of all the terms I've italicized, see The Forest of Rhetoric. A search feature is available, central top. Many more rhetorical elements are exampled in the quote you've provided.

So, your final questions:

  1. The quote from Voltaire is related to the view expressed rather remotely, because what the view expressed by the quote becomes has only a remote connection with what Voltaire actually said.

  2. The language used, more properly the way the language is used, is highly figurative. I've mentioned some (only some) of the figures used in italics, above.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.