Natural Law and Order: Comparing Montaigne and Sepulveda's Beliefs about the New World

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Natural Law and Order

I am but a common European. I have heard tales of this magical new world filled with new animals, plants, and the strangest of peoples with the strangest of customs. I have heard they are incredibly advanced. Their calendar is incredibly precise and their agricultural techniques are amazing. But I have also heard horrific tales of cannibalism and savagery. What am I to make of all these conflicting tales? Oh, I am but a common, confused European. Europeans could not represent the New World in a clear, distinct way because of differing ideologies represented by Montaigne and Sepulveda's arguments. These two critiques differ in their targeted audience, their view point, and what they hoped to accomplish in their writings.

To understand fully what these two authors were trying to accomplish, there must be a focus on who they were hoping to reach. Montaigne, an intellectual, wrote to other intellectuals, while Sepulveda attempted to capture the attentions of princes, kings, and other men of power within the Spanish hierarchy. Montaigne's plea for peace is a call to the global village for global change, a chorus sung by a "plain, simple fellow" to an audience of not-so-simple fellows (108). This helps to explain why Montaigne's language is complex and his metaphors, deep. Sepulveda, however, uses simple, concise arguments to appeal to the royalty that has the ability to make the decisions he wants to see made: "I speak only of our princes and those who by their energy and industriousness have shown that they are worthy of administering the commonwealth (48)." These "worthy princes" are target's to Sepulveda's reasoning that these natives must be enslaved, while Montaigne's hopes his global audience will respond to his call for an empathetic understanding of these natives.

While both cite facts and experiences in their arguments, Montaigne's belief in the beauty of the natural is in stark contrast to Sepulveda's adherence to the Natural...
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