Scott Hambrick and Online Great Books member Miles Marco Bennett — in fact the very first member to join OGB — discuss Michel de Montaigne’s insightful, tongue-in-cheek, and occasionally droll essay Of Cannibals.Montaigne’s essay, which appears in a larger collected work of his essays written in the 16th century, describes the author’s experience with the native Tupi peoples of Brazil, a vibrant warrior culture that practiced ceremonial cannibalism of their enemies.
Montaigne draws comparisons between these strong, swarthy people and the barbarians of medieval Europe, praising their “natural” way of life and value system which prized strength and valor. He also notes how their loose governance — led by people with the most strength and force of ams — emerged naturally from their values and habits, as opposed to the contrived government and value systems proposed in Plato’s Republic.
In this way Montaigne rebuts traditional Western philosophy and impugns its figureheads, showing disdain for philosophers who “know better” and would see their way of life imposed on society by an organized government. Montaigne is, in a sense, the people’s philosopher, and shows a deference to the common man which is both charming, genuine, and more intellectually honest than most colonial accounts of the “noble savages.”
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