La Boétie and republican liberty: Voluntary servitude and non-domination

Newman, Saul. 2022. La Boétie and republican liberty: Voluntary servitude and non-domination. European Journal of Political Theory, 21(1), pp. 134-154. ISSN 1474-8851 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The sixteenth century French humanist writer Etienne de La Boétie has not often been considered in literature on republican political thought, despite his famous essay, Discours de la Servitude Volontaire, displaying a number of clear republican tropes and themes, being largely concerned with the problem of arbitrary power embodied the figure of the tyrant. Yet, I argue that the real significance of La Boétie’s text is in his radical concept of voluntary servitude and the way it adds a new dimension to the neo-republican theory of liberty as non-domination. The problem of self-domination or wilful obedience to authority is a form of ideological domination that Pettit’s understanding of arbitrary power relationships between agents does not adequately account for. Furthermore, La Boétie shows that freedom is an ontological condition and is realised not – or not entirely - through the rule of law as the guarantee against arbitrariness, as neo-republicans advocate, but rather through acts of self-emancipation and civil disobedience. Here I understand La Boétie’s thinking in terms of a certain anarcho-republicanism in which the promotion of freedom depends not so much on institutions, as Pettit suggests, but rather on autonomous relations of friendship, love and solidarity between individuals.

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La Boetie, Republicanism, Non-domination, Liberty, Voluntary servitude, anarcho-republicanism

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22 June 2019Accepted
12 August 2019Published Online
January 2022Published

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Date Deposited:

26 Jul 2019 09:59

Last Modified:

01 Mar 2022 04:02

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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