Saturday, May 9, 2020

Of Inequality

Plutarch somewhere says that he finds no such great difference between beast and beast as between man and man. He speaks of the mind and internal qualities. I could find in my heart to say there is more difference between one man and another than between such a man and such a beast; and that there are as many degrees of spirits as steps between earth and heaven.

But concerning the estimation of men, it is marvellous that we ourselves are the only things not esteemed for their proper qualities. We commend a horse for his strength and speed, not for his trappings; a greyhound for his swiftness, not his collar; a hawk for her wing, not for her bells. Why do we not likewise esteem a man for that which is his own? He has a goodly train of followers, a stately palace, so much rent coming in, so much credit among men. Alas, all that is about him, not in him. If you buy a horse you see him bare of saddle and cloths. When you judge of a man, why consider his wrappings only? In a sword it is the quality of the blade, not the value of the scabbard, to which you give heed. A man should be judged by what he is himself, not by his appurtenances. 

Let him lay aside his riches and external honours and show himself in his shirt. Has he a sound body? What mind has he? Is it fair, capable, and unpolluted, and happily equipped in all its parts? Is it a mind to be settled, equable, contented, and courageous in any circumstances? Is he-

 A wise man, of himself commander high, Whom want, nor death, nor bands can terrify, Resolved t'affront desires, honours to scorn, All in himself, close, round, and neatly borne, Against whose front externals idly play, And even fortune makes a lame essay? 

Such a man is five hundred degrees beyond kingdoms and principalities; himself is a kingdom unto himself. Compare with him the vulgar troop--stupid, base, servile, warring, floating on the sea of passions, depending wholly on others. There is more difference than between heaven and earth, yet in a blindness of custom we take little or no account of it. Whereas, if we consider a cottage and a king, a noble and a workman, a rich man and a poor, we at once recognise disparity, although, as one might say, they differ in nothing but their clothes. 

An emperor, whose pomp so dazzles us in public, view him behind the curtain is but an ordinary man, and peradventure viler and sillier than the least of his subjects! Cowardice, irresolution, ambition, spite, anger, envy, move and work in him as in another man. Fear, care, and suspicion haunt him even in the midst of his armed troops. Does the ague, the headache, or the gout spare him more than us? When age seizes on his shoulders, can the tall yeoman of his guard rid him of it? His bedstead encased with gold and pearls cannot allay the pinching pangs of colic!

The flatterers of Alexander the Great assured him he was the son of Jupiter, but being hurt one day, and the blood gushing from the wound, "What think you of this?" said he to them. "Is not this blood of a lively red hue, and merely human?" If a king have the ague or the gout what avail his titles of majesty? But if he be a man of worth, royalty and glorious titles will add but little to good fortune.

Truly, to see our princes all alone, sitting at their meat, though beleaguered with talkers, whisperers, and gazing beholders, I have often rather pitied than envied them. The honour we receive from those who fear and stand in awe of us is no true honour.

"Service holds few, though many hold service." Every man's manners and his mind His fortune for him frame and find.

Of the Inequality that is Between Us, Michel de Montaigne 
The World's Greatest Books (Philosophy and Economics), Vol. XIV, p. 68-70