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Montaigne on property, public service, and political servitude.

To modern readers, the Essais of Michel de Montaigne have represented many of the interests characteristic of late sixteenth-century humanism: its critical reinterpretation of ancient texts, its skeptical reevaluation of inherited doctrine in government and religion, and its attempt to integrate the demands arising from ordinary and undistinguished lives with the high directives associated with the pursuit of honor and probity in public service. But the Essais also show Montaigne as a social being, engaged in the business of family or friends, and entertaining or repudiating affairs of state. He typified a new class of subject in France: a nobility created from the ranks of bourgeois families which, by virtue of having inherited a noble estate in real property, were themselves accounted noble after that estate had been held for three generations.' The fact that Ramon Eyquem, the author's great-grandfather, had purchased the estate and chateau de Montaigne, allowed his descendants to add de Montaigne to their name. (2) As such transfers of property became more common, social rank became linked to new wealth with correlative economic effects: the recently ennobled bourgeoisie, having renounced a life in trade, became landowners and rentiers. But how thoroughly this new class of subject forgot or rejected the attitudes and practices of the market is debatable.

This essay will demonstrate that Montaigne, for one, drew on terms associated with the disposition of property to describe his life as a public servant. His repeated claim to self-ownership, to be a man inherently free of obligations to the state and in effect to have a property in himself that he cultivates, supports his establishment of the terms on which he can agree to enter public service as well as of a right on occasion to reject it entirely. His position ran counter to prevailing opinion. His contemporaries who wrote on affairs of state declared that the subject, particularly a noble subject, had an intrinsic duty to serve his monarch and nation; they took seriously Cicero's assertion that the citizen of a republic acquired such a duty at birth. By conceiving of himself as having a property in himself, Montaigne allowed his readers to see how the exercise of such duties, which he saw as secondary to a right to self-ownership, could be made compatible with a freedom of thought and will.

Montaigne's claim of self-ownership gains credibility in relation to his general appreciation of social difference. Although he was fascinated with the style and function of nobility, whose perfection he thought was particularly realized by those in the military he also recognized in humanity a common type. (3) He said he was himself of the "commoner sort," special only in his realization that he was so to be categorized. (4) His interest in what is common to all men is at one with his belief in a fundamental sameness among persons--an equality that could be obscured by circumstances, decisions, or misfortunes, but not denied in principle. Each man, he insists, has the entire form of man's estate (l'humaine condition; 3.2, 61 1b, 805); a prince cannot be distinguished in a crowd nor can he rule without the will of his people (2.17, 490c, 646); emperors and cobblers are cast within the same mold and whatever appears to distinguish them is extrinsic and inessential (2.12, 350a, 476). Elevations of rank raise a person's visibility but not his intrinsic worth: "The pedestal is nor part of the statue" (1.42, 190a, 257). Rank is accidental: "If we consider a peasant and a king, a noblemen and a plebeian, a magistrate and a private citizen, a rich man and a pauper, there immediately appears to our eyes [wrongly] an extreme disparity between them, though they are different, so to speak, only in their breeches" (1.42, 191a, c, 260). Here, as in the famous essay "Of Cannibals," clothing becomes a metaphor of cultural difference. Like culture, clothing overlies a basic human substrate; like culture too, it seems -- but only seems -- to tell all, to separate the essence of one human being from that of another. As Monraigne observes, the reasonable discourse of those Brazilians who spoke with him while visiting France will be discounted by his countrymen because "they don't wear breeches," that is, dress as reasonable men (1.31, 159a, 217). Like clothing, ceremony is a cover obscuring the features of a common humankind: "I cu t out all ceremony in my house.... What is the use of feeling the servitude (servitude) of courts if we drag some of it right home to our lair?" (1.13, 32b, 48). And by describing one of his own social practices, Montaigne illustrates how ceremony and clothing indicate social rank as well as reveal its cultural determinants.

"I am rather prodigal in taking off my hat, especially in summer, and I never receive this salute without returning it, from whatever class of man it may come," he states. His gesture explicitly dismisses the significance of rank and acknowledges the commonness he has professed to see in everyone: to everyone he lifts his hat. His exception to his rule is significant, however: if a man is "in [his] pay" (a mes gages), Montaigne says, he does not so salute him (2.17, 479b, 633). That is, he acknowledges a condition of servitude determined by a particular contract. Montaigne does not raise his hat to the man in his pay, whom he regards as his social inferior because of the economic relation he has with him. In effect, the man has sold the property he has in his person to Montaigne, manifest as the labor he provides Montaigne, in exchange for some kind of remuneration. The deference the man is to show Montaigne is therefore the consequence of an activity of the market. Their relations are predicated on a shared and common status, true of all men generally, that for practical reasons and a period of time has been adjusted to testify to difference. Thus Montaigne can celebrate the master who employs no man without paying him: "I have [not] used any man's work without paying his wages" (sans loyer; 3.2, 612c, 807). This statement rejects any basis for a feudal economy in which work was an inherited obligation and tied to a particular place. (5) In the course of the Essais, Montaigne will debate the nature of service by contrast to servitude; he will distinguish self-ownership, a kind of property that belongs to every man, from self-possession, a kind of property linked to decisions about how a man works. A man could claim that he owned himself, but if he worked for another as an instrument or tool to be used, then he no longer possessed himself, at least as a free and unencumbered entity. These were distinctions upon which Montaigne based his own decisions to serve, or to refuse to serve the state.

Montaigne's insistence on an equality among men, to be altered only by specific arrangements, does not, however, entail a rejection of the view that government originates in a social contract whose terms require men to renounce and not to attempt to reclaim their natural liberty, at least as political subjects. Unlike such contemporaries as Hubert Languet (1549-1623), Montaigne generally dismisses the idea that a subject can claim a freedom to resist lawful authority. Positive law must be obeyed (2.12, 436a, 579; see also 375c, 506). Although a wise subject withdraws "out of the crowd" to keep his soul in "freedom (liberte) and power to judge things freely" (librement), in public he imitates Socrates, who refused to save his life by disobedience to a magistrate, even one who was "very unjust and very iniquitous" (1.23, 86a, 118). (6) But because he can consider men as economic units as well as political subjects, he can conceive of another kind of freedom than that which justifies resistance to lawful authori ty, a freedom that devolves from self-ownership. A function of the individual will rather than a feature of a general public order, it can be abrogated by some specific act of exchange and reclaimed when the terms of that exchange have been fulfilled. Montaigne accepted his own employment on these terms. As the Essais make clear, however, these terms could be difficult to meet in practice; to say no to a request to serve the state might mean to turn away from a duty that was generally considered to be honorable.

The idea that a man might constitute a property in himself is, of course, ancient: it is implicit in the concept of servitude and the practice of slavery. Its prominence as a feature of social and political thought coincides roughly with the emergence of a discourse on market economies in the early seven teenth century. The impulse to imagine the self as a discrete entity, self-contained and circumscribed, was a feature of ethical thought after Descartes. John Locke (1632-1704) realized its political relevance. His Two Treatises of Government (1690) represented the property a man had in himself as the basis of a corresponding right to political freedom, although comparable declarations had issued earlier from the English parliaments of 1610 and 1624. (7) Montaigne's relatively early contribution to the idea of freedom develops from a point of origin less explicitly political than those indicated by later thinkers. As suggested above, it bears directly on the dilemma the Essais so acutely illustrate: asserting that to contribute to civic life is a worthy enterprise) Montaigne conceives of a right nor to participate in it, to be useless in furthering its business.


Montaigne admits that he did not manage the real property of Montaigne for surplus profit or aggrandizement, but only so that he nor lose by its cultivation or see it altogether diminish in value (3.9, 724-26b, c, 949-51). (8) By contrast, his self-cultivation was intended to increase his moral and intellectual capital. Adapting classical tropes of comparison of the self with arable land, he excuses his work as an essayist by declaring that he intends it to produce a crop of wisdom from the fallow fields of his wild and useless thoughts (1.8, 21a, 32). He cultivates himself (je me cultive), his courage and his fortune, in order to find satisfaction in them when everything else is deficient (3.9, 740b, 968). To fail at self-cultivation is actually to lose a portion of what a man can own: the property he has in himself, the estate he owns in his person, which must be worked if it is to yield a profit. Counselling the Countess of Gurson on how to raise her new son, whose condition is like that of an estate in un worked land, he recommends a serious and sustained education: "just as in agriculture," in which planting is easy, harvesting difficulty, "so is it with men" (1.26, 109c, 149). The topos is also capable of inversion: for a man to do a job, presumably any job, is to come to know his own propriety "what is proper for him"; thus he increases his knowledge of his own limits: "he who knows himself no longer takes extraneous business (l'estranger faict) for his own; he loves and cultivates himself before anything else" (1.3, 9c, 15). In fact, Montaigne sees himself as mainly self-employed: "I do nor engage myself easily. As much as I can, I employ myself entirely upon myself' (je m'employe tout a moi; 3.10, 766-67b, 1003), a condition that he regards as consistent with a fair self-evaluation. To know yourself as a worker is to insist that you pay yourself what you are worth; to give yourself less is "cowardice and pusillanimity" (2.6, 274, 379). Judging himself "to be no less than he is" (estre moms que ce qu'il es t; 2.17, 478a, 632), Montaigne "takes stock" of himself (se contreroller; 2.17, 499a, 657); his "trade" is to keep "an enduring account" of himself. His book, which he famously notes is "consubstantial" with its author, retains its moral character, however; not designed for the market, "some third-hand extraneous purpose," it is chiefly a tool for a self-cultivation (2.18, 504c, 665). (9)

Such dedicated self-employment risks an extreme loneliness, as Monraigne admits. But he nevertheless advises his reader to constitute himself as an economic unit unto himself; he rules our (figuratively speaking) even the intimate partnership of marriage: "we wedded only to ourselves," we must admit no interest that can override what we have in ourselves. Why? The profit from self-ownership is worth the separation from the interests of others that it entails: "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself' (estre a soy; 1.39, 178a, 242). To embrace oneself in this way transforms relations with others so that they become negligible: "I exist only in myself' (je ne suis que chez moi) (10); thus he is indifferent to acquaintances, who have no more than an "opinion" of him, who do not know him as he really is (2.16, 474a, 626). He claims "rights of repose" (droits de mon repos) and "rights of authority" (droits de mon auctorite); by leaving him alone, people allow him to be "free o f responsibility for them" (3.2, 618c, 814). His intellectual relations are habitually with himself: his mind "digests" (digerer) its thoughts "alone, without communication" (1.26, 131 a, c, 176). In practice, he sits in judgment upon himself: "I have my own laws and court to judgeme, and I address myself to them more than anywhere else" (3.2, 613b, 807). Excusing himself, he states elsewhere that he has "had neither governor nor master forced on me to this day," and, in an apparent explanation, admits that he is "no good to anyone but myself' (inutile au service d'autruy ; 2.17, 487a, 643). Nature's gift to us is to entertain ourselves apart (i.e., to be self-sufficient): "we owe ourselves in part to society," he states, adding, "but in the best part to ourselves" (2.18, 504c, 665).

These assertions appear in contexts that show Montaigne at his most self-conscious. The property in himself that he claims to secure in and to an extent by the work he undertakes in writing the Essais allowed him develop his powers of self-reflection and his willingness to reject many of the political and moral positions of his contemporaries. To do good to others at his own expense was not on the cards; were he to have reflected on the counsel of Raimond Sebond, who explicitly warned against "self-love" (amour de soy; a condition identical to the "estre a soy" Montaigne declares is his preference) he would have recognized the irony in the act of filial piety that produced his translation of Natural Theology of Raimond Sebond (d. 1432). (11) With hindsight, we may regard his position as deliberately provocative: it asks us on what terms a man like Montaigne, who represented himself as dedicated to preserving his freedom, could undertake public service.

In general, Montaigne sees that he needs to consider first, what he is willing to do for another, and second, under what conditions he would be willing to do it. Does he seek or will he consent to employment that results in preferment, money, or some merely honorable condition, as might be created by professions of gratitude? For although he celebrated the mores of the nobles d'epee, he also held, in a rather counter-intuitive way, that his own freedom was better secured by finite relations instituted by custom or law than by those prompted by feelings of gratitude. Evidently true to his estimation of a mans propriety, he favored the conditions of a market over those of a noble society, typically preserved by the exchange of gifts, symbolic of the intangible values of an elite. Throughout the Essais, he implies that the market promotes freedom because it allows choice as well as specific and limited terms; by contrast, relations among persons promoted by the exchange of gifts, especially of the spirit, bind both giver and receiver in a system of reciprocal relations without fixed terms. He is especially sensitive to the burden of relations based on honor. (12) If they prevent his judging a situation because he has a prior obligation to a parry to it, he regards his freedom as compromised.


To understand Montaigne's position on the matter of public service, we need to explore his nuanced treatment of the concept of property. This admits a kind of property associated not only with ownership but also with possession. The issue is briefly implied in "Of vanity," and raised specifically in several passages in "Of managing the will."

Montaigne admits that the self-ownership he claims has placed him in a unique and precarious position -- and perhaps precarious because unique; it has left him open to accepting a kind of employment that, while it does not entail renouncing self-ownership, reduces the use he can make of the property he has in himself: "We ourselves, who are our most proper and certain resource, have not made ourselves secure enough. I have nothing of my own but myself (je n'ay rien mien que moy), and even there my possession (la possession) is partly defective and "borrowed" (manque et empruntee); he is not always at his own disposal (3.9, 740b, 968). What such a defective and borrowed possession might mean is answered, in part and somewhat enigmatically, by Montaigne's discussion of the will.

Imagining that he has agreed to serve another, he represents the quasi-contract he would enter into with his hypothetical master. His terms fix upon the property he has in himself. Simply put, he favors rejecting any service that would "mortgage [his] will" or transfer to anyone else the right to determine any of his critical faculties of thought. In a figure recalling his earlier rejection of marriage, Montaigne identifies a "mortgaged will" as an "incorporation" of the mortgagee (i.e. a lender) in the person of the mortgagor so that they become one. Self-possession is accordingly compromised, at least to the degree that the self, like a real or material property, can be said to be possessed by another. He claims that his own kind of service allows him to remain apart, merely to handle a business: he takes another's affairs "in hand," not into his "lungs and liver," for, he states, "we must lend ourselves (se preter) to others and give ourselves only to ourselves" (3.10, 767b, 1003-04):

Men give themselves for hire. Their faculties are not for them, they are for those to whom they enslave themselves; their tenants are at home not they. This common humor I do not like. We must husband the freedom of our soul and mortgage it only on the right occasions; which are in very small number, if we judge sanely. (13) (Ibid.)

Recommending that a man not put himself up "for hire," that is (in Montaigne's terms), mortgage his soul as if it were a domaine or property, he also declares that there are "right occasions" for such transactions. The mortgagor must not, however, allow his "tenants," the mortgagees for whom he works (i.e., who pay him), to be "at home" in his house--that is, occupy or preoccupy him entirely.

This is a fairly tortured trope, because the parallels with the terms of conveyancing it seeks to establish are inexact. In effect, Montaigne describes an arrangement that is partly a lease (bail), partly a mortgage (hypotheque): he imagines the situation of a public servant who lends the property (or some part of it) that he has in himself to the use of another, the borrower, who is then entitled to use it in return for some kind of consideration. But he also suggests that this borrower is a mortgagee and is entitled to the ownership of some part of the servant's property. He imagines the possibility that his mortgagee might become a "tenant" in his house; he allows him a kind of propriety that conflates the rights of possession with those of ownership. (Compare his use of the term "chez moi," 2.16, 474a, 626.) A second treatment of the figure of the mortgaged soul further complicates the relation between servant and master, the one who is hired and the one who hires; it illustrates how the servant's will i s compromised when he is recompensed nor materially but by his master's gratitude.

Now I hold that we should live by right and authority, not by reward or favor. How many gallant men have chosen rather to lose their lives than to owe them. I avoid subjecting myself to any sort of obligation, but especially any that binds me by a debt of honor. I find nothing so expensive as that which is given me and for which my will remains mortgaged by the claim of gratitude, and I more willingly accept services that are for sale. Rightly so, I think: for the latter I give only money, for the others I give myself. The tie that binds me by the law of honesty seems to me much tighter and more oppressive than is that of legal constraint. A notary ties me down more gently than I do myself. Is it not reasonable that my conscience should be much more firmly bound in matters in which someone relies on it alone? In other cases my fidelity owes nothing, for nothing has been lent it; let them use the trust and security they have taken outside of me. I would much rather break the imprisonment of a wall and of the l aws than that of my word. (14) (3.9, 738b, c, 966)

The passage makes clear that Montaigne "avoids" (although he does not say he rejects altogether) accepting or performing a favor that engenders gratitude because gratitude, like the giving of gifts, can have an infinite term and the effect he dreads: "mortgaging the will" compromises its exercise of choice; it takes away a servant's ability to say "no" to the request of a master. Asked to serve by a person to whom he must be grateful, "honesty" precludes his entertaining the doubt necessary to the preservation of a free will and a free service. By contrast, a service that is quantifiable can be evaluated independently from the servant who performs it; its worth is finite, set by the abstract terms of exchange, and it can be bought or sold with impunity. In this case, it is the service, not the servant, that is the object of exchange. Both passages suggest that Montaigne appreciated the jeopardy in which service placed the man who claimed and wished to act on the principle of self-ownership, the "rights" of "r epose" and "authority."

Important to Montaigne's strategy for preserving what might be called his free service, refusing tasks that would entail forfeiting some part of his self-possession, is his insistence that he exercise the benefits of a particular kind of freedom: the freedom of thought. This freedom allows him to entertain a concept of the will as engaged in speculation--as such, it is not called upon to follow a course of action; indeed, it may decide not even to choose among competing courses of action. The vast rhetorical program of the Apologie de Raimond Sebond establishes a philosophical basis for regarding the will as a contemplative function rather than an executive agent. Doubt is the subject's privilege "to consider things without obligation and servitude," and it is consistent with his "liberty" (liberte), the inward freedom of the self that wrestles its privilege from dogma, opinion, and social custom (2.12, 373b, 504). He has this privilege because he can be critical of the assumptions, many of them sustaining sy stems or practices that are religious or political, by which men manage their affairs: see, for instance, Montaigne's critique of the "justice" espoused by the parties to religious conflict (2.12, 323a, 443). But the freedom to think does not exhaust Montaigne's sense of what he, a subject, confronts when he considers service. The function of the will is primarily executive--that is, it is registered not primarily in thought but rather in action. (15)

How doubtfully Montaigne viewed the possibility that public service could allow the individual will the scope of discretionary action is clear from his assessment of the public sphere. The world's "virtue," Montaigne claims, has adapted itself to "human weakness"; its affairs do not allow those who participate in them to escape with "clean breeches" (brayes nettes) except by a miracle (3.9, 759c, 992). To participate at all in "the common duties" of a "civil life" (la vie civile) is inevitably a loss of what is due the self; consequently, to evade them is "a fine saving" (un bel epargne; 2.33, 555c, 665). To determine what he, a subject, owes society is also to recognize the power of those in authority and to seek its circumscription. "Princes give me much when they take nothing from me, and they do me enough good when they do me no harm; that is all I ask of them." His own debt is only to God; he does not owe anyone anything essential: "Blessed liberty (bienheureuse franchise), which has guided me so far! Ma y it continue to the end!" (3.9, 739-40b, c, 968). Debts without term--gifts, benefits, acts of recognition--are especially burdensome:

The subjects of a prince who is excessive in gifts become excessive in requests.... we are overpaid according to justice when the recompense equals our service, for do we owe no service to our prince by natural obligation? (16) If he bears our expenses he does too much; it is enough that he helps out. The surplus is called a benefit, and it cannot be exacted, for the very name of liberalism rings of liberty. (17) (my emphasis, 3.6, 689b, 904)

Here Montaigne explains why a subject's obligation to serve the state should be only very minimally rewarded: if his prince "helps out," his servant gets his due. (18) In effect, this arrangement gives the servant his freedom, for not only is he not hired, but he also puts his prince under some obligation to him. More important: because his beneficent action is the "surplus" that cannot be exacted from him, it confirms his liberty. His benefit is also incalculable; because it goes beyond a zero-sum game, its value defies the usual terms of exchange. He who receives a benefit gains, but he who gives one does too; a benefit ultimately redounds to both giver and receiver. By testifying to the subject's liberty, it takes a measure of control from his prince. (19) Montaigne only hints at how far a subject's beneficence effects a reversal of roles: "As giving is an ambitious quality and a prerogative, so is accepting a quality of submission." In any case, to remain in charge of whatever part of himself he has loane d to another, Montaigne concludes, the servant must give more than he gets, a subject must not accept the terms of simple patronage. No patrons "liberality" can be so "pure," his "hospitality" so "free" as not to be tyrannical if a subject finds it necessary to accept them (3.9, 740c, 969).


Montaigne's construction of the terms of his self-ownership and self-possession contrasts with prevailing notions of social and political obligation which were at once simpler, less specific, and generally indebted to the mores of a feudal past. As a rule, Montaigne's contemporaries did not regard a man as having a property in himself but rather as one bound over to the use of others in different ways. This was particularly true in the countryside, where customary practices of ownership and cultivation of the land created networks of obligation. (20) The status of a free subject, one who had not sold his labor, was true enough in the purely economic terms Locke would later use to describe it, but in sixteenth-century France these terms did not account for the actual situations of most men who could otherwise claim to be free. Their duties to their peers (rather than their labor under a master), some of which had originated in a "time out of mind," restricted their ability to choose a course of action for and by themselves. Both ancient gentry, the noblesse d'epee, many of whom had been actually impoverished by obligations they had inherited, and the newer landowning gentry met demands and enjoyed returns that were customary or inherited, rather than the result of a personal choice. The wars of religion, energized as they were by notions of right that transcended laws protecting property, drew attention to the fragility of boundaries, limits, and terms. (21) The relative uncertainty of these concepts suggests how difficult it was for an individual to imagine himself as a dis-obligated subject.

Customs mandating social and civic reciprocities were supported by republican notions of virtue. The example of Cicero (106-43 BCE) was widely invoked. De officiis (44 BCE) links public service to the proper use of a man's abilities and effectively denies that a citizen can be exempt from an obligation to serve the state: we are not born for ourselves alone, but our country claims a share of our being, and our friends a share." (22) On this account, a man at birth is not entirely free; he has rather a congenital duty to his fellow man. Those who fail to perform this duty are "traitors to social life" (deserunt enim vitae socieratem), for they contribute to it none of their interest, none of their effort, none of their means (Cicero, 30-31). Plutarch (ca. 43-102), in an essay entitled "A philosopher must converse chiefly with princes and great lords" (French translation, 1574), and reflecting on the uses of philosophy, regards as negligible the returns of a private life on which the counsels of philosophy hav e been wasted. He sees a difference between a life of "great tranquillity," "limited as by a center and a geometric circumference," and a life replete with public business, full of "virtue," in which, "by the action of one man [philosophy] does good to many" (par le moien d'un seul elle fait du bien a infinis.) (23) Put in these terms, Montaigne's career appears both tranquil and busy; philosophically, it was perhaps a contradiction.

Montaigne's contemporaries refashioned the elements of Ciceronian doctrine to suit the demands of their politics, but they did not challenge its essential rightness. They called on the nobility and men of property to be public servants and insisted that a public office not be used to pursue ambition or satisfy greed. Pierre de la Place (1520-72), stating a general principle, ignores the difficulties in making private and public interests compatible. In his Politique discourses (1578) (24) he argues that a man may serve his "owne turne" and "do that which belongeth to the conservation of the universall bodie of man"; "there is nothing so monstrous and against nature as the abandoning of this commonaltie": retirement should occur only in old age or if duty "offend conscience." (25) Others praised the virtue sustaining public service but warned against the ambition and greed of public officials: the people would recognize and resent dishonesty and exploitation, they said. Guillaume de la Perriere (1499-1565), i n his Le Miroir Politique (1567) insists that the nobility take charge of affairs of state but avoid actions prompted by self-interest or entailing subterfuge, lest the people (le populaire) rise in protest. (26) The anonymous writer of Exercice et discours politiques de I'homme vertueux (1581), endorsing the public interest, warns the public servant to respect public property; he hints that it belongs to the people: "He who takes public office and refrains from enriching himself by its resources deserves the people's praise and should expect recompense from God." (27) Pierre de Ia Primaudaye (1545-1619), in his popular Academie Frqncaise (1577) asserts (invoking Cicero) that "men are truly born for good works" (bonnes operations), but adds that they must undertake state business with disinterestedness: "They should rid themselves from the beginning of favoritism towards some, hatred toward others; they should have no end but the honor of God and the health of the Republic." (28) His warning clarifies the mea ns by which a public servant could secure his own advancement--false counsel designed to secure particular favors--precisely the subject of Montaigne's own concerns.

Jean Bodin (1530-96), in his Six Livres de la Republique (1576), provided an extensive discussion of public service (Montaigne owned the first edition of this work), but he did not allow for the kind of service Montaigne proposed for himself. Firm on the question of the subject's right to real and material property as absolute and immune from seizure without "just cause," (29) Bodin conceives of public service as a matter to be disposed of by the sovereign. It is comprehended either in a "Commission," a public "extraordinarie charge" without term and therefore revocable at any time, or in a "Magistracy," an "ordinarie charge" limited by law and for a term. Commissioners are clearly agents of the person whom they serve; magistrates, by contrast, serve the state with a certain discretion (3.2,278-82). They have a duty "to show the reasons if they shall dislike of [a law] to the prince." As the holder of an office, a magistrate could exercise a limited judgment, but only in compliance with the orders of his supe rior: it is better "for the Commonweale, and more beseeming the dignitie of the magistrate of himself to give up his office... than to give way unto a law that is contrairie unto the lawes of God and nature, or that in every mans judgement seemeth to be dishonest or unjust" (3.4, 318). Bodin's magistrate retains many of the elements of Montaigne's public servant--his freedom to judge and even to advise.

But Bodin paints with a large brush; Montaigne's fine distinctions between service and servitude, the challenge of complying with an order for reasons of state, and the more fundamental questions devolving from the concept of a subject's propriety find no place in the politics of the Republic. Nor, and this is more important, does Bodin identify specifically the magistrate's will as his property, or extend the notion of the subject's property (which is material) and right to it (which is absolute) to include a political will. Bodin does (from respect to the church teaching?) cite passages in Scripture in which a private subject is allowed to rebel against authority ifhe has a mandate from God (2.5, 224). Otherwise, however, even a subject's thoughts of rebellion can be deemed treasonous (222).

The monarchomach treatises of l570s and l580s engaged ideas of property in ways both sympathetic and opposed to Montaigne's position. Written by Protestants, they must have prompted Montaigne further to consider his public role; in part, they reflected a system of values that resembled his own, in part, they were the antithesis of what he stood for. Like Montaigne, these writers generally argued for a fundamental liberty of the subject and insisted that a monarch (at least a French monarch) had no propriety rights over his subjects, their lands or persons. They considered freedom and property in relation to the lives of all subjects, not just those in service. They recognized these factors as constitutive of the subject's self and thus as prior to any agreement to serve the state in a particular office. Unlike Montaigne, however, they also argued for a subject's general obligation less to serve than to preserve the state, and they linked this obligation to the subject's correlative right to resist threats, m ore or less publicly, to his property and that of the commonwealth.

Montaigne owned a copy of one of the most influential of these works: Francois Hotman's (1524-90) Francogallia (1573). Hotman's thesis--that the French people had an originary freedom from tyranny--is grounded in what he adduces from history. He declares that the Franks, "when they had thrown off the servitude imposed by tyrants...considered it their duty to keep their honest liberty" (honesta liberta). (30) Later, in a chapter entitled "The Supreme power of the people in condemning and deposing kings for known cause," he adds that "inasmuch as it was the right and power of the estates and the people to constitute and maintain kings so, if all our annals do not lie, the supreme power of deposing kings was also that of the people" (234-35). This was a radical version of contract theory, of course; but as it was framed in Francogallia, which represented itself as a history, it posed a further question: whether these ancient rights could be supposed to have remained valid through periods of misrule when they were neither enforced nor immune from repeal. Hotman clearly thought they could. In his "Preface" he writes that he intends his book to provoke reform on the basis of rights never lost, however obscured. The primordially free state of France must be restored, he insists: "the most certain remedy for our great afflictions [the religious warsi, should be sought in the constitution" (quin ab illa, that is, the status of ancient France, certissimum tantorum malorum remedium petendum sit; 142-43). Central to the renovatio so proposed was the issue of property.

Following the argument of writers who supported the notion of an ancient constitution, Hotman took refuge in a legal fiction, namely, that the king owns the property of the kingdom but only in a sense; it is under his government, imperium, not in his domain, dominium. As the matter of an imperium, it is neither in his possession, possessio, nor available for his use, usus. This fiction effectively admitted two kinds of property, one figurative, the other real: in terms of a duty to rule, the king had a theoretical property in the kingdom and its subjects; in terms of a right to dispose, the subject had actual properties to consume, use, or put on the market. Hotman only implies that the liberty of the subject is founded upon the property in himself. But it is precisely this connection, inserted as it is into a discourse continuously hinting at commercial enterprise, that allowed Montaigne to think he had the right to limit the use of his person by anyone else or, more generally, by the state. (31) Assuming Mo ntaigne took Hotman's argument from an originary freedom seriously, however, he must have asked himself whether the exercise of this freedom did not invariably risk making changes, possibly revolutionary ones, in the order of the state as a whole.

The most strenuously argued of monarchomach texts was perhaps that by Estienne Junius Brutus (Hubert Languet), the Vindiciae contra tyrannos (1581). This treatise insisted that the fundamental liberty of the subject prevented him from being treated like the property of the king:

Thus one cannot sell, barter, or trade free men; nor can even their patrons force their freemen to choose a domicile other than where these freemen wish.... Subjects are not slaves or serfs, but brothers and not only each a brother of the King, but also considered as a body, they are and should be called Lords of the Realm. (32)

Languet's assertion is supported by a belief in the freedom of the Christian (as opposed to the pagan or infidel who could be enslaved) and reinforced by the idea of a revocable political contract. But the importance of this and other similar claims to Montaigne's thought is their binding together in a manner more strenuous than Hotman's the condition of freedom with the notion of a property in the self. Languet appears to have recognized that a freedom merely to think had no validity. What value had thought if it did not guarantee a power to act? For him, as for many Protestants in France, freedom was an embodied virtue; conscience did not produce merely mental concepts but was to impose its works upon the world. The issue was practically at the heart of unsuccessful attempts by the French crown--itself an exponent of a Catholic and Gallican church, exempt from direct papal control--to grant a limited toleration to Protestants to practice their faith openly rather than to force them to observe it only in the ir hearts. (33) Montaigne's regular adherence to the Catholic church and its doctrine freed him from making a decision for himself on questions of religious practice, (34) but he clearly worried about his role as a public servant. Was there indeed such a difference between taking a matter "in hand" as opposed to "in his lungs and liver"?

The monarchomach text that bears most directly on Montaigne's idea of freedom, Estienne de La Boetie's (1530-63) Discours deja servitude volontaire (ca. 1550), remained unpublished in its entirety until the following century. (35) Its immediate influence was limited to a few readers, notably Montaigne. Insisting on the fundamental liberty of the subject, La Boetie rejected the possibility that this liberty would have to come at the price of disobedience or revolution, and contemplated a body politic in which a subject could remain loyal to his king and the state even after rejecting invitations to public service. Fundamental to La Boetie's notion of freedom was the idea that the will was a property of the physical and social body of the subject and also of his conscious mind. On La Boetie's account, the will registers the institution of a free and deliberative self that is prior to any public or political manifestation of selfhood. In that sense, he qualifies Cicero's republican view that civic obligation beg ins at birth. While freedom as a concept can be attributed generally to human nature, its practices are owing to and authorized by functions of the subject's mind; (36) these functions determine his behavior. These were distinctions essential to Montaigne's own notion of his will as a property he could not mortgage.

La Boetie asserts that liberty is a "natural right" (droit naturel) which, as a rule, compels obedience to parents, subjection to "reason," enslavement to no one, and is at one with a right to property (37) In a tyranny, in which there is no liberty, there is also no property apart from what is at the tyrant's disposal, not even the property the subject has in himself: "What condition is more miserable than to live thus, not to have anything for oneself, owing someone else one's well being, freedom, body, and life?" (tenant d'autrui son aise, sa liberte, son corps & sa vie?). Such subjects become the clones of the tyrant: "not only must they do what he says, but they must think what he wants and often, to satisfy him, they must even anticipate his thoughts" (qu'ils previennent ancore ses pensees). They cannot even speak of themselves as discrete properties, owned and managed for their own sakes: "they cannot even say of themselves that they belong to themselves" (us ne peuvent pas dire de soy qu'ils soient eu s mesmes). Their muteness is ironic in that it forecloses the most obviously constructive of reflections: "They do not remember that it is they who give him [the tyrant] the strength to take everything from everybody, and to leave nothing that one can say belongs to anyone" ([Ils] ne se conviennent pas que ce sont eus qui lui donnent Ia force pour oster tout a tout, & ne laisser rien qu'on puisse dire estre a personne; 48-50). But having engaged directly the fate of the subject in servitude, La Boetie avoided issuing explicit calls for resistance and rebellion as Languet and others would do decades later. Instead, he pressed two related points.

The right to freedom that is natural in its origin explains a fierce and universal resistance to any form of coercion. The tendency to fight domination is evident in all animal behavior (18-19), and La Boetie implies that it is present in human beings as individuals. But the right to freedom that is registered in society and shaped by local custom and political rule, although it can be expressed in revolution, also admits subtler modes of assertion and notably what might be called a strategic reticence. It gives the subject a reason essentially political (rather than merely personal) not to put himself forward, to decline to serve those in authority. On this account, retirement is not merely a private matter--it has public consequences and can be understood as a political act. Evolving his idea of licit nonfeasance, La Boetie states that if the governed withdraw their support from the governor, the governor ceases to govern. In such a case, the governor is effectively out of office, not because he has been d eposed but because he cannot function as a governor:

It is not necessary to depose him, he deposes himself if the nation not consent to servitude... It is not necessary to take anything away from him, but to give him nothing; it is not necessary that the nation take the trouble to do something for itself, provided that it does nothing against itself.... If one gives them [tyrants] nothing, if one never obeys them while not combatting them, striking them, they remain naked and undone and are nothing, just as a branch, like a root, having no moisture or nourishment, becomes dry and dead. (38)

Here the reader is asked to consider a situation that would prevent open resistance to the rule of a tyrant from becoming necessary. La Boetie implies that if liberty is fully appreciated as the basis upon which all the deliberative functions of a person are guaranteed, such resistance will not occur. It will have been made redundant by an earlier intervention in which the subject deprives the tyrant of the subject's usefulness and hence the means to rule. In other words, political liberty is defined by the subject's willingness to contribute a service, real or material, to the state. La Boetie illustrates this liberty by its confiscation under a tyranny--an extreme case in which no subject owns himself. Montaigne imports the principle of self-ownership into his own discourse of service and servitude. On his closely protected right to say no to an invitation not explicitly issued, however much it might be implied, Montaigne based his own career as public servant. (39)


Far from solitary in the actual conduct of his life, Montaigne frequently took part in affairs of state. (40) His fascination with such figures as Diogenes, Theodorus, and Hegesias (41) (who said that "a wise man should do nothing except for himself, since he alone is worth having anything done for him"; 1.50, 221c, 304), is countered by his own example of service, however much he could also characterize it as farcical: "Most of our occupations are low comedy. We must play our part duly, but as the part of a borrowed character....It is enough to make up our face, without making up our heart" (3.10, 773b, 1011). He speaks of his sense of obligation to the state as a debt incurred and exacerbated by the "miserable" war which surrounds him and his estate, much as if his life had been mortgaged to the war without his knowledge. (42)

As it is, violence and conflict jeopardize his "total preservation" and place him in "a large debt" for his life, his property, his well-being, which he owes to the combatants (3.9, 741b, 970). He survives, he says, by both remaining aloof and being committed, but, in keeping with his earlier professions of detachment, never fully and without registering the counterclaims of the opposition:

I do not know how to involve myself so deeply and so entirely. When my will gives me over to one party, it is not with so violent an obligation

that my understanding is infected by it. In the present broils of this state, my own interest has not made me blind to either the laudable qualities in our adversaries or those that are reproachable in the men I have followed. (43) (3.10, 774b, 1012)

In his descriptions of his actual service to the state, Montaigne speaks with a confidence in his own management that suggests he has avoided the dangers he outlined earlier when discussing self-ownership and self-possession in terms of leasing and mortgaging. Montaigne filled particular offices with a similar disengagement of self from servant. As Mayor of Bordeaux, he claimed his freedom as a figure apart from his public role: "The mayor and Montaigne have always been two, with a very clear separation" (ibid.). He accepted the job, for which he got nothing in return--it was without "remuneration" (loyer), (44) because the "king's command figured in the matter" (3.10, 768b, 1005). (45) More important: his service to his prince, whether Henri de Navarre (1553-1610) or Henri III (1551-89), was free of any "personal obligation" and undertaken after "the free choice" (par libre eslection) of his judgment and reason (3.9, 756b, 988). He worked with rather than for his master: "I frankly tell [my superiors] my lim its (mes homes). For a slave (esclave) I must be only to reason... [they] are wrong to demand of a free man the same subjection and obligation to their service (telle subjection a leur service) as they demand of a man whom they have made and bought" (faict et achete; 3.1, 603b, c, 794). Whatever his assignment, he insists, he took part "in public office without departing one nail's breadth from myself; and [gavel myself to others without taking myself from myself." His contributions were "by way of a loan" (par emprunt), his mind itself held paradoxically "in [a] repose ... not without action, but without vexation, without passion" (3.10, 770 b, c, 1007).

Retaining himself as an entity apart from the business at hand, he was figuratively an ambiguous double--a public self whose very "understanding" of the public sphere was "not infected" by the cause in which it assisted but rather ranged broadly, over the field of interests and possibilities: "In the present broils of this state, my own interest has nor made me blind to either the laudable qualities in our adversaries or those that are reproachable in the men I have followed." Such ideological traffic seems tolerable, if custom condone it: "An honest man is not accountable for the vice or stupidity of his trade, and should not therefore refuse to practice it: it is the custom of his country" (3.10; 774b, 1012). But for Montaigne himself, the question of acting the part of public servant was to remain vexed despite his tolerance of "trade"--to what degree must that trade be vicious and stupid before pursuing it becomes difficult, not to say impossible? (46) He provides his readers with a few of his rules.

His usefulness to the state will not include his willingness to dissimulate for its benefit: "let us (that is, he himself) resign the commission to more obedient and suppler people" (3.1, 600b, 791). He denies he has flattered authorities (a reference to his activities as liaison between Henri de Navarre and Henri III): his "freedom" (liberte) in this respect has eliminated "any suspicion of dissimulation (faintise) by its vigor--since I do not refrain from saying anything, however grave or burning, I could not have said worse behind their backs" (600-01b, 792). Others, who make "a profession of fashioning their words only to suit the affairs they are negotiating and to please the great to whom they are speaking ... enslave their honor (asservir leur foy) and their conscience" (1.9, 23b, 36). He also insists on the servants ability to censor his speech: for "we must not always say everything, for that would be folly, but what we say must be what we think; otherwise it is wickedness" (491 a, 648). He does not care to be believed, but only to convey what he believes (1.26, 108a, 148).

Honesty is a hard virtue, of course; when Montaigne concedes that lying, though a vice, is also a form of socialization, we see how complicated his idea of a free service has become. To be truthful, even if one is innocuous, is to risk being cut off from human society generally, to seem to be rejecting any need "to live with reference to others" (par la relation a autruy). Public opinion itself becomes a kind of collective lie, which gives color and value to all forms of public life but disturbs the use we can make of ourselves: "we defraud ourselves (nous nous defraudons) of our own advantages (utilitez) to make appearances conform with public opinion" (l'opinion commune; 3.9, 729b, 955). Public decorum may require a certain shallow dissembling, but this is devoid of consequences: thus "reason" can guarantee both a moral independence of authority and a formal deference to it: "My reason is not trained to bend and bow; it is my knees" (3.8, 714b, 935).

Beyond offering honest counsel, a public servant must consider whether to take action for reasons of state. (47) For his own part, Montaigne rejects acting for such reasons when they would require him "to lie, to betray, to perjure my self for some notable service, even if not to assassinate or poison" (3.1; 605c, 796-97). His rule for others is less decisive. On the one hand, bucking the imperative of a national interest, he extols the actions of a prince who would "ruin" rather than "perjure" himself, and takes refuge, as did other anti-Machiavels of the period, in the hope of providential outcomes: "We cannot do everything. Do what we will, we must often commit the protection of our vessel, as to a sheet anchor, to the guidance of Heaven" (607c, 800; on providence, see also 1.23, 88b, 121). On the other hand, he admits that there are "rare and sickly exceptions to our natural rules" (rare et maladifves exceptions a nos reigles naturelles) to which "we must yield. . . but with great moderation and circumspe ction. No private utility is worthy of our doing this violence to our conscience; the public utility yes, when it is very apparent and very important" (607c, 800). That is, reasons of state may override conscience in a public crisis of major importance but not otherwise.

This view of the claims of the state over an individual conscience reflects Montaigne's radical distinction between the dictates of a noble and universal justice (la justice en soy), which can inspire but not be fulfilled in local jurisdiction, always subject to immediate circumstances on the one hand, and the inevitable bias of custom, the petty contractions of justice in the "special national" laws that must respond to the requirements of policy on the other (3.1, 604b, c, 796). (48) His troubled sense of the discrepancy between private honesty and what passes for public decorum corresponds throughout the Essais to his conviction that positive law is a pale and aberrant reconstruction of some grander scheme of justice that will not and cannot be subject to predication. Were we to try, we could not achieve so fine a jurisdiction. Perhaps it had been once possible. But events have become too various; circumstances too exigent. (49) In his own time particularly, Montaigne observes: "there are no more virtuous actions to be seen; those that wear virtue's appearance do not for all that have its essence," which cannot be extracted from actions designed to elicit "profit" or "glory" or those prompted by "fear" or "habit" (1.37, 170a, 230). The elegiac tone of this comment corresponds to Montaigne's critique of contemporary social life in the Apologie: "we are now," he insists, motivated by "private accidental considerations": "truth must be made to endure the yoke of our need" (2.12, 323 a, c, 443) (50) Nor is the world well equipped "to cure itself' (a se guarir; 3.9, 731b, 958).

Given this assessment of present affairs, Montaigne's summation in the text of the 1588 edition is not surprising: "I am of the opinion that the most honorable occupation is to serve the public and be useful to man... . For my part, I stay our of it (je m'en depars); partly out of conscience. . . partly out of laziness" (3.9, 727b, 952). Thus he pays tribute to a Ciceronian notion of duty as honorable yet he turns away from that duty himself on the grounds of moral probity. The association of a clear "conscience with "laziness recalls La Boetie's belief that to do nothing could be a plausible course of action. As revealed in the 1595 edition of the Essais, Montaigne interposed between his references to "conscience" and "laziness" an appreciation of Plato's practice: "a master workman (maistre ouvrier) in all political government [who] nevertheless abstained from it," as if to distinguish the possession of a skill from its application, or the ownership of a resource from its use, precisely the distinctions La Boetie made decades earlier when defining the conditions of freedom and servitude. (51) To what extent Montaigne's ambiguous position was determined by his experience of religious war is debatable; he tended to expect the worst of the combatants and he felt vulnerable to their least Incursions. Exceptionally, however, he did accept a kind of service, one controlled by his exercise of an essential freedom that was based on the belief that he owned himself absolutely.

That he could imagine such a freedom indicated how profoundly the practices of the market influenced his intellectual and psychic life; his concept of freedom was an aspect of the "capitalisme interieure" (52) that he cultivated to justify his conduct as a subject and citizen. In his public life he practically set aside the politics of the nobility; invested in the perpetuation of relations of honor, in favor of a liberal politics of the individual, based on recognizing a man as having a property in himself and therefore self-owned. This politics he saw as preserving his freedom; it allowed him to undertake public service on his own terms as well as to refuse it altogether. In a letter to the new king Henri IV, supposed to be dated 2 September 1590, he represents himself as a property, self-owned and self-possessed, whose means are sufficient to its ends. As such, he states he will serve the king without compensation, that is, as a benefit to the state. But, he adds: "when I have exhausted my purse with Your Majesty in Paris, I will make bold to tell you so; and then, if you consider me worth keeping any longer in your retinue, I will cost you less than the least of your officers." (53) To remain free of the business of the state was Montaigne's first wish, to be its benefactor was his second, and to be as little in its debt as possible, given the exigencies of life, was his final desire.

(1.) For a description of this process, see Huppert, 17, who (drawing on Charles Loyseau's treatise on social rank, Des Ordres, 1613) distinguishes the gentilhomme, noble by birth and blood, from the noble homme, noble through the acquisition of noble property. A third category, the honorable homme, does no work with his hands, has property in land or from trade, but does nor qualify for gentle status. For Montaigne in particular, see 90-93. See also Schalk, 89-90, 98-99; and Mousnier, 1:5-10, 126-61.

(2.) For a history of the family, see Frame, 3-10. Relevant dates are: Ramon Eyquem (great-grandfather), 1402-78; Grimon Eyquem de Montaigne (grandfather), 1450-15 19; Pierre Eyquem de Montaigne (father), 1495-1592; Michel de Montaigne, 1533-92.

(3.) Citations from Montaigne's text are drawn first from Montaigne, 1958 (English), then from Montaigne, 1965 (French). Respective page numbers arc given in the parentheses following the citation of the relevant book and essay. For Montaigne's view of the military and his identification with the homme d'epee, see Quint, 42-45, 58-65. See also Desan, esp. 28-45. For his criticisms of that caste, see esp. 2.7 on the question of "valor" (vaillance), Montaigne, 1958, 276a, and Montaigne, 1965, 382; and 2.16 on "hypocrisy in war" (l'hipocrisie qui se trouve en Ia guerre), 474a, 625. Further citations to the Essais are indicated in text.

(4.) Montaigne, 1958, 2.17, 481c; 1965, 2.17, 635. For an association of Montaigne's representative character with the publication of his book, see Eisenstein, 1:230-31.

(5.) As Hugo Friedrich observes, Montaigne's notion of a personal worth is characteristic of a general trend in late sixteenth-century France. Imagining themselves as detached from a social hierarchy, men conceived of having "a value of one's own" ([un] valeur propre; 192). This way of thinking is registered in the growing rifr between artisans and their masters in centers of urban manufacture: "Un fosse se creuse entre le maitre-ouvrier ou l'artisan a domicile, qui fait l'ouvrage, et le maitre-marchand, donneur de travail. Un esprit de 'lutte de classe' souffle deja dans les greves comme celle qui trouble Ia typographie lyonnaise, puis aussi la parisienne, de 1539 a 1571" (Hauser, 102). Montaigne's emphasis on the socially definitive function of the wage testifies to this rift as well as to his perception of its artificial character.

(6.) For a representative opinion on the social contract, see Bodin, 1:6, 47: "Originally every man [was] a master in his own house; then armed strife; then victory of one side and the emergence of a cheefe & captaine. . . . Then the full and entire libertie by nature given to every man, to live as himselfe best pleased, was altogether taken from the vanquished, and in the vanquishers themselves also in some measure diminished in regard of the conqueror for now that it concerned everie man in privat to yeeld his obedience unto his chief sovereigne; and he that would not abate anything of his liberrie, to live under the Lawes and commaundement of another, lost all. So the word of Lord and Servant, of Prince and Subject were first brought into use." See also Monraigne's acquaintance Estienne Pasquier (1529-1615) on "servitudes," 1:4.5,373: "Du droit primitif & originaire denature, toutes personnes naissoienr libres." War destroys this liberty.

(7.) Considering ethical developments from Descartes to Locke, Taylor remarks on the novelty of the "disengaged self," a concept central to Descartes' thinking, which seeks its separation from society, and the "punctual self," which exploits its disengagement from society to gain control over it; 155-60. In its principal assumptions, Montaigne's concept of freedom resembles those sustaining the fully elaborated theories of Hobbes and Locke. See Macpherson, 3, 37: Hobbes conceived of the subject as "the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them"; consequently, "a man's power [may be] treated as a commodity regular dealings in which establish market prices." For Locke, see Shapiro, 1996, 21, who observes, quoting Locke's The Second Treatise of Government, that the terms of Locke's workmanship ideal of ownership are first, that a man has "a property in his own person"; second, that the "labour of his body, and the work of his hands" are "properly" his; and finally, that while "nature" has give all mankind property in common, a man's labor makes it his (Locke, 5.27, 128). For a discussion of this theory, see Shapiro, 1986, 90-97. For a classic analysis of Locke's theory of property see Tully. Villey traces much of Locke's thinking on education to Montaigne, but denies any influence on politics; 12, 13, 99-104.

(8.) For Montaigne's management of his estate, see Hoffmann, 9-38.

(9.) For a comprehensive analysis of Montaigne's understanding of commerce and market relations as a basis for representing himself, see Desan, 1992 and 1993. For Monraigne's marketing the Essais, see Hoffmann, 63-83; for a recent assessment of the Essais as "consubstantial" with their author, see Boyle.

(10.) Literally: "I am (exist) only when I am at home." The locution chez moi suggests Montaigne's identification with the property of Montaigne.

(11.) See Sebond on self-love in Montaigne, 1932, 10:250: "he who loves himself does so in consideration of that particularity [of his being] and not of what he has in common (non de ce qu'il a en commun), nor that he is generically a man." My translation.

(12.) For Montaigne's concept of nobility and its relation to his decisions with respect to public service, see Desan, 1992, who notes that Montaigne distinguishes between what is honorable and what has utility; seeking what is honorable, Montaigne refuses recompense for his public service, which is consequently without any usefulness to him, 42-45.

(13.) Les hommes de donnent louage. Leurs facultez ne soot pas pour eux, elles sont pour ceux a qui ils s'asservissent; leurs locataires sont chez eux, ce ne sont pas eux. Cette humeur commune ne me plaict pas: il faut mesnager la liberte de nostre ame et nel'hypothequer qu'aux occasions justes; lesquelles sont en bien petit nombre, si nous jugeons sainement.

(14.) Or je tiens qui'il faut vivre par droict et par auctorite, non par recompence ny par grace. Combien de galans hommes ont micux aime perdre la vie que la devoir! Je fui a me submettre a toute sorte d'obligation, mais sur tout a celle qui m'attache par devoir d'honneur. Je ne trouve rien si cher que ce qui m'est donne et ce pourquoy ma volonte demeure hypothequee par tiltre de gratitude, et recois plus volontiers les offices qui sont a vendre.

(15.) The relation of thought to action constitutes an ethical problem not only for Montaigne as an individual but for his contemporaries, especially Huguenots. For a discussion of controversies over religious toleration and whether belief in an article of faith required a corresponding action in order to be valid, see Smith, esp. 13-98. In principle, Montaigne identifies his thought as free and his behavior as legal and customary. On his escape from "history" through a "private aesthetic," see Abecassis, esp. 1079-81. See also Reiss, 119, citing Montaigne's estimation of law as "a true testimony of human imbecility, so full it is of contradiction and error," 3.13; 819b, 1070, on Montaigne's simultaneous commitment to freedom and obedience: "the freedom to withdraw from the social [sphere] is no more than that, for if this freedom to reason becomes mixed in with the public domain of the sociopolitical, one ends up with complete confusion." For montaigne's political philosophy generally, see Schaefer, 1989 and 1990; on this question, see 1990,32-38.1 read Montaigne's statements on his public service as rather vexed. Speaking of the conduct required of a public servant, he asserts his independent "will," which nevertheless undertakes public service, and he also evinces his sense that such service is one he would rather avoid, especially if it involves action for reasons of state. As Shklar observes, 33-34: "even when he was resigned to public cruelties, he could nor accept them as inevitable. . . . His mind was self-divided, a picture of distraction."

(16.) A "natural obligation" to serve a prince is not incompatible with Montaigne's notion of a common man nor with his skeptical view of social "inequality," which he regards as created rather than natural: "The real and essential subjection is only for those among us who go seeking it and who like to gain honors and riches by such service; for anyone who wants to ensconce himself by his hearth, and who can manage his house without quarrels and lawsuits is as free as the Doge of Venice" (1.42, 195b. 266). The obligation Montaigne has in mind depends on reciprocity; as the prince protects the people, so the people serve the prince. Montaigne is interested in the terms of these obligations.

(17.) Les subjects d'un prince excessif en dons se rendent excessifs en demandes.... nous sommes surpayez selon justice quand la recompence esgalle nostre service, car n'en devons nous rien a nos princes d'obligation naturelle? S'il porte nostre despence, il faict trop; c'est assez qu'il l'ayde; le surplus s'appelle bienfaict, lequel ne se peut exiger, car le nom mesme de liberalite sonne liberte.

(18.) "Helping out" means paying expenses incurred in service that the servant himself cannot afford to pay. See Montaigne's letter to Henri IV, quoted in n. 53 below.

(19.) The idea of a benefit is complicated because it is paradoxical: the benefactor of a beneficent act is also the recipient of the benefit. In Seneca's formulation in his "Of Benefits," the ability to benefit another is tied intimately to a condition of an inalienable freedom. What counts in a benefit is not the thing or status given or rendered but rather the mind or spirit (animus) of the benefactor. Thus, every man, even a slave -- because he retains in some critical measure the right to say no as well as yes -- can give a benefit, even to a man who is his master. A slave's "inner part cannot be enslaved" (literally, cannot be given away or alienated; interior illa pars mancipio dari non potest): "All that issues from this [interior part] is free; nor, indeed, are we able to command all things from slaves, nor are they compelled to obey us in all things; they will not carry out orders that are hostile to the state, and they will not lend their hands to any crime. There are certain acts that the law nei ther enjoins nor forbids; it is in these that a slave finds opportunity to perform a benefit" (3:18-22, 158-69).

(20.) For a summary of this aspect of society, see Mandrou, 102-12, 144, and Mousnier, 1:477-502. For relations specifically dictated by ownership, see Viollet, 611-16.

(21.) See Davis, 56: "In sixteenth-century French society, property boundaries were always blurred by the multiple rights that overlords, proprietors and users could claim in the same house or field. Work was often perceived as collective, even when the profits from it were distributed unequally, and objects moved as often by gifts as by sales; likewise, the lines drawn around the self were not firmly enclosed." For the destruction of property during the wars, see Holt, 76-120.

(22.) Cicero, 1.7, 22-23. Friedrich, considering Montaigne's recourse to Cicero, notes that the "morale polirique" of Rome retains its standing as morality: it merely becomes understood as entirely applied, or "fonctionalisee" (196). See also Aristotle, 8.1, 1337a1, 2121.

(23.) Plutarch, 2:338-40. My translation.

(24) I quote from the 1578 English translation of the Traicte de la vocation et maniere de vivre laquelle chacun est app ele, published in Paris in 1561.

(25.) La Place, 52v, 77v, 78.

(26.) La Perriere, Evv, Fvii.

(27.) L'Exercice, Kivv: Celuy qui a charge de public & s'abstient de s'enrichir des biens d'iceluy, merite louange de peuple & doibt attendre de Dieu recompence.

(28.) La Primaudaye, Llviv: Qu'ils despouillent a l'entree du conseil Ia faveur envers les uns, Ia haine envers les autres, l'ambition de soy-mesmes: & qu'ils n'ayent autre but que l'honneur de Dieu et le salut de Ia Republique.

(29.) Bodin, 1.8, 109. The subject's right to property can be regarded as an extension of Bodin's notion of the political contract: sovereigns are "but men put in trust" of the commonwealth; the people "always remain seased thereof' and can reclaim their possession (1.8, 84).

(30.) Hotman, 204-05.

(31.) Theodore Beza (1519-1605) agreed, though he qualified his opinion in his treatise Du Droit des Magistrats sur leur subjets (1574) with a condition and a caveat. See Beza, 102: Subjects owed a primary obedience to God; if this obedience conflicted with political obligation, they had a higher "duty to refuse to act." This refusal could rise to a requirement to depose, provided that the subjeet (not a magistrate but a private citizen) had a distinct and "special calling from God." Otherwise, he could not "on his own initiative, answer force with force but must either go into exile or bear the yoke with trust in God." Montaigne had questioned rigorously such typically Protestant claims to godly inspiration in the Apologie and his account of his own religious experience is unexceptionably conformist. He does not link his self-ownership to a divine dispensation.

(32.) use the French translation of Languer's Latin text. See Estiennejunius Brutus, De Ia puissance legitime du Prince, Lviiv: Or on ne peut faire vente, troque, ni trafic de personnes libres veu mesmes que les protecteurs ne peuvent contraindre leurs afranchis de choisir domicile ailleurs que la ou bon semblera ces afranchis . . . Les sujets sont ni eselaves, ni serfs afranchis, ains freres, & non seulement freres du Roy un par un, mais aussi que rous considerez en un corps soot & doivent estre appellex Seigneurs du Royaume.

(33.) For an account of these attempts, especially by Michel de LHospital in behalf of the interests of Catherine de Medici, see Smith, 19-50.

(34.) See 1.56: "I hold it as execrable if anything is found which was said by me, ignorantly or inadvertendy, against the holy prescriptions of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church, in which I die and in which I was born. And therefore always submitting to the authority of their censure, which has absolute power over me, I meddle rashly with every sort of subject, as I do here" (229a, c, 318). Montaigne took the Oath of Allegiance in 1562; see Frame, 53; Nakam, 144-46; Smith, 99-100. These professions did not rule out the kind of sceptical inquiry into all religions that characterizes the Essais as whole and the Apologie de Raimon Sebond in particular.

(35.) A few scholars regard the authorship of the Discours as uncertain; see Schaefer, 1990, 41n1.

(36.) As Tully explains, 109, consciousness was also a property of the subject for Locke: since the identity of a person his consciousness of thought and action, and thought and action are his workmanship, it is consciouness, not another's, and so his property." Montaigne's idea of self-ownership is designed to establish the terms in which he participates in public life and, unlike the theories of Hobbes and Locke, is not the basis for a theory of government.

(37.) La Boetie, 9; see also 16; my translation.

(38.) La Boetie, 9, 11: [I]l ne faut pas besoin de le defaire, il est de soy mesme defaut mais que le pais ne consente 'a sa servitude... Il ne faut pas lui oster rien, mais ne lui donner rien; il n'est pas besoin que le pais se mette en peine de faire rien pour soy, pourveu qu'il ne face rien contre soy.... Si on ne leur baille rien, si on ne leur obeir point sans combattre, sans frapper, us demeurent nuds & deffaits & ne sont plus rien, sinon que comme la racine, n'aians plus d'humeur ou aliment, la branche devient seche & morte.

(39.) Montaigne remarks on the importance of "no" to the conception of reticence underwriting La Boetie's Discours: "Just as that remark of his, that the inhabitants of Asia served one single man because they could nor pronounce one single syllable, which is "No," may have given the matter and the impulsion to La Boetie for his Voluntary Servitude" (1.26, 115b, 156).

(40.) For Monraigne's civic activity, see Nakam, 1982 and 1984. Of his public service, she observes: "Jamais Montaigne ne pourra etre le partisan sans reserve d'un roi regnant" (1982, 632). How such "reservation" is expressed and accounted for is then the question to ask of this observation. I have also profited from the trenchant analysis of Montaigne's ethics in Struever, 182-209.

(41.) These were men who avoided or decried public service: Diogenes of Sinope (ca. 400-325 BCE), see 1.50, 221a, 303; 2.16, 458a, 619; Theodorus of Cyrene (b. c460 BCE), 1.50, 22 ic, 304; and Hegesias of Cyrene (d. c 283 BCE). On the exemplarity of Otanes, who rejected the throne of Persia in favor of a private freedom, "balking at either commanding or being commanded" (3.17, 700c, 917), see Schaefer, 1989, 146.

(42.) For Montaigne's activities during the war, see Schiffman, 1997.

(43.) Je ne scay pas m'engager si profondement et si entier. Quand ma volonte me donne 'a un party, ce n'est pas d'une si violente obligation que mon entendement s'en infecte. Aus presens brouillis de cet estat, mon interest ne m'a faict mesconnoistre ny les qualitez louables en nos adversaires, ny celles qui sont reprochables en ceux que j'ay suivy. On this quasi-seesaw position, see Desan, 1992, who describes comparable effects in Montaigne's language, 111, 131: It is "un discours hybride" and hence a "heterology," a new semantic and ideological field." Desan recognizes that this heterology uniting as it does socio-economic with ethicopolitical language, is not unique to Montaigne but rather symptomatic of changes in late Renaissance culture.

(44.) Although Montaigne got nothing for being Mayor in 1581, he had probably sold his position in the Chambre des Enquetes in Bordeaux in 1570; see Frame, 58.

(45.) Villey notes that Montaigne received the king's letter only after he had accepted the offer and returned to Bordeaux (Montaigne, 1963, 1005, n. 5). Montaigne's explanation is a bit disingenuous.

(46.) As critics have recognized, the Essais also celebrate a service between friends that defies all the categories relevant to a public service, a topic outside the scope of this essay. Here I merely remark how often an act of friendship is expressed by way of a benefit whose effects are also political and registered in the welfare of the body politic. On the subject of friendship in the Essais, see Conley; see also Derrida, 171-93.

(47.) Friedrich argues that Montaigne, although stressing "la verite des faicts" (3.11, 1003b) as Machiavelli did "la verita effetuale," directed his attention to the relative instability of human judgment rather than to specific ends; finally, he was not a Machiavellian thinker (198). See also Schiffman, 1982; Schaefer, 1990, 356-60; and Tetel.

(48.) A further indication of how positive law could appear arbitrary to Montaigne is registered in his playful support of the position of Plato's Thrasymachus; see 12.2,437, 580.

(49.) As Langer observes, commenting on "Of presumption," 2.17: "dans le passage de la ratio vera au choix de l'action precise, trop de choses funestes interviennent" (177).

(50.) The difference, as Montaigne saw it, between the conditions of ancient societies and his own France is often obscured by his repeated recourse to examples of heroism or kinds of public service in antiquity. In this respect, the Essais exhibit a continuous and subtle play with irony. On the one hand, they illustrate exemplary lives; on the other, they reveal that the conditions in which such lives can be emulated no longer exist. On Montaigne and the general topic of exemplarity, see Hampton, 134-97.

(51.) Schaefer notes the privileged place Montaigne gives Oranes, who rejected the Persian throne in favor of a private freedom, "balking at either commanding or being commanded" (3.7; 700c, 917; Schaefer, 1989, 146).

(52.) Desan, 1992, 16.

(53.) Quand jauray espuise ma bource aupres de Vostre Majeste a Paris je prendray Ia hardiesse de le lui dire et lors sy elle mestime digne de me tenir plus long temps a sa suitte elle en aura meilleur marche que du moindre de ses officers. Montaigne, 1962, 1400. For an English translation, see Montaigne, 1958, 1094.


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