On January 30, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) posted a tweet mocking Dr. Anthony Fauci and government restrictions implemented in response to COVID-19.
The tweet contained an image with a quote superimposed that said “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” The image attributes the statement to Voltaire, the famed French writer and philosopher from the 18th century.
Did Voltaire actually write “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”?
- A database of Voltaire’s writings compiled by the University of Chicago
- The website of etymologist Barry Popik
- A blog post by Nicholas Cronk, the Director of the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford
- The writings and recordings of Kevin Strom, the founder of National Vanguard, a once-prominent neo-Nazi group
No, Voltaire did not write “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” The saying originated from Kevin Strom, the founder of a neo-Nazi group.
WHAT WE FOUND
Voltaire was a French writer born in 1694 who was a prominent figure during the European Age of Enlightenment, known for his satire and criticism of everything from governments to organized religion.
The University of Chicago compiled a searchable database of Voltaire’s published work. We searched a variety of phrases associated with the quote, and although Voltaire did write a lot about criticism and censorship, we didn’t find anything that matches what Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted.
Furthermore, there’s no evidence in academia that Voltaire ever wrote it.
In 2017, scholar Nicholas Cronk wrote a blog post about Voltaire’s famous one-liners, including a number of other phrases falsely attributed to him. Cronk specifically cited the quote that has since been shared by Massie as an example of such false attribution.
Etymologist Barry Popik looked into the history of the statement “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize,” and discovered it was rarely used before 2010, even though Voltaire’s work was published nearly 300 years ago.
The earliest usage Popik could find was a 1993 radio broadcast by Kevin Strom. Strom was a leader in American neo-Nazi spheres until he was imprisoned for possession of child sex abuse imagery in 2008.
A transcript of that radio broadcast shows Strom saying “to determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?”
The quote has since been attributed wrongly to Voltaire many times – so often, in fact, that Strom himself posted a blog on his organization's website in 2017 to claim authorship, writing, “Voltaire didn’t say this, or anything similar.”
The image Strom uses in that post even closely matches the one Massie tweeted five years later.
VERIFY reached out to Massie’s office for comment and did not receive one by publishing time.
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