In Of cannibals, by Michael de Montaigne, Montaigne makes a subtle argument to try to show that the cannibals are not barbarians. He uses a rebuttal argument to make the claim that the cannibals are not terrible people because of one practice that they engage in. Another claim he makes is that the cannibals also exhibit many qualities and virtues that are well respected by Europeans. Montaigne gives his reason for the cannibals not being barbarous by stating that it is hypocritical for Europeans to judge them without even looking or acknowledge their own barbarous ways.
He states that, “I am not sorry that we notice the barbarous horror of such acts, but I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own” (5). Montaigne feels that the European nature of torture is more barbarous than the cannibals eating someone who is already dead, “I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead; and in tearing by tortures and the rack of a body still full of feeling, in roasting a man bit by bit, in having him bitten and mangled by dogs and swine, than roasting and eating him after he is dead (5).
Montaigne defines the Europeans as being barbaric themselves and gives reasons for why the cannibals practice is not as bad as the accepted viewpoint. He states that it is a cultural practice that is not for enjoyment and that everyone engages in the practice. They do not do it for pleasure or nourishment but rather as a way “to betoken an extreme revenge” (5).
It is an expected way to designate victory and it is an old tradition that is simply part of their culture, which is not so barbaric after all. Despite the fact that Europeans look down on their society because of their practice of cannibalism, the cannibals have many qualities and virtues that are greatly admired. The do not fight battles for to acquire land or other capital, but rather for “valor against the enemy and love for their wives” (154).
They exemplify courage, a virtue that is exhibited by all the cannibals. Even the king shows this, leading by example, as he is the first to march into battle. He continues to describe how their society is respectable, “it is rare to see a sick man there; and they have assured me that they never saw one palsied, bleary-eyed, toothless, or bent with age” (3). There is no poverty and the people are ranked upon braveness and wives, not wealth.
He describes their society is not fashioned by the human mind, but it is “the laws of nature that still rule them, very little corrupted by our; and they are in a state of purity…”(3). Montaigne even goes as far as saying that he wished that the likes of Plato knew of this society, because “how far from perfection would he find the republic that he imagined”(3). Their society he feels exemplifies what Plato describes in The Republic, and because of this he feels that they are not true barbarians.