Friday, January 07, 2005

Éttiene de la Boétie & The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
by Éttiene de la Boétie
There is an excellent article on Éttiene de la Boétie with an overview of The Discourse here:

The complete text of The Discourse can be found here:

There is an excellent analysis by the economist Murray Rothbard here:

What is so remarkable is that La Boétie wrote The Discourse in 1552 or 1553 - four-hundred-and-forty years ago! It is interesting that modern tyrants use the same formula today to subjugate and dominate us today. Here are the main elements of the La Boétie analysis on Voluntary Servitude as summarized in a monograph by Frederick Mann:

  • The only power tyrants have is the power relinquished to them by their victims.
  • The tyrant is often a weak little man. He has no special qualities that set him apart from anyone else - yet the gullible idolize him.
  • The victims bring about their own subjection - the "win their enslavement."
  • If without violence the tyrant is simply not obeyed, he becomes "naked and undone and as nothing."
  • Once you resolve to serve no more, you are free.
  • We are all born free and naturally free.
  • Grown-up adults should adopt reason as their guide and never become slaves of anybody.
  • People can be enslaved through either force or deception.
  • When people lose their freedom through deceipt, it is because they mislead themselves.
  • People born into slavery regard it as a natural condition.
  • In general, people are shaped more by their environment than by their natural capacities - if they allow it.
  • Habit and custom are powerful forces that keep people enslaved.
  • There are always some people who cannot be tamed, subjected, or enslaved. Even if freedom were to be entirely extinguished, these people would re-invent it.
  • Lovers of freedom tend to be ineffective because they are not known to one another.
  • People who lose their freedom also lose their valor (strength of mind, bravery).
  • Among free people there is competition to do good for humanity.
  • People seem to be most gullible towards those who deliberately set out to fool them. It is as if people have a need to be deceived.
  • Tyrants stupefy their victims with "pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes."
  • Tyrants parade like "workers of magic."
  • Tyrants can only give back part of what they first took from their victims.
  • Tyrants attain their positions through: (a) Force; (b) Birth; or (c) Election.
  • Tyrants create a power structure, consisting of a multi-layered hierarchy, staffed by a conspiracy of accomplices. Accomplices receive their positions as a favor from the tyrant.
    The worst dregs of society gather around the tyrant - they are people of weak character who trade servility for unearned wealth.
  • Accomplices can profit greatly from their positions in the hierarchy.
  • If people withdraw their support, the tyrant topples over from his own corrupted weight.