Subjugating Ourselves

The title of a post on The Freeman blog by Sheldon Richman in which he refers to The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, by the sixteenth-century French poet, judge, and political philosopher Étienne de La Boétie.

Richman points out that La Boétie was establishing the undeniable but overlooked truth that in any political system the ruled vastly outnumber the rulers and that force need not be the key to maintaining despotism because the subjects always hold the potential to overwhelm the prince and that actually, they need not do anything except stop acquiescing. He also raises the point that those who believe in representative democracy put much weight on the claim that the people rule themselves but that that doesn’t withstand close examination, while posing the question can anyone ask himself how casting one vote out of hundreds of thousands or millions every two, four, and six years could possibly count as self-rule. As Richman also asks, which self are we talking about here?

La Boétie’s paper, though long is well worth setting aside the time to read – as is Richman’s article.


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