Speech on Voluntary Servitude , Étienne de la Boetie .
… in the light of reflection, it is an extreme misfortune to be subjected to a master, of whose goodness one can never be sure and that he possesses the power to be cruel whenever you want. As for obedience to several masters, this extreme misfortune will multiply as many times as there are masters. … I would only like to understand how it can be that so many men, cities and nations sometimes support a single tyrant who has no more power than what they give him, who can only harm them because they endure it, who could not do them any harm if he did not He would rather suffer than contradict him. It is something truly surprising, although it is so common that it is more possible to groan than to be amazed, to see a million men miserably enslaved, with their heads under the yoke, not because they are subjected by a greater force but because they have been fascinated, bewitched, we could say, for the name of only one, whom they should not fear, since he is only one, nor love, since he is inhuman and cruel to them.
… How to name this misfortune? What is this vice, this horrible vice, by which an infinite number of men not only obey, but serve, are not only governed, but tyrannized, so that neither their property, nor their relatives, nor their relatives belong to them. children or his life itself? They are seen to suffer the robberies, the arbitrariness and the cruelties that are inflicted on them, not by an army or by a barbarian bandit against which each one should defend his blood and his life, but by a single man! Span >
… It is therefore the peoples who let themselves, or, rather, make themselves mistreated, since to get rid of it it would be enough for them to stop serving. It is the people who enslave and slaughter themselves; who, being able to choose between being subject or being free, rejects freedom and admits the yoke; He who consents to his own evil, or, rather, seeks it … If regaining his freedom cost him something, I would not urge him to do so. Although the first thing he should have on his heart is to regain his natural rights and, so to speak, stop being a beast and become a man again, I do not expect such audacity from him. I admit that he prefers the security of living miserably than a dubious hope of living his way. Now, if to have freedom it is enough to desire it and with a simple wanting it, will there be a nation in the world that believes that it pays too expensive if it acquires it with a simple desire? Who would regret having the will to recover a good that should be rescued even paying blood for it, a good whose loss makes life bitter for every man of honor and death a benefit? It is true that, just as the fire of a small spark grows and strengthens, becoming more devouring the more wood it finds to burn, but in the end it is consumed and ends up extinguishing by itself in mind it ceases to be fed, also the tyrants how much The more they steal, the more they demand, and the more they ruin and destroy, the more servitude they get. They become so much stronger, so much more brazen and ready to ravage and destroy everything. But if they are not given anything, if they are not obeyed, even if they are not fought or struck, they are left naked and defeated. They are nothing anymore, as the branch dries up and dies when its root runs out of juice and food.In order to acquire the good to which he aspires, the audacious man does not fear any danger and the prudent man is not discouraged by any fatigue. The cowards and lethargic are the only ones who do not know how to bear the evil or recover the good that they simply covet. The energy to claim such good is taken from them by their own cowardice and they are left with only the natural desire to possess it. This desire, that will common to the wise and the reckless, the courageous and the cowardly, makes them desire all the things whose possession would make them happier and more content. There is only one thing for which men, I do not know why, do not have the necessary strength to desire it: freedom, so great and sweet! Once freedom is lost, all evils come one after another, and without it all other goods, corrupted by servitude, lose all their taste and flavor. It seems that men only disdain freedom because, if they wanted it, they would have it; it gives the impression that they refuse to attain such a precious acquisition because it is too easy to obtain. Poor wretched people, foolish peoples, nations that accommodate your evil and blind yourself to your good! You let the most beautiful and luminous part of your income be snatched before your eyes, you let them plunder your fields and steal and strip your houses of the old furniture bequeathed by your ancestors. As you live, you no longer have anything of yours. It seems that you would be happy if only half of your assets, of your families, of your lives were left at your disposal. And such ravages, such misfortunes and such ruin do not come to you from the hand of your enemies, but from the enemy, from the one whom you have made what he is, the one for whom you bravely march to war and by whose greatness you do not refuse to throw us in the arms of death. And yet this master only has two eyes, two hands, a body, nothing that the last of the inhabitants of our cities does not have. He only has more than what you give him to destroy you. Where do you get all those eyes that spy on you, if not yourselves? How would I have all those hands that hit you, if I did not borrow them from you? The feet with which he tramples your cities, are they not yours? What power does it have over you except yourselves? How would he dare to attack you if it weren’t for the fact that he does so in agreement with you? What harm could it do to you if you were not the cover-ups for the thief who robs you, the accomplices of the murderer who kills you, the traitors of yourselves? You sow your fields so that he devastates them, you furnish and prepare your house to provide for his plunder, you educate your daughters to deliver them to his lust, you feed your sons so that, in the best of cases, he turns them into soldiers, so that lead them to war and slaughter, to make them ministers of their greed and executors of their vengeance. You get used to grief so that he can treat himself to all his delights and recline in his dirty pleasures. You weaken yourself so that he is stronger and can hold you by the bridle more roughly. So many and so many indignities that the beasts themselves would refuse to bear if they felt them, and from which you could free yourself if you tried, not to achieve your liberation, but only to want it. Resolve not to serve and you will be free. I am not asking you to push him and make him stagger, just not to support him. Then you would see how a great colossus, whose base has been broken, collapses under its own weight and is destroyed.
… It is not my intention to say that the country and the soil decide everything, since in any place slavery is bitter to men and freedom is dear to them. But it seems to me that mercy should be felt towards those who are already under the yoke at birth, and that they should be forgiven if, having never seen a shadow of freedom or heard of it, they do not feel the misfortune. of being slaves.
… The zeal and passion of those who, despite the circumstances, have remained devoted to freedom, remain habitually incapable of causing effects, whatever their number, because they cannot make themselves heard. Tyrants take away all freedom of action, expression and even thought, so they are isolated in their dreams. … Anyone who wants to remember past times and review the old annals will be convinced that almost all those who, seeing their country mistreated and in the wrong hands, forged the purpose of liberating it with a good, upright and determined intention, easily achieved their goal : to be able to manifest herself, freedom always came to her aid.
… Everything that I have said so far about the means used by tyrants to impose servitude is only exercised on ignorant people. Thus he reached a point that is, in my opinion, the spring and secret of domination, the support and foundation of all tyranny. Whoever thinks that halberds, guards and watchers are sufficient protection for tyrants would be very wrong. Rather, they use them as a form and as a scarecrow, but without trusting themselves to their mere protection. … Those who defend a tyrant are not the men of cavalry or infantry, nor the weapons, but four or five men who support him and subdue the whole country before him. It may be hard to believe, but it is the exact truth. It has always been this way: five or six men to whom the tyrant listens, who came to him of their own free will or because he has called them, to be the accomplices of his cruelties, the companions of his pleasures, the ruffians of his voluptuousness and the beneficiaries of their plunder. Those half a dozen men mold their boss so well that his evil towards society is no longer only his own, but also that of his own. Those six men have six hundred underneath, whom they corrupt just as they corrupted the tyrant. And of those six hundred depend six thousand, to those who promote, granting them the government of the provinces or the management of money to have them trapped by their greed or cruelty, so that they exercise them by delegation and do so much harm that they cannot remain in the shade and that only thanks to their protection can they escape the laws and punishment. Great is also the number of those who follow them. Whoever wants to wind the ball will see that there are not six thousand, but one hundred thousand or even millions, who support the tyrant by means of this uninterrupted chain that binds and binds them to him. … In short, the benefits and favors received from the tyrant bring it to a point where there are almost as many people who are benefited by tyranny as there are people who would enjoy freedom.
… When I think of those people who flatter the tyrant to take advantage of his tyranny and the servitude of the people, I feel almost as surprised by their wickedness as I feel sorry for their stupidity. Well, to tell the truth, to approach the tyrant is to move away from his own freedom and to embrace and greet his own servitude. If they put their ambition aside for a moment, if they distanced themselves somewhat from their greed, and then looked at each other and took themselves into consideration, they would clearly see that those villagers, those peasants whom they trample and whom they treat as forced or slaves, are , despite being so mistreated, happier than them and, in some way, freer. The farmer and the craftsman, however overwhelmed they may be, go unnoticed if they obey; but the tyrant sees how those around him beg for his favor. It is not enough that they carry out his orders, but it also requires that they think what he wants them to think and, often, that, to satisfy him, they anticipate his wishes. It is not enough to obey him, you have to please him. They must break up, torment themselves, kill each other for the sake of their own interests, and since they must find pleasure only in his pleasure, they must sacrifice their tastes to his, strain their temper, and divest themselves of their nature. They must be attentive to his words, to his voice, to his gaze, to his gestures, while their own eyes, feet, and hands must be continually devoted to inquiring into the wishes and divining the thoughts of the tyrant. Is that living happy? Is it even living? There is nothing more unbearable in the world, not only for every brave man, but for anyone who has common sense or mere human appearance. What condition could be more miserable than living in this way, without anything of your own and making your comfort, freedom, body and life available to others? But they want to serve to amass wealth. As if they could earn anything that is theirs, when they cannot even say that they are their own! As if someone could have something truly theirs under a tyrant, they pretend to become possessors of wealth, forgetting that they themselves give the tyrant the strength to snatch everything from everyone, leaving nothing to anyone that can be said to belong to them. Yet they can see that precisely such riches make men dependent on the cruelty of the tyrant; that for this there is no crime more worthy of death than the benefit of another; who only loves wealth and does not hesitate to attack the rich. These, despite everything, appear before him like lambs before the slaughterer, fed up and fattened as if they wanted to make him envious. They should not remember so much about those who have gained a lot from the tyrants and they should remember more about those who, having been able to fill themselves up for some time, have ended up shortly after losing all their property and even their lives. They should think less of the great number of those who have thus acquired wealth and they should think more of the small number of those who have been able to keep it. If we review all the ancient stories and if we recall all those that we remember, we will see how numerous are those who, having come to influence the princes with bad arts, flattering their bad tendencies or abusing their naivety, were finally crushed by those same princes, that they pawned as much ease when it came to raising them as inconstancy when it came to defending them. Among those who have been close to the bad kings, there are few, almost none, who have not finally suffered the same cruelty from the tyrant that they had stoked against others. Often, those who, in the shadow of the tyrant’s favor, had enriched themselves with the spoils taken from others, ended up enriching the tyrant with their own spoils.
… Friendship is a sacred word, something holy. It only exists between good people. It is born of mutual esteem and is maintained much more by honesty than by the advantages obtained with it. A friend is sure of another because he knows his integrity and has as a guarantee his good nature, his loyalty, his perseverance. Where there is cruelty, disloyalty and injustice, there can be no friendship. If the wicked come together, what is formed is a plot, not a society. They do not love each other, but they fear each other. They are not friends, but accomplices. Even if this were not the case, it would be difficult to find a secure love in a tyrant, since, being above all, without anyone being his peer, he is beyond the limits of friendship, since friendship flourishes in the equality, in which it goes to the beat. For that reason, because they are all peers and companions, there is a kind of good faith between the thieves when they distribute the loot. If they don’t love each other, at least they fear each other. They don’t want to weaken their strength by stopping. But the favorites of a tyrant can never count on him, because they themselves have taught him that he is omnipotent, that no right or duty compels him, that he does not have to give more reason than his will, that no one is equal to him and that he is the master of all. Isn’t it deplorable that, despite so many striking examples and bearing the danger so present, no one wants to learn the lessons of the miseries of others and that so many people still voluntarily approach the tyrant? That there is not one who has the prudence and the courage to say to him, like the fox in the fable to the lion who pretended to be sick, “I would gladly go to visit you in your den, but I see many tracks of the animals that enter her, but none of the ones that come out? ” These wretches see the tyrant’s treasures shine; they admire, surprised, the flashes of its magnificence. Attracted by its radiance, they approach without realizing that they are approaching a flame that will devour them, like the reckless satyr of the fable, who, seeing the fire stolen by Prometheus shine, seemed so beautiful that he went to kiss it and it burned. Thus, the butterfly that, hoping to enjoy some pleasure, throws itself against the bright fire, soon experiences that it also has the power to burn, as Lucan said. When these valid ones manage to escape from the hands of the one they serve, they will not be saved from those of their successor. Well, if it is good, they will have to give an account and submit to reason, and if it is bad, like its predecessor, it will have its own favorites who, usually, will not be content with taking away its position, but will also want to take away its goods and its lifetime. How is it then that there is someone who, faced with such danger and with so few guarantees, wants to occupy such a dangerous position and serve such a dangerous master with so much suffering? What a shame, what a martyrdom, my God! Spending day and night pleasing a man and distrusting him more than anyone else. Always be vigilant, with your ears wide open, trying to know where the blow will come from, to discover ambushes, to scrutinize the faces of the competitors and guess where the traitor is. Smile at each one and distrust everyone, not having an openly proclaimed enemy or a safe friend. Always show a smiling face, even if the heart is frozen. Not being able to be happy or being able to dare to be sad. It is funny to consider what they get in exchange for that great torment, that fatigue and their miserable life: the people do not accuse the tyrant of the evils they suffer, but them, who govern them. People, nations, all stubbornly know their names and narrate their vices, including peasants and peasants. They accumulate outrages, insults and oaths on them. All prayers and curses are directed against them. All the misfortunes, plagues and famines are attributed to them. And if you sometimes pretend to pay homage to them, at the same time you curse them from the bottom of your heart and you have more horror than wild beasts. That is the honor and glory that, for their services, they collect among people who would not be satisfied or half consoled by their suffering if each one could have a piece of their body. Even after their death, the name of these “swallow towns” will be obscured by the ink of a thousand pens and their reputations torn into a thousand books. Even their bones are thrown into the mud for all posterity, as if they wanted to be punished after their death for their evil life. So let’s learn to act well. Let us lift our eyes to heaven for our honor or for honor of the truth.
Étienne de La Boétie, Speech by voluntary servitude, 1576.