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Sixteenth century French judge and poet, author of Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
Étienne de La Boétie

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". He is best remembered as the great and close friend of the eminent essayist Michel de Montaigne "in one of history's most notable friendships".


La Boétie, Étienne de (1530-1563), by Sharon Presley, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay, focusing on the message of La Boétie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
Étienne de La Boétie was a French political theorist and author of the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. He received his law degree from the University of Orléans in 1553, and the heady atmosphere of free inquiry that persisted there provided an inspiring milieu for La Boétie ... The Discourse so impressed essayist Michel de Montaigne that he sought out La Boétie in 1559; they remained good friends until La Boétie's untimely death. Although La Boétie never penned another comparable political piece, he wrote poetry and was a distinguished judge and diplomatic negotiator.


1 Nov 1530, in Sarlat, France


18 Aug 1563, in Germignan, France


Etienne de La Boétie | "Soyez résolus de ne servir plus, et vous voilà libres"
Includes biography, bibliography, some related pictures and links to his works
Our two main objectives in creating these pages have been, first of all, to offer reliable information concerning La Boétie – his life and works. Secondly, it has been our wish to present this information in a way that is accessible to all persons that wish to learn more about the man and his writings.

Web Pages

Étienne de La Boétie |
Includes links and short summaries to essays about La Boétie and an excerpt from Part I of the Harry Kurz translation of the "Discourse"
Étienne de La Boétie was a French jurist, poet, and political theorist who is best remembered as the subject of Michael de Montaigne's essay 'Of Friendship' and for his own essay 'The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.'
Etienne de la Boétie | Mises Institute
Includes biography, picture and, links to the text as well as audio recordings of La Boétie's "Discourse"
Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563) is one of the seminal political philosophers, not only as a founder of modern political philosophy in France but also for the timeless relevance of many of his theoretical insights.
Etienne de la Boétie - Online Library of Liberty
Includes portrait, links to two versions of the Discourse and the complete works in French
Estienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) was a friend of Montaigne and made a name for himself with his poetry and translations of ancient Greek authors. He is perhaps better known today for his essay 'Discourse of Voluntary Servitude' where he explores why the majority too often willingly capitulates to the demands of a tiny ruling minority.
Étienne de la Boétie | People | Foundation for Economic Education
Includes short profile, picture and link to the "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude"
Étienne de La Boétie (1530-1563) was a French judge, writer, and a founder of modern political philosophy in France. He is best remembered as the great and close friend of the eminent essayist Michel de Montaigne, in one of history's most notable friendships.


Étienne de La Boétie, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Apr 2003
Provides biographical background on La Boétie and begins examination of his "Discourse"
La Boétie (pronounced La Bwettie) was particularly interested in why people obey. He asked, "If a tyrant is one man and his subjects are many, why do they consent to their own enslavement?" He did not believe that the state ruled primarily through force ... La Boétie acquired his renown on the basis of one short essay that argued tyranny is "automatically defeated" when people refuse to consent to their own enslavement ... Born into an affluent and politically connected family, La Boétie escaped the illiteracy, misery, and disease that befell most of his countrymen.
Étienne de La Boétie, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, May 2003
Examines the major themes in La Boétie's "Discourse": custom (habit), control of information, buying off the people and withdrawal of consent
At the young age of 33, La Boétie died in the arms of his friend Montaigne, who was moved by the event to write his famous essay "On Friendship." ... [I]t is mainly through this essay that the larger world knows of ... La Boétie ... If La Boétie is right, ... then nature itself argues the logic of not cooperating with tyranny. There is something within man and beast that resists the tension of a leash. Rather than break the tension by attacking those who hold the reins, [he] told people to let the tension go slack. People should refuse either violence or submission. They should simply say No.
The People Say No to War, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 13 Sep 2013
Comments on how the American people, through calls and emails to Congress and opinion polls, stopped, at least momentarily, the Obama administration from going to war with Syria
Étienne de La Boétie, the ... political philosopher, pointed out what should be obvious: the ruled always outnumber their rulers. In ... The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, he asked,
how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! ...
The Political Thought of Étienne de La Boétie, by Murray N. Rothbard, 1975
Introduction to The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (Free Life Editions, 1975), translated by Harry Kurz; summarizes the key insights of La Boétie's work
Étienne de la Boétie was born in Sarlat, in the Périgord region of southwest France, in 1530, to an aristocratic family. His father was a royal official of the Périgord region, and his mother was the sister of the president of the Bordeaux Parlement (assembly of lawyers) ... La Boétie was ... the first theorist to move from the emphasis on the importance of consent to one on the strategic importance of toppling tyranny by leading the public to withdraw that consent. Hence, [he] was the first theorist of the strategy of mass, nonviolent civil disobedience of State edicts and exactions.
Socialism: Illegitimate, Not Just Inefficient, by Gary North, 15 May 2001
Discusses two aspects in the criticism of socialism: whether it is efficient compared to capitalism (according to the theory of value-free economics) and whether it is immoral (or contrary to human nature)
In a recent essay on the sixteenth-century author, Etienne de la Boetie, Robert Klassen highlights several passages from [La Boetie]'s book, ... Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. [La Boetie] believed that the State's use of redistributed wealth was the basis of its authority ... Men's acceptance of this moral claim has been the basis of their willingness to submit voluntarily to the State. [La Boetie] fully understood that if all men refused to cooperate with the State's agents except under threat of immediate violence, no civil ruler could enforce his claims beyond his immediate surroundings.
Subjugating Ourselves, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 7 May 2010
Examines key passages from La Boetie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude and criticizes newspaper editorial writers (with a recent example) for preaching to the people to acquiesce and submit to government
In The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, the sixteenth-century French poet, judge, and political philosopher Étienne de La Boétie ... was establishing the undeniable but overlooked truth that in any political system the ruled vastly outnumber the rulers. Brute force cannot be the key to maintaining despotism because the subjects always hold the potential to overwhelm the prince ... La Boétie wanted to know how the multitude is held in check by the ruling clique when they had it in their power to refuse. He concluded that habit has a lot to do with it ...
Why We Consent to Oppression, by Peter Breggin, Reason, Sep 1977
Examines the questions posed by La Boétie in his "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude" from a psychological perspective, particularly how childhood self-suppression leads most adults to more easily accept government oppression
"Why in the world do people consent to their own enslavement?" asks Murray Rothbard in his introduction to a new edition of Etienne [de] La Boetie's The Politics of Obedience. Rothbard is not posing a new question but is summing up La Boetie's dismay over the individual's willingness to submit to tyranny. La Boetie's classic was written more than four centuries ago, but the question it raises has seldom been answered to anyone's satisfaction. By focusing upon the cowardly failure of the individual, La Boetie shifts his political inquiry into the realm of psychology.

Books Authored

Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, 1576
Electronic text of the 1942 English translation by Harry Kurz available at the Online Library of Liberty, in HTML, PDF and Kindle formats
Oeuvres complètes d’Éstienne de la Boétie, 1892
Partial contents: Introduction - Discours de la Servitude volontaire - La Mesnagerie de Xénophon - Les règles de mariage de Plutarque - Lettre de consolation de Plutarque à sa femme - Lettres - Poemata - Vers françois - Vingt-neuf sonnets
The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude
    by Harry Kurz (translator), Étienne de La Boétie, Murray N. Rothbard (introduction), Mises Institute, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, 4 May 2015

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Étienne de La Boétie" as of 30 May 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.