Practical, moral wisdom
A Change in Moral Culture

Sweet gestures of self-improvement

Michel-de-montaigne-4

In his chapter on Samuel Johnson, David Brooks contrasts the English writer with the French essayist Michel de Montaigne explaining that the two of them represent two different styles of goodness--Johnson struggled and suffered to become good, while Montaigne had a genial nature.  Of course they were born into different strata of society.

Brooks writes, "Johnson sought to reform himself through direct assault and earnest effort.  Montaigne was more amused by himself and his foibles, and sought virtue through self-acceptance and sweet gestures of self-improvement."

Montaigne retired from public life and discovered "that his own mind would not allow tranquility.  He found his mind, fragmented, liquid, and scattershot."  So, for him, "writing was an act of self-integration."

Brooks writes, "Montaigne's theory was that much of the fanaticism and violence he saw around him was caused by the panic and uncertainty people feel because they can't grasp the elusiveness within themselves."  Essay writing, which he largely invented, was a way of exploring and integrating himself.

Throughout this book, David Brooks has been exploring a cultural tradition in which people were more humble.  He locates that attitude in Montaigne.  Brooks describes him thus--"a low but accurate view of one's own nature plus a capacity for wonder and astonishment at the bizarreness of creation equals a calming spirit of equipoise."

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