Montaigne – of Cannibals

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Acceptance and understanding into a persons society is one of the major goals that people strive to achieve. There is a natural tendency for the individual to be compelled to join the majority. Many times, however, a person will change themselves to fit into the group instead of having the group change itself for the person. This forces a person to take action, form opinions or adopt customs that do not reflect their own beliefs. Montaigne addresses the differences between two distinctly different forms of society in his essay Of Cannibals. Montaigne’s comparison between the recently discovered aborigines of the new world and his European society compels a person to reconsider what an ideal society should be. Should a natural state be the basis for life, or is technology and thought the ingredients for an ideal society?

Naturalness is the center of Montaigne’s argument against European society. Information about the cultures encountered in the new world had been flooding Montaigne and Europe for nearly 90 years. A new, exotic world, completely different from Europe, was full of mystery. Early explorers were shocked at how basic the inhabitants of this land were. The inhabitants were labeled barbarians and cannibals, based on their customs. Montaigne however does not believe this to be the case. By being closer to nature, he says, these societies are in fact the better. “The laws of nature still rule them, very little corrupted by ours; and they are in such a state of purity that I am sometimes vexed that they were unknown earlier, in the days when there were men able to judge them better than we,” (pg. 153). By being close to nature and the earth, according to Montaigne, this society can exist in its basic form. Free from the trials of possession, greed, and materialism that inundates a complex society. Montaigne goes further by describing the customs of these people. The men have two purposes in life, to gain valor and to love their women. Unlike the European...
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