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Lecture 4

Lecture 4 - Etienne de la Boetie

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Political Science
Sophie Bourgault

Jan. 27, 2014 Etienne de la Boetie (1530-1563) Text on abusive rulers and very harsh critique of the rules. The text seeks to make us feel ashamed of ourselves – hyperbole and insults directed at the reader I. An attack on Kings? The ambiguity of the Contra’Un *The puzzle: voluntary servitude • La Boetie doesn’t like kings very much • His university was a place of dissent and protest – influence on his writing • Huguenots • Students were angry because the king was tyrannical and abusing power • First publication of his text organized and paid for by Huguenot radicals that wanted to decapitate the king • State should continue with persecution and Catholicism • Stop obeying tyrants • Tyrant – leader who obtained power in an illegitimate way and rules selfishly • He wants to use this to score points against kings • When he uses the word tyrants, he wants you to think of kings • Will not deal with the question of best regime – so he doesn’t lose his head • The ambiguity of the Contra’Un (against 1) • 1 man rule makes no sense – truth and reason speak against it • Even a good master will eventually become abusive • The problem at the base of politics is always rulers – anarchic text? • The ruled, the slaves – why do we accept to be bossed around and enslaved? Accept to suffer from the rule of a single man? Obey tyrants? • Premise: people make the decision to submit to servitude (obedience entails consent) • He wants to shock his readers – be disturbed by the fact that a million people are willingly obeying 1 single human being abusing their power • 1 man-rule is not natural (it’s artificial) • Goal: Denaturalize the regime and the institutions many people take for granted • Tone change around page 8 – cursing at the reader • Rulers tend to be cowards • Non-violent response – just stop obeying – avoid tyranny by withdrawing consent • 2 claims – 1) liberty is never truly taken away from us – it’s we who give it away • 2) Servitude is a completely unacceptable phenomenon, and a puzzling one. Figure out why this phenomenon occurs so frequently. • Question p. 6 – could all this just be the consequence of fear? NO. The cause of our servitude cannot be fear – we are more numerous. It must have more to do with a generalized indifference of a weak to inexistent desire for freedom. • Is the desire for freedom natural, or not? • P. 10 – nature – for La Boetie, what is natural is necessarily good. • Nature made us all in the same mold – we are companions/brothers – nature made us equal so that we could recognize/know one another (natural equality) • We are not all identical – people have certain strengths. But nature set up us thus so that we could help each other. • Nature has made us free (servitude is not natural or good) II. Liberty: national? (3 arguments/proofs) • P. 10-13 – 1) Greatest gift we were given by nature – this ability to live together as companions – SPEECH – allows us to communicate, share our thoughts, get to know one another, achieve a communion of our wills (political animals). It can’t be that one is meant to rule and the majority of people are meant to serve. • 2) The behavior of animals – the way they die soon after capture, how unhappy they are when you put them in a cage. Demonstrates how confinement is not natural. Rational beings (man) are the same. We are by nature equipped with the urge t
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