Over at The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan has an appreciation of Montaigne, noting that the 17th century French essayist invented a literary form that upended politics throughout the west and still shapes the blogosphere today.As Sullivan reminds us, Montaigne turned ‘declamation into conversation’: he wrote essays as if he were talking to friends at a coffee shop or at the dinner table rather than as if he were standing at a podium and giving a formal lecture.This doesn’t just make essays more readable. It points to the most profound change modernity brings: the shift from imposed to received authority. In the 17th century, people were supposed to do what they were told. The Church punished you if you committed heresy, the State punished you if you questioned the king. The anointed ruler and the ordained bishop were authorities who could not be questioned without sin. It was better to obey a bad king than to oppose him.Montaigne’s style, equal to equal, prefigures the change between then and now. Authority must be earned. The rulers must be chosen by the ruled. A church can attract by example and teaching, but can no longer ‘compel them to come in’ as was too often done in the past.The essayist is no longer the authority who must be obeyed; he is a vendor with a stall in the market, offering his wares to those who pass by. If you like a blog, you read it; if it convinces you, you change your mind. But you don’t think of your ‘duty’ to honor and obey the author of an essay or a weblog.That change in stance was more important and more influential, perhaps, than anything specific that Montaigne wrote. Not all intellectuals, even today, are comfortable with the loss of hierarchical status. There seem to be many people on our universities who would be quite happy to see the government enforce their wisdom on the ignorant masses beyond the gates; the world remains full of unarmed prophets wishing for swords.Sullivan is right to hail Montaigne as the literary father of the blog and the world of blogging continues to move along the lines Montaigne first laid out. With the addition of comments, Montaigne’s conversational style has turned into an actual conversation. Readers can respond and have their (curated, at this site) contributions published alongside the author’s original reflection.Not all blogs have Montaigne’s mix of passion, integrity, wisdom and urbanity, but it’s an ideal that all of us should try to keep in mind. Via Meadia thanks Andrew Sullivan for reminding us how much we owe to those who have gone before.
Montaigne: The Father of Us All
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