Financial History Issue 116 (Winter 2016) | Page 12

EDUCATORS’ PERSPECTIVE Montaigne’s Essay On Coaches: Old World Greed in the New World “Personal Finance: Philosophy and Practice” is a unique course offered at Eastern Washington University. Unlike other personal finance courses, this course requires students to read excerpts from the works of philosophers on topics such as wealth, greed, self-interest and other finance-related topics. One of my [Brian’s] favorite readings in this course is the essay On Coaches by Michel de Montaigne. Students, however, struggle with the essay because of its structure, which María Garcés has described as a disconcerting, rambling, inextricable chaos. In spite of its structure, reading On Coaches is well worth the effort because it focuses the reader’s attention on a number of issues that are still relevant today without resorting to the religious justifications for expansion and conquest that prevailed in Montaigne’s day and age. Sarah Bakewell describes Montaigne as “a nobleman, government official and winegrower who lived in the Périgord area of southwestern France from 1533 to 1592.” She goes on to note that a destructive religious civil war cast a shadow over Montaigne while he was writing his famous Essays. Those essays, according to Montaigne chronicler Saul Frampton, rank alongside Shakespeare’s plays and Cervantes’s Don Quixiote as “the most important literary works of the Renaissance.” In his introductory note to On Coaches, translator M.A. Screech provides an important insight into the essay: “Coaches…were the symbols of luxury. They are contrasted with the simplicity of those American Indian cultures which had never invented the wheel, had no horses and used gold for its beauty alone. Their simplicity emphasized the horrors of the Spanish conquest of Peru, with its naked cruelty and avarice.” Garcés sees coaches as representing “the devastating intrusion of the Old World into the New World. The war chariots of Europe launching their attack upon the peoples of America and their civilizations, which did not know the wheel.” Frampton takes the metaphor further arguing that coaches “…represent a separation from others, economically and 10    FINANCIAL HISTORY  |  Winter 2016  | proxemically, and hence epitomize the individualistic, acquisitive estrangement of [Montaigne’s] age.” The Spanish conquest of Latin America was all about personal aggrandizement. As summer approached in 1532, Atahualpa was heading south to the city of © Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis By Brian Grinder and Dan Cooper Portrait of Michel de Montaigne, author of On Coaches.