Mike Vickers' Blog

March 10, 2012

The Guiding Spirit of Co-operation – Montaigne

Filed under: economics, History in the making, Politics — derryvickers @ 10:03 pm

Yet me say straight away that this blog comes straight from an article on Montaigne in The Guardian Weekly by Richard Sennett.  Who is Richard Sennett – well I find that he is a musician turned philosopher ; he is Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University – clearly a man not to be trifled with.  Sennett currently is working on a project called ‘Homo Faber,’ exploring material ways of making culture. The first book in this series is The Craftsman, published in 2008; subsequent volumes are Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation, published in 2012.  And it is the last book that relates to Montaigne of which he looks to have a real affinity with.  You can read the whole article at


But the points that really have got to me are Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) inserted a question into an essay written many years before: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” which of course begs the question as to whether cars have consciousness; but this is not Montaigne’s point.  As the article goes on to say a lack of mutual understanding shouldn’t keep us from engaging with others.  Montaigne was a seigneur but was interested in people active in everyday crafts on his estate. Taking an interest in others, on their own terms, Sennett thinks is perhaps the most radical aspect of Montaigne’s writing.  He says that Montaigne thinks empathy rather than sympathy is the cardinal social virtue.  Co-operation is the way forward; we should be looking outward.  We should recognize and accept others differences; Sennett believes that Montaigne is the dawn of the modern era but that era is still to come.  Sennett considers that the US and the UK in particular are failing with the distance between the elite and the mass increasing – ‘us against them’ and ‘you are on your own’.  He is particularly caustic that ‘The new capitalism permits power to detach itself from authority, the elite living in global detachment from responsibilities to others on the ground, especially during times of economic crisis.’

To me this is a powerful article and I shall go out and get Sennett’s latest book and hope to find more of Montaigne in it.  Without co-operation with those we disagree with we are lost.

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