Étienne de La Boétie

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Étienne de La Boétie (modern French pronunciation: Error using {{IPA symbol}}: "etjɛn də la bwaˈti, bɔeˈti" not found in list[1]; November 1 1530August 18 1563) was a French judge, writer, political philosopher and friend of Montaigne, author of the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (Discours de la servitude volontaire).

Life

Born in Sarlat, Dordogne, he served with Montaigne in the Bordeaux parlement and is immortalized in Montaigne's essay on friendship. La Boétie’s writings include a few sonnets, translations from the classics, and an essay attacking absolute monarchy and tyranny in general, Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr'un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator).

The essay asserts that tyrants have power because the people give it to them. Liberty has been abandoned once by society, which afterward stayed corrupted and prefers the slavery of the courtesan to the freedom of one who refuses to dominate as he refuses to obey. Thus, 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.

It was once thought, following Montaigne's claims, that La Boétie wrote the essay in 1549 at the age of eighteen but recent authorities argue that it is "likely that the Discourse was written in 1552 or 1553, at the age of twenty-two, while La Boétie was at the university."[2] The essay was circulated privately and not published until 1576 after La Boétie's death. He died at Germignan near Bordeaux in 1563. His last days are described in a long letter from Montaigne to his own father.

References

  1. ^ Paul Bonnefon, Œuvres complètes d'Estienne de La Boétie (Bordeaux: C. Gounouilhou, and Paris: J. Rouam et Cie., 1892), pp. 385-6 (available online in pdf format at Gallica).
  2. ^ Ibid., p. 38 n. 2. "Having remained long in manuscript, the actual date of writing the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude remains a matter of dispute. It seems clear, however, and has been so accepted by recent authorities, that Montaigne's published story that La Boétie wrote the Discourse at the age of eighteen or even of sixteen was incorrect. Montaigne's statement, as we shall see further below, was probably part of his later campaign to guard his dead friend's reputation by dissociating him from the revolutionary Huguenots who were claiming La Boétie's pamphlet for their own. Extreme youth tended to cast the Discourse in the light of a work so youthful that the radical content was hardly to be taken seriously as the views of the author. Internal evidence as well as the erudition expressed in the work make it likely that the Discourse was written in 1552 or 1553, at the age of twenty-two, while La Boétie was at the university. See Bonnefon, op. cit., pp. 390-1; and Donald Frame, Montaigne: A Biography (New York: Harcourt Brace, & World, 1965), p. 71" (37-38 n. 2).

Bibliography

  • Œuvres complètes, Editions William Blake & Co., 1991. ISBN 2-905810602
  • Discours de la servitude volontaire, Editions Mille et une nuits, 1997. ISBN 2-910233944
  • Discours de la servitude volontaire, Editions Flammarion, 1993. ISBN 2-080703943
  • The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, translated by Harry Kurz and with an introduction by Murray Rothbard, Montrèal/New York/London: Black Rose Books, 1997. ISBN 1-55164-089-0
  • The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, translated by Harry Kurz and with an introduction by Murray Rothbard, Free Life Editions, 1975. ISBN 0-914156-11-X

Secondary sources

  • Keohane, Nannerl O. ‘The Radical Humanism of Étienne de la Boétie’, Journal of the History of Ideas. 38:119-130, 1977.
  • Lablénie, Edmond. ‘L’Énigme de la “Servitude Volontaire”’, Revue du seizième siècle. 17:203-227, 1930. [French]
  • Podoksik, Efraim. ‘Estienne de La Boëtie and the Politics of Obedience’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance. LXV(1): 83-95, 2003.

External links