“Dialogics” is in fact a modern name for a very old narrative practice, but Montaigne was, I think, the first to deploy it with a certain cunning: narrating in bits and pieces will suppress readerly aggression. For Montaigne, this was the point of dialogics – looking at things in the round to see the many sides of any issue or practice, the shifting focus making people cooler and more objective in their reactions. Montaigne was the philosopher par excellence of modesty, particularly the self-restraint that helps people to engage with others. Modesty encapsulates Montaigne’s idea of civility.
Montaigne thinks empathy rather than sympathy is the cardinal social virtue. In the record he kept of life on his small country estate, he constantly compares his habits and tastes with those of his neighbours and workers. Of course he is interested in the similarities, but he takes particular note of their peculiarities: to get along together, all will have to attend to mutual differences and dissonances. Taking an interest in others, on their own terms, is perhaps the most radical aspect of Montaigne’s writing. His was an age of hierarchy, in which inequalities of rank seemed to separate seigneurs and servants into separate species, and Montaigne is not free of this attitude; nonetheless, he is curious.