“The Humanity of Others”: Ali Benmakhlouf rethinks what it is to be human with Montaigne


“The Humanity of Others”, by Ali Benmakhlouf, Albin Michel, 240 p., €21.90, digital €15.

Ali Benmakhlouf offers a rich reading of Montaigne (1533-1592) in The Humanity of Othersbringing out what makes the author Trials both a 16th century philosophere century and a very contemporary thinker. A useful reference for rethinking the idea of ​​humanity while Western humanism is strongly criticized for its colonial and slavery history. “Reading it today makes it easier to hear those crying out for justice that ‘Black Lives Matter’ »says the Moroccan philosopher, director of the Center for African Studies at the Mohammed-VI-Polytechnic University (Morocco).

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Retracing the future of Western humanism from Pic de La Mirandole to Sartre, via Ibn Tufayl, an Andalusian author of the 12the century, it shows to what extent European philosophy is plural. Admittedly, there is a whole tradition which has thought of the primacy of Western man over populations qualified as “savages” or “primitives”.. Even Claude Lévi-Strauss is part of it, who called for an end to this “narrow humanism” confusing a given civilization with “the” civilization, without however succeeding, according to Benmakhlouf, in getting rid of a position of overhang vis-à-vis the societies he studied.

But we can discern another humanist tradition, carried by authors as diverse as Shakespeare, Aimé Césaire or the British anthropologist Jack Goody (The Flight of History, Gallimard, 2010). A tradition for which savagery is rather on the side of the colonizer than of the colonized. In Storm (1611), Shakespeare also takes up an entire passage from Trialsdefending the humanity of “Cannibals”. Thus Ali Benmakhlouf underlines the important role played by Montaigne within all this critical current which invites the European man to come down from his pedestal and to no longer consider himself, wrote Montaigne, “master and emperor of the rest of the creatures”but at “to live among the living” and among all mankind.

Duties of justice, benevolence and kindness

This would be the lesson of Trials : to defend the unity of the human race while refusing its uniformity, “denounced as deadly”, notes Ali Benmakhlouf. What, for Montaigne, founds humanity is a duty of universal justice towards humans and a duty of benevolence and kindness towards the rest of the living. He perceives more what connects humans to nature than what dissociates them from it. So much so that, he says, “culture imitates nature, rather than separating from it”.

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