From Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer:
Crowds of rebels assembled to protest, and for five days from August 17 to August 22, 1548, mobs roamed the streets setting fire to tax collectors’ houses. Some attacked the homes of anyone who looked rich, until the disorder threatened to turn into a general peasant uprising. A few tax collectors were killed. Their bodies were dragged through the streets and covered in heaps of salt to underline the point. In one of the worst incidents, Tristan de Moneins, the town’s lieutenant-general and governor—thus the king’s official representative—was lynched. He had shut himself up in the city’s massive royal citadel, the Château Trompette, but a crowd gathered outside and howled for him to come out. Perhaps thinking to earn their respect by facing up to them, he ventured forth, but it was a mistake. They beat him to death.
Then fifteen, Montaigne was out in the streets, for the Collège had suspended classes during the violence. He witnessed the killing of Moneins, a scene he never forgot. It raised in his mind, perhaps for the first time, a question that would haunt the entire Essays in varying guises: whether it was better to win an enemy’s respect by an open display of defiance, or to throw yourself on his mercy and hope to win him over by submission or an appeal to his better self.
In this case Montaigne thought Moneins had failed because he was not sure what he was trying to do. Having decided to brave the crowd, he then lost his confidence and behaved with deference, sending mixed messages. He also underestimated the distorted psychology of a mob. Once worked up into a frenzy, it can only be either soothed or suppressed; it cannot be expected to show ordinary human sympathy. Moneins seemed not to know this. He expected the same fellow-feeling as he would from an individual.
On a related note, the Tocqueville effect. Anyway, I’ve been reminded of this each time I see another public figure in what looks like a hostage video, emotionally confessing their own complicity in systemic injustice, promising to do better now that they’ve seen the light. Oh, you poor fools. Do you think rolling over and showing your belly is going to save you? You think your progressive merit badges have ever meant anything to the kind of people you’re trying to placate? And hey, you people over there who think you can just quietly go about your life minding your own business! You people who think you’ll be left alone to keep talking about classic literature or posting pictures of food on social media! Don’t think we haven’t seen you wallowing in your quietist privilege like the reactionary pigs you are. CBS News would like to inform you that unforgiving eyes are upon you. Receipts will be collected; scores will be settled. But I’m sure if you keep feeding steaks to that tiger, he’ll magically become a vegetarian.