Friday, January 7, 2011

Une foi, un loi, un roi

Reading the essays of Montaigne causes me to focus on sixteenth century France, the French religious wars (the Catholic League battling the Huguenots, a 36-year conflict that marred French life between 1562 and 1598) and reminds me that living in interesting times means living in times when faiths, laws, and kings compete. And, of course, it is always much worse, meaning much more interesting, when rulers are relatively weak, when ideas are hopelessly confused, and it is difficult to tell which way the trend is actually running.

The real message in that old French slogan is that, in the absence of an overweening unity at a high enough level to matter, social life will be rent, uncertainty will rule, power will continue to shift, and economic life will invariably suffer. Nobilities in tension with kings, bourgeoisie in conflict with the nobles, and tradition hanging on hard-pressed by reforming change. It would all be resolved, ultimately, in the French revolution which, in a way, swept the messy playing board clean. During this warring period an interesting early form of secularism arose; it was called politique, or the rule of pragmatism, practiced by moderates of both sides. Never mind faith, belief, or ideology. Lets get the (then still non-existent) trains to run on time. Our times here, it seems to me, might benefit from a bit of politique.

Montaigne lived in Aquitaine, the southwestern corner of France. That region was under Bourbon influence, which leaned in the Huguenot (Protestant) direction. He was nominally Catholic, temperamentally Stoic, and his detached and reasonable attitude well suited his times in turmoil. When trends are chaotic—and you have the means—by all means the tower of solitude where, sitting in relative peace, you write your blogs.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly enough, I have had my own fancy of the poet and statesman Decimus Ausonius in the later days of the Roman Empire, watching the approach of winter in his homestead in Burdigala, or Bourdeaux... in the province of Aquitania.

    The air of the Aquitane must encourage reflection.