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Michel de Montaigne ("Of Cannibals")

He sets aside their cannibalism, as well as the fact that they first murder their meal-to-be with swords, and finds that no modern human could ever hope to live up to their high standards of behavior: "The very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy, belittling, pardon--unheard of. How far from this perfection would [Plato] find the republic that he imagined" (Montaigne 153).

With such a claim, assuming that Montaigne is writing seriously and sincerely, and not ironically as Swift writes, Montaigne reflects the modern tendency to look at the world and see what one wishes to see, selectively editing out what one does not want to see. His argument also reflects the tendency of many individuals to romanticize a foreign culture in comparison with one's own, especially if the foreign culture is exotic, which the cannibals' culture certainly is.

In addition, Montaigne demonstrates a modern tendency to observe the world in the same sort of abstract way which Swift satirizes. Just as Swift's satirical persona examines the problem of overpopulation from his bureaucratic office and finds nothing horrible or evil about eating babies, so does Montaigne look at the cannibals' culinary choice and finds nothing hideous. In fact, he praises the cannibals for their lack of a conscience, which he apparently believes to be a modern cultural invention which hinders civilized humans in their activities.

One wonders if Swift's satirical persona and Montaigne would feel the same way about eating human beings if they had in front of them bowlsful of human flesh. It is easy for Montaigne to sit in his study far from the cannibals' society and wax romantic about their wonderfully pure lifestyle. It would not be so easy to see the cannibals' way of life as this romantic and pure if he were sitting down around their campfire and sharing their human meal, and it would be even more difficult were they in the midst of preparing ...

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Michel de Montaigne ("Of Cannibals"). (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:57, August 20, 2017, from
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