Voluntary Servitude – Étienne de La Boétie

by Rod Dunne on April 9, 2012

in Blog, Writing

Few have heard of Étienne but his essay/discourse on voluntary servitude has been a call to arms for centuries.

He was the Anonymous of the 1550’s… so to speak. His essay puts forward how leaders and tyrants are only in power because we voluntarily put them up there, and then do nothing to take them down.

Incendiary! Anarchic! Yes, all that and more (or whatever baggage/context you personally bring to the table).

Some teasers of my favorite sections:

Truly it is a marvelous thing that they let themselves be caught so quickly at the slightest tickling of their fancy. Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books.

The mob has always behaved in this way—eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted, and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured.

In this wise a foolish people itself invents lies and then believes them.

Still men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves, or as if anyone could possess under a tyrant a single thing in his own name. Yet they act as if their wealth really belonged to them, and forget that it is they themselves who give the ruler the power to deprive everybody of everything, leaving nothing that anyone can identify as belonging to somebody.

There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice. And in places where the wicked gather there is conspiracy only, not companionship: these have no affection for one another; *fear alone holds them together*; they are not friends, they are merely accomplices.

as the Tuscan poet reminds us, the moth, intent upon desire, seeks the flame because it shines, and also experiences its other quality, the burning.

Étienne wrote it when he was 19 in stark confusion at why civilians in France served their tryant leaders. Sadly few have read the book. I love the damn thing, have a recent republish of it and still see value in it today. Moreover I still see writers over the centuries rehashing the concepts Étienne more succinctly put… better to go straight to the source I say.

Its in 3 parts and for my money pt 2 & pt 3 is where it kicks off.

Author Rod Dunne...

Blog owner and writer Rod DunneI am the founder & sole writer on Squidinky.com. This is my personal blog detailing my creative writing. This includes novel writing (check out Terra Swarm, Erebus, and Soundings) and song writing.

Get Email Updates for Free

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: