A Discourse of Voluntary Servitude
Why in the world do people agree to be looted and otherwise oppressed by government overlords? It is not just fear. In this seminal treatise - The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude - Étienne de La Boétie explains how people willingly give their consent to be tyrannized. Yet, at the same time, that consent can be non-violently withdrawn.
La Boétie’s great contribution to political thought was written while he was a law student at the University of Orléans. The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude is a single percipient insight into the nature of, not only tyranny, but implicitly of the State apparatus itself. The essay was initially circulated in manuscript form and it was only clandestinely published in 1577. La Boétie argues in the Discurse, that any tyrant remains in power while his subjects grant him that, therefore delegitimizing every form of power. La Boétie linked together obedience and domination, a relationship which would be later theorised by latter anarchist thinkers. By advocating a solution of simply refusing to support the tyrant, he became one of the earliest advocates of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance.
The Discurse cuts to the heart of what is, or rather should be, the central problem of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience.
Étienne or Estienne de La Boétie (1 November 1530 – 18 August 1563) was a French judge, writer and ‘a founder of modern political philosophy in France’. La Boétie's writings include a few sonnets, translations from the classics and an essay attacking absolute monarchy and tyranny in general.