John Patrick Diggins, 1935-2009

Diggins1Paul Berman in TNR:

The death of my friend Jack Diggins has led me to look up my edition of Montaigne in search of the essay on friendship, and I am amazed to see what is there. The essay catalogues and describes the various types of intimate relationships that Montaigne notices in the old Greek and Roman authors–sexual relationships between men and women, and between men and boys; the family relationships of parents and children, and between siblings; the relationship of marriage. And among those several kinds of intimacy, friendship looms in Montaigne's eyes as the purest and best. He means friendship between two equals–or rather, between equal men, since Montaigne for some reason imagines that women are incapable of forming a proper friendship.

He makes a number of acute and touching observations about friendship. But what strikes me is that, in selecting an example of friendship at its finest, he has chosen his own friendship with Étienne de la Boétie, who was the author of a famous treatise on politics. La Boétie's treatise is called Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. It presents the case for liberty and against tyranny. And it proposes an immortal observation — namely, that tyranny depends on ordinary people agreeing to submit. This observation has sufficed to keep la Boétie's treatise in print during the last 450 years. Montaigne's essay on friendship turns out to be, in short, a reflection on a very specific kind of friendship–a friendship between intellectuals: in this case, between a literary man and a political philosopher.