Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Just Reward

This week's Montaigne essay, "On Rewards for Honour," is nowhere near the depth of thought or question of morality of last week's essay, "A Custom on the Isle of Cea." No, this week's essay is about awards and Montaigne is bugged. You see, Montaigne was a knight of the Order of St. Michael, which had a very exclusive membership. The key word here is "had." Due to the "Wars of Religion," also known as the Reformation, The Order of St. Michael was given out to far too many people for Montaigne's liking. So many people had the award, according to Montaigne, that its prestige was diluted making the award pretty much meaningless. Even if all of the men who received the honor were indeed worthy, "we still must not be more liberal with it, and it would have been better to fail to bestow it on everyone to whom it was due than for ever to lose in practice so useful an innovation." Useful because it costs nothing to bestow the honor and because those who have it gain advantages and are more willing to stand up for king and country and those who don't have it strive to be worthy of it. Perhaps Montaigne has a bit of a sour grapes attitude here, but he also has a point. Think of the awards we give out these days. If everybody got a Nobel prize would it still mean as much? There are many who deserve it but few who receive it, thus it is viewed by most as a great honor. Would we prefer almost everyone getting one sort of like good citizenship and good attendance awards in elementary school? I should think not even if we might not agree with who was chosen. So Montaigne can't be blamed for being grumpy especially if he received the Order for doing something spectacular while some chump got it for just showing up for battle that day. But Montaigne also knows that Fortune is a fickle gal. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On the Affection of Fathers for Their Children"