it is always a hazardous decision to trust that it will be the good pleasure of a victorious army to keep the promises made to a town which has just surrendered upon generous and favourable terms and to allow free entry to the heated soldiery.
Wrapping up Montaigne’s mini-series of essays about leadership and deception, it’s obvious that he’s no Sun Tzu on matters of military strategy, nor is he a match for Machiavelli on political strategy. But where Montaigne remains useful is in discussing aftermaths, when battles are over and the hard work of rebuilding a civil society must commence.
Even though it was the clergy that banned Montaigne for generations, his warnings might have served the old guard well during the French Revolution. If there is such a thing as moral progress, it was best demonstrated in South Africa after apartheid, where past harms were revealed openly and then forgiven by the new majority. It’s a stretch to say that Montaigne in any way inspired Mandela, but there’s no question that his sympathies would have been on the side of South African reconciliation and not the Reign of Terror.
As we approach the endgame in Egypt, let’s hope that this moral progress continues and that the Egyptian people get the kind of honest, forgiving, pluralistic government they deserve.