In 1552 – 53, Étienne de La Boétie wrote “The politics of obedience: The discourse of voluntary servitude”
Today, it is still a very relevant read, as tyranny – in various disguises – is alive and well. Unfortunately, so is servitude.
Here are some highlights from Étienne de La Boétie’s great essay:
“How can it happen that so many men sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they gave him?”
“What degradation is it to see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over?”
“If a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage, but the desire to rise against him and that such attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice?”
“There is no need for fighting to overcome the single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated, if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement.”
“A people enslaves itself, when having a choice between vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or rather apparently welcomes it.”
“To achieve the good that they desire, the bold do not fear danger; the intelligent do not refuse to undergo suffering. It is the stupid and cowardly, who are neither able to endure hardship nor to vindicate their rights.”
“I do not know how it happens that nature fails to place within the hearts of men a burning desire for liberty.”
“Poor, wretched and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good. You let yourselves be deprived before your very own eyes of the best part of your revenues.”
“He who domineers over you ….. has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you.”
“Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves?”
“What could he do to you, if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves?”
“You weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to keep you in check.”
“Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer.”
“It is said that Mithridates trained himself to drink poison. Like him, we learn to swallow, and not to find bitter, the venom of servitude.”
“Liberty once lost, valor also perishes.”
“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 freedom, the instruments of tyranny.”
“The fools did not realize that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without first having taken it from them.”
“It has always happened that tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have made every effort to train their people not only in obedience and servility, but also in adoration.”
“When the point is reached, through big favors or little ones, that large profits or small are obtained under a tyrant, there are found almost as many people to whom tyranny seems advantageous as those to whom liberty would seem desirable.”
As I said, tyranny comes in various disguises nowadays. Tyrants are not necessarily individuals. Think about it!
In 1784, Immanuel Kant wrote the very important essay “What is Enlightenment?”
According to Kant, enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is defined as the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind remains minors all their lives and they are also the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians.
Sapere aude: Dare to know, have the courage to use your own understanding.
Immanuel Kant’s proclamation is as important today as it was back in 1784, may be even more so.
Time for a new enlightenment!
- “We’ve always done things this way.”
- “We’ve always used/bought this.”
- “We’ve always thought this way.”
- “Always” is of course a lie, what we actually mean is “for as long as we choose to remember”.
- Nevertheless, we’ve become attached to what’s “always” been around and find it difficult to let go.
- “We’ve always liked this”, i.e. we’ve been conditioned to accept and defend the status quo.
Classic, wonderful TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson.
Questions are important, just make sure to ask the right ones!