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The Politics of Obedience

By: Etienne de la Botie
Narrated by: Bootsy Greenwood
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In this seminal work of political philosophy, Boétie asks one of the most obvious questions of political theory: Why is it that a minority of rulers can remain in power over a majority of subjects who pay all the taxes? 

The answer might be quite surprising to us all. The conclusion is that the people tend to enslave themselves, to let themselves be governed by tyrants. 

Liberty is the natural condition of the people. Servitude, however, is fostered when people are raised in subjection. People are trained to adore rulers. While freedom is forgotten by many, there are always some who will never submit. 

What is the answer, then? 

The author brilliantly and obviously outlines these points in the minutes that follow in a way that is illuminating and also simple. It is we who enslave ourselves at the beck and call of "authority". Enjoy this classic work that roots sovereignty into philosophy and demonstrates how simply the tides can change. 

A note by the translator:

La Boétie's essay against dictators makes stirring listening. 

A clear analysis of how tyrants get power and maintain it, its simple assumption is that real power always lies in the hands of the people and that they can free themselves from a despot by an act of will unaccompanied by any gesture of violence. The astounding fact about this tract is that in 1948 it will be 400 years old. 

One would seek hard to find any writing of current times that strips the sham from dictators more vigorously. Better than many modern political thinkers, its author not only reveals the contemptible nature of dictatorships, but he goes on to show, as is aptly stated by the exiled Borgese, "that all servitude is voluntary and the slave is more despicable than the tyrant is hateful". No outraged cry from the past or present points the moral more clearly that Rome was worthy of her Nero, and by inference, Europe of her present little strutters and the agony in which they have engulfed their world. 

So appropriate to our day is this courageous essay that one's amazement is aroused by the fact that a youth of 18 really wrote it four centuries ago, with such far-sighted wisdom that his words can resound today as an ever-echoing demand for what is still dearest to mankind. 

(Harry Burz, 1942)

©1942 Columbia University Press (P)2022 Owen Hunt

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