Don Quixote: Pioneer of Religious Freedom

Eric C. Graf,

Release Date
June 18, 2016


Free Speech

Was Don Quixote a pioneer of religious freedom?  Eric C. Graf, Professor of Literature at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, explains how Miguel de Cervantes used his novel Don Quixote to illustrate the negative consequences of censoring speech and religion. Do you agree with Cervantes’s argument that individuals should be left alone to have freedom of conscience? Or are there some ideas that are too dangerous for individuals to access?

Don Quijote (MOOC): The University of Francisco Marroquin invites you to join their 2-part course about Don Quixote. Learn about great universal values in dynamic scenarios, metaphors, adventures, and all the literary aspects of the novel.  
“Katniss vs. Power” (article): Want to explore more libertarian themes in literature? Check out Jeffrey Tucker’s overview on Katniss vs. power in The Hunger Games. 
Liberty and Security (program): If you can’t get enough of themes of liberty in The Hunger Games, check out our “Real World Dilemmas of the Hunger Games” program
Liberty 101 (program): For a deeper understanding of some of the themes touched on in Don Quixote, check out our on-demand program, Liberty 101

Don Quixote is also about freedom of religious conscious the freedom to think or believe what you want in your head. That’s the first amendment to the US Constitution. The founders knew this. Freedom of religion, freedom of press, that’s all about the freedom of what goes on in here.

The founders knew that without that freedom, all the others are worthless. How do we know it’s about religious freedom? Because Don Quixote is all about criticizing the Spanish Inquisition. Cervantes Hated the Spanish Inquisition. What’s the Spanish Inquisition? It’s a bunch of dudes who go around the country burning people who don’t conform to Catholic Orthodoxy.

They are burning people for thinking ideas that the Spanish Inquisition decides are threatening. Now, Don Quixote is driven mad by reading books of chivalry. His friends want to save him. They want to cure his insanity, they’re worried about him. So, they go into his library and start pulling down his books.

What do they do with the ones they think are driving him crazy? They burn them. They burn them like the Inquisition. Sometimes they aren’t sure. Well, we need to think about this one, they put it over here. Other times they’re quite sure that that’s bad. And what’s really sad about the way they burn his library is they start off trying to be precise, trying to have rules for distinguishing between heretics and non-heretics.

The problem is they very quickly get out of hand and end up burning all of his books. So, all of his books go to the flames. If the inquisition is supposed to only burn heretics, what Cervantes is telling us is that it inevitably fails. You can’t open a person’s brain.

You can’t open a person’s mind like a book and figure out what they’re thinking and figure out whether or not they’re heretics. So, you end up burning innocent people, inevitably. It’s the essence of the novel. It’s a big deal. It’s about freedom. It’s beautiful and it’s brilliant. Cervantes is actually doing something very dangerous.

But he does it in such a comical, farcical way. And he does it in such a subtle way that no one caught it. The Inquisition couldn’t figure out where to start censoring, what to censor. They were stuck, they were stuck with it. So Don Quixote is all about religious freedom, freedom to your own ideas, freedom to think what you want.
We all have a right to our own thoughts and beliefs, and that’s what this novel is about. If you want to keep learning about the ideas related to liberty, subscribe to Learn Liberty. If you are interested in this beautiful novel and see more videos about how Don Quixote has to do with freedom, click here and enroll in the University of Francisco Marroquin MOOC on Don Quixote.