I have written about Montaigne’s fifth essay — “Whether the governor of a besieged fortress should go out and a parley” — several times, never with any joy or energy. It’s a piece about military strategy, so reading it now is much like coming across an NFL pre-game show years after the fact … is all of this detail interesting when the outcomes and strategies are no longer relevant?

Unlike the four previous essays, there is no direct connection to Stoicism, Stoic thinkers or ideas related to the philosophy. Montaigne’s only interesting thought comes at the end:

I readily trust others: but I would only do so with difficulty if ever I were to give grounds for thinking that I was acting out of despair or from lack of courage rather than from frankness and trust in a man’s word.

I wish Montaigne had begun here instead of using it as punctuation, because it’s a subtle thought that can use some unpacking. I’m not even sure that it’s directly related to the rest of the piece. What Montaigne is talking about here is what’s referred to in poker as “table image.” If, in an interaction with another person, that person perceives Montaigne as being a trusting person because he’s candid and assumes others are as well, then Montaigne is content in his action.

But if that person believes that Montaigne is only acting out of trust because he’s given up hope in the situation or doesn’t have the courage to stand up to a liar, then he will still act the same, but much more grudgingly.

The first thought that comes to mind is that Montaigne will still trust even in the situation where he thinks it comes across as weakness. He just admits that it bothers him to be perceived that way, but it won’t shake his default stance. That is a very strong claim, one that I could never make. It takes very little for my trust in someone to be shaken, and I don’t know what to make of Montaigne’s rock solid belief in trust.

My second thought concerns that difficulty. Is that an internal mental state that Montaigne will hold, or will he express his discomfort to the other person, all the while maintaining trust. Because if it’s the latter, I’m skeptical that Montaigne is actually as trusting as he wants to claim to be. In fact, it all seems a little passive-aggressive to me.

Then again, that’s my distrusting nature surfacing — I can’t take Montaigne’s word on this, it feels so odd to me.

Parleys and Trust