Saturday, June 25, 2005

Seeking Glory

Montaigne's essay, "On Glory," is an argument against seeking fame, glory, reputation, renown and honor. "To God alone belong honor and glory," writes Montaigne, "there is nothing so remotely unreasonable as to go seeking them for ourselves; for since we are wanting and necessitous within (our essence being imperfect and having a continual need of improvement) we should be attending to that. We are all hollow and empty: it is not with wind and spoken sounds that we have to fill ourselves: to restore ourselves we need a substance more solid." While glory can bring advantages, it is to be disdained because we come to rely on it which relies on the approval of others. Always concerned for our glory and reputation, we become virtuous for the sake of glory rather than for the sake of virtue itself. Because of this we then cease to be virtuous except when someone is watching. But, Montaigne reminds the reader, God is always watching. Instead of seeking glory, which comes about by the whims of Fortune, we should seek to have a good conscience. Glory is dependent on the opinion of others, the vote of the mob, "that mother of ignorance, of injustice and on inconstancy." Thus prompting Montaigne to ask, "Is it reasonable to make the life of a man depend on the judgement of idiots? Can anything be more stupid than to value collectively those whom we despise as individuals? Whoever aims to please that lot will never finish: such a target is shapeless and cannot be reached." We should fix the course of our lives by reason and constancy instead of the fickleness of rumor and opinion. Praise is nice and all but praise is based on an outside view of events and appearances, "They do not see my mind: they see only the looks on my face." We all know that appearances can deceive; someone who appears good and worthy of glory and praise can be a bad person. We see it every day on tv and hear about it in the news, celebrities and public figures who are in trouble for theft, or drugs or assault, you name it. Sometimes their reputations are sullied and they slink away from the lime light. At other times it brings even more celebrity for a little while until the public gets tired of it and moves on to someone else. But, Montaigne writes, "Any honourable person prefers to sully his honour than to sully his conscience." Because a good life is not about fame and glory, a good life is about virtue and a good conscience. Fame and glory may be great for a little while but in the end it has no real substance and doesn't fill the emptiness. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Presumption"