« PreviousContinue »
as he would have us believe. The truth is that he was at one with Rabelais in his glorification of nature and natural processes, and in his revolt from what Troeltsch calls the "extra-mundane asceticism" of the Middle Ages. Now, this worship of nature, interpreted as freedom from all the shackles of conventional morality, acts upon different temperaments in different ways and is apt to involve in insincerity those who are at the same time sensitive to the impression which they make upon their fellows and who desire that this impression should be a favourable one. Rabelais escaped this danger. He had no interest in selfrevelation and introspection. Montaigne did not escape it. Rabelais' nature-worship finds its expression in the " Fais ce que voudras" of the Thelème and the "Trink " of the Dive Bouteille, the latter injunction comprehending other forms of indulgence than wine. For Montaigne "Nature est un doux guide, mais non pas plus doux que prudent et juste. Je quête partout sa piste." "Pour moi donc, j'aime la vie et la nature, telle qu'il a plu à Dieu de nous l'octroyer; . . . . sain et malade je me suis volontiers laissé aller aux appétits qui me pressaient." "Je fuis l'obligation et la contrainte." And, finally, "il se faut prêter à autrui et ne se donner qu'à soi-même." All of which suggests a character both egocentric and morally unstable and indeterminate.
But if we make due allowance for "window dressing," Montaigne's views on the State, as laid down in the Essays, probably represent his opinions faithfully enough. Further, they also represent the views of a large section of his contemporaries who were prepared to lend at least outward support to existing institutions, but who had no wish to identify themselves too closely with any particular party or policy. To this extent Montaigne may be claimed as a Politique. His abhorrence of persecution for heresy is genuine. But equally strongly he believes that in the State there should be uniformity in religion as in other matters. He has been hailed as a champion of religious toleration, but in point of fact his treatment of the question is elusive, and he is careful not to commit himself.
From the beginning of the Essays to the end we find in Montaigne a marked unwillingness to theorise about the State. That this does not arise from any disinclination to speculation as such is evident from every page of his writings. But
he holds that the nature of the State lies outside the sphere of legitimate speculation. For the State is the product of a slow development: its roots lie deep in the past, and “we can very hardly wrest it from the habit and fold which it hath taken except we break all." To seek to alter its institutions in support of any particular theory "argueth—if I may speak boldly—a great selflove and presumption." So it is that he commends the quatrain of Pibrac :
Aime l'estat, tel que tu le veois estre ;
S'il est royal, aime la royauté ;
S'il est de peu, ou bien communauté,
Aime le aussi, car Dieu t'y a faict naistre.
Now, Montaigne was, as we have come to know, a most thorough-going plagiarist, intercalating into his writings borrowings from every available source. The researches of M. Villey prove the extent of these appropriations, and it is of interest to note that Montaigne was abreast of almost everything which had been written in the sixteenth century upon the theory of the State. The political writings of Machiavelli, Bodin and Lipsius were especially laid under contribution. Yet, as far as Machiavelli and Bodin are concerned, all that Montaigne has to offer is faint praise enough. "Machiavelli's discourses were solid enough for their purpose, but it hath been very easy to impugne them, and they that have done so have left no less facilitie to impugne theirs." So, he continues, it is always with these “politik discourses." What part soever you are put into you have as good a game as your fellows, provided that you affront not the apparent and plaine principles." Of Bodin again, he admits "that he is a good moderate author and endowed with much more judgment than the common rabble of scribblers and blur papers which now-a-dayes stuff stationers' shops, and who deserveth to be judged and held in more than ordinary esteem." He speaks with approval of the Methodus, but he does not refer to the Six livres de la République, though he had good reason to acknowledge his obligation to it. On the other hand, he mentions Lipsius' "learned and laborious work of the Politickes ""-a book which justifies Voltaire's contention that of all his writings it was the weakest. In one of his letters, Lipsius indeed claims that no one shared more closely than Montaigne his views upon the State. But the Essays contain no indication of this.
The truth is that contemporary political theory does not seem to have influenced Montaigne at all. The violence of the Monarchomachi would have disgusted him, and to his independent habit of mind the ultra-royalist writings would have been scarcely more palatable. He could not bring himself with Grassaille to acclaim the sovereign as tanquam corporalis Deus, or to assert with Gregory of Toulouse that all other forms of government save monarchy had been explicitly rejected by God. In one of the latter Essays he tells us that he has been reading two Scottish books upon the rights of rulers-as M. Villey points out, the De jure regni apud Scotos of his old tutor Buchanan and Blackwood's reply thereto. But he cannot accept either account of the matter "The popular makes the King to be of worse condition than a carter and he that extolleth Monarchy placeth him in power and sovereignty many steps above the gods."
Of the origin of the State, Montaigne tells us that "necessitie composeth and assembleth men together. This casual combining is afterwards framed into lawes." He may well have shared the commonly received opinion that behind all human association lies a golden age of man's innocency. It is at least upon the background of a primitive simplicity that he commonly throws his reflections upon the corruption of his own sophisticated generation. He writes of the cannibals at Rouen as Pope was to write of the "noble savage," and Voltaire of his Red Indian ingénu." So he tells us of the little village of Lahontan in the Pyrenees of which his uncle was the curé, where the people lived a simple pastoral existence until the day when civilization with its train of evils invaded and corrupted them.
Of the different State-forms Montaigne has nothing to say, and this is the more curious inasmuch as every writer who made any pretension to consider the State at all made some reference, if only as a matter of form, to the Aristotelian trilogy of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy with their respective perversions upon which classification all speculation upon the nature of the State was held to rest. But the only form of State which Montaigne seems to recognise is the monarchy under which he had grown up in France, and even here it was its picturesque aspects which primarily attracted him, rather than the constitutional problems to which it gave rise. The spectacle of the king raised above his
subjects and yet sharing with them in all the weaknesses of everyday humanity, powerfully impressed his imagination :—
The soules of Emperors and coblers are all cast in the same mould. Even so the Emperour whose glorious pomp doth so dazzle you in publicke . . . view him but behind the curtain and you will see an ordinary man and peradventure more vile and more seely than the least of his subjects. Couardise, irresolution, ambition, sloth and envy, work in him as in another.
Yet the Christian religion commands us to obey our rulers. "The first law that ever God gave to man was a law of obedience." Nor must we judge kings and emperors too hardly, for :
The sharpest and most difficult profession in the world is in mine opinion worthily to act and to play the King. I excuse more of their faults than men commonly do, and this in consideration of the downebearing weight of their immense charge which much astonisheth me. It is a very hard task to keep a due measure in so immeasurable a power. Montaigne's indulgence even extended to the charge of favouritism, of which all parties combined to accuse the Valois. For advancement, he holds, is of necessity more by fortune than by merit, and for this the sovereign cannot be blamed. What is indeed remarkable is that they are so happy in their choice of servants. They do the best they can and we must be content with it, for " he that could devise a meane how men could be judged by law, chosen by reason and advanced by desert, should establish a perfect form of government." Meanwhile he exhorts the ruler to practise the virtues appropriate to his station-humanity, truth, loyalty, temperance and, above all, as he insists, justice. But, whatever he does, we must render him obedience. Yet there is a limit to our subjection. "We owe obedience and subjection to all Kings, for it respects their office; but estimation and affection we owe only to their virtue." "All inclination and submission is due unto Kings except the mindes. My reason is not framed to bend or stoop, my knees are." Clearly, Montaigne was not a man to be dazzled by royalty. "Princes give me sufficiently if they take nothing from me and do me much good if they do me no hurt." He tells us that in his dealings with them he has never used the arts of the courtier, but rather an uncompromising frankness, and that in general he has found it successful.
Montaigne does not countenance resistance to authority in any form. "If they [kings] be unworthy we are to endure them
patiently and to aid their indifferent actions as long as their authoritie hath need of our assistance." Writing shortly after the death of Henry III, he discusses the " solemn proposition " which during the wars of religion had been so amply debated by the two camps, "whether it be lawful for a subject for the defence of his religion to take up arms against his Prince," and calls a plague upon both parties. But though his habitual mistrust of human motive led him to doubt the sincerity of the man who, to defend his religion, takes up arms against his sovereign, he stood by the liberal tradition that the ruler exists for the State and not the State for the ruler. "Taking the matter exactly as it is, a king hath nothing that is properly his owne; he oweth even himself to others-authority is not given in favour of authorising, but rather in favour of the authorised. A superior is never created for his own profit, but rather for the benefit of the inferior." The above, it is true, has been " lifted" with slight variations from Plato's "Republic," and was a commonplace of the medieval scholastics. But it was a maxim, the force of which the glorification of the sixteenth-century ruler had seriously weakened and which the Monarchomachi were doing all in their power to draw once more into the foreground, and it is of interest to find Montaigne committing himself to it in a manner so unusually dogmatic.
Montaigne's theory of the State rests on two principles which, though closely inter-related, we shall do well to consider separately. There is, first of all, his deeply-rooted mistrust of innovation and, secondly, there is his theory of law. With regard to the first it may be said that, however difficult it is to determine exactly what Montaigne thought about the governmental system of his time, he leaves us in no doubt that, bad though it might be, he had no wish to see it changed. "Men exclaim that the world is tottering to dissolution and that the day of judgment is at hand, forgetting that the world has seen many worse revolutions and that whilst we are plunged in grief and overwhelmed with sorrows a thousand other parts of the world are blessed with all happinesse and never think on us." It is easy, he says, to accuse a State of imperfection when all mortal things are full of it. "Our commonwealth is much crazed and out of tune, yet have divers others been more dangerously sicke and have not died." In spite of all, the country will come through—" so great a body holds