Sixteenth century French judge and poet, author of Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
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  • 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, who wrote this essay there at the age of 21. 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."
    Related Topic: Nonviolent resistance


    1 Nov 1530, in Sarlat, France


    18 Aug 1563, in Germignan, France

    Web Sites

    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, Future of Freedom, 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?' La Boétie 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, Future of Freedom, May 2003
    Examines 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.' ... And it is mainly through this essay that the larger world knows of Étienne de 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, La Boétie told people to let the tension go slack. People should refuse either violence or submission. They should simply say No."
    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, Etiene de la Boetie, Robert Klassen highlights several passages from Etiene's book, The Politics of Servitude: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. Etiene 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. Etiene 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, 7 May 2010
    Examines key passages from La Boetie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude and criticises 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. Actually, they need not do anything except stop acquiescing."
    The Politics of Étienne de La Boétie, by Murray Rothbard, 1975
    Introduction to the 1975 edition of The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, translated by Harry Kurz; summarises the key insights of La Boétie's work
    "La Boétie was also 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, La Boétie was the first theorist of the strategy of mass, nonviolent civil disobedience of State edicts and exactions. ... In such an age as ours, thinkers like Étienne de La Boétie have become far more relevant, far more genuinely modern, than they have been for over a century."
    Why We Consent to Oppression: Self-suppression paves the way for political suppression, by Peter Breggin, Reason, Sep 1977
    Examines the questions posed by La Boétie in his "Discourse" 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 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 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.