Accueil > Essays > "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude" by Étienne de la Boétie (1548)

"Discourse on Voluntary Servitude" by Étienne de la Boétie (1548)

jeudi 6 octobre 2022, par Étienne de la Boétie

Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563) was a shooting star in the firmament of 16th-century France, a poet, jurist, essayist and philologist who graduated from the University of Orleans at the age of 22, was appointed court magistrate also at the age of 22 and became a member of Parliament the following year, two years before the legal minimum age, for which he was granted special dispensation by the King of France, Henry II.

He was appointed by the French crown as a member of the special committee to organize the peace conference at Poissy in 1561 between the antagonistic Catholic and Protestant camps – a conference whose failure led to the catastrophic Wars of Religion that devastated the country until the end of the century.

He died of tuberculosis tragically young at the age of thirty-two.

He wrote this extraordinarily powerful denunciation of personal power, this brilliant plea for liberty and individual freedom, this monument of western political philosophy [1] while still a student at the age of 18 (according to his beloved friend the philosopher Michel de Montaigne [2], although some scholars estimate that in view of its maturity it may have been written three of four years later).

(11,800 words)

It was first published posthumously in 1576 [3].

It has been translated here specially for this site [4].

An e-book is available for downloading below.


"It’s not good to have many masters ; let there be only one ;
let one be master, let one be King.

That’s what Odysseus said in public, according to Homer.
If he’d just said, “it’s not good to have many masters”, that would have been sufficient. But instead of deducing from that that the domination of many cannot be good, since the power of one, as soon as he assumes the title of master, is harsh and unreasonable, he adds on the contrary : "Let us have only one master..."
It’s perhaps necessary to excuse Ulysses for having used that language, which served him at the time to appease the revolt of the army : I believe that he was adapting his speech rather to the circumstances than to the truth. But on reflection it’s an extreme misfortune to be subject to a master whose goodness one can never be sure of and who always has the power to be wicked when he wishes. As for obeying several masters, it’s to be as many times extremely unhappy.
I don’t want to debate here the much discussed question of whether other kinds of republics are better than monarchy. If I had to debate it, before seeking to determine what rank monarchy should occupy among the various modes of governing public affairs I would ask whether it should even be granted any, since it’s difficult to believe that there’s anything public in this government where everything belongs to one person. But let us reserve for another time that question which would well deserve a separate treatment, and which would provoke all kinds of political disputes.
For the moment I would just like to understand how it’s possible that so many men, so many towns, so many cities, so many nations sometimes put up with a single tyrant who has no power except that which they give him, who has no power to harm them except insofar as they’re willing to endure it, and who could do them no harm if they didn’t prefer to suffer everything from him than to contradict him. It’s a truly astonishing thing – and yet so common that one should bemoan it rather than marvel at it – to see a million men miserably enslaved with their heads under the yoke, not because they’re compelled to do so by any great force but because they’re fascinated and, as it were, bewitched by the mere name of one whom they ought not to fear, since he’s alone, nor to love, since he’s inhuman and cruel to them all. Yet such is the weakness of men : compelled to obey, forced to temporise, they cannot always be the strongest. If, therefore, a nation, compelled by force of arms, is subjected to the power of one – as the city of Athens was to the rule of the thirty tyrants – we shouldn’t be surprised that it submits to servitude, but should rather deplore it. Or rather, neither be surprised nor bemoan it but bear the misfortune patiently and reserve ourselves for a better future.
We’re so made that the common duties of friendship absorb a good part of our lives. It’s reasonable to love virtue, to esteem good deeds, to be grateful for benefits received and to often sacrifice our own well-being to increase the honour and advantage of those whom we love and who deserve to be loved. If, then, the inhabitants of a country find among them one of those rare men who has given them proof of great foresight in safeguarding them, great boldness in defending them, great prudence in governing them ; if in time they become accustomed to obeying him and to trusting him to the point of granting him a certain supremacy, I don’t know whether it would be wise to remove him from where he used to do good and to place him where he can do harm, even if it seems natural to be kind to him who has done us good and to not be afraid of any harm from him.

But, O great God, what’s this ? What shall we call this misfortune ? What’s this vice, this horrible vice, of seeing an infinite number of men, not only obeying, but serving, not being governed, but being tyrannized, having neither goods, nor parents, nor children, nor their very lives to themselves ? To see them suffer the thievery, the bawdiness and the cruelties not of an army, not of a barbarian camp against which everyone should defend his blood and his life, but of one person ! Not of a Hercules or a Samson, but of a little man, often the most cowardly, the most effeminate of the nation, who’s never smelled the gunpowder of battle nor scarcely trodden the sands of tournaments, who’s not only unfit to command men, but also to satisfy the slightest woman ! Shall we call that cowardice ? Shall we call these submissive men vile and cowardly ? If two, if three, if four yield to one it’s strange, but nevertheless possible ; one could perhaps say with reason that it’s for lack of heart. But if a hundred, if a thousand suffer the oppression of one, will it be said that they don’t dare to attack him, or that they don’t want to, and that that’s not cowardice, but rather contempt or disdain !
Finally, if we see not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred countries, a thousand cities, a million men not assaulting the one who treats them all as serfs and slaves, what shall we call that ? Is it cowardice ? But all vices have limits that they cannot exceed. Two men, even ten, may well fear one ; but that a thousand, a million, a thousand cities don’t defend themselves against one man, that isn’t cowardice : it doesn’t go so far as that, just as valour doesn’t require that one man should climb a fortress, attack an army and conquer a kingdom. What monstrous vice is this that doesn’t even deserve the title of cowardice, that finds no name ugly enough, that nature disavows and that language refuses to name ?
Let fifty thousand men in arms be placed face to face ; let them be arrayed in battle, let them come to a struggle : some are free and are fighting for their freedom, others are fighting to take it away from them. To which will you predict victory ? Which will go into battle with more rage : those who hope for the reward of maintaining their freedom, or those who expect only the servitude of others as the reward for the blows they give and receive ? The former always have before their eyes the happiness of their past life and the expectation of equal well-being in the future. They think less of what they endure in battle than of what they, their children and all their posterity will endure in defeat. The others have only a small spike of lust as a spur, that suddenly dulls in the face of danger and whose ardour is extinguished in the blood of their first wound. In the famous battles of Miltiades, Leonidas, and Themistocles that date back two thousand years and that are still as fresh in the memory of books and men as if they had just been fought yesterday in Greece for the good of the Greeks and for the example of the whole world, what was it that gave so few Greeks, not the power but the courage to withstand the force of so many ships that the sea itself overflowed, to defeat nations so numerous that all of the Greek soldiers taken together wouldn’t have provided enough captains for the enemy armies ? In those glorious days it wasn’t so much the battle of the Greeks against the Persians as the victory of freedom over domination, of emancipation over greed.
They are truly extraordinary, those stories of the valour that freedom puts in the hearts of those who defend it !
But what happens, everywhere and every day : that one man oppresses a hundred thousand and deprives them of their freedom, who could believe it, if he only heard it and didn’t see it ? And if that happened only in foreign countries, in distant lands, and someone came to tell us about it, who would believe the evidently invented story ?

But there’s no need to fight that tyrant alone, nor to bring him down. He’s defeated by himself, provided that the country doesn’t consent to his servitude. It’s not a question of taking anything away from him, but of giving him nothing. There’s no need for the country to take the trouble to do anything for itself, provided that it does nothing against itself. It’s therefore the people who let themselves be mistreated, or rather who submit to being mistreated, since they would be free if they stopped being servants. It’s the people who enslave themselves and cut their own throats ; who, being able to choose to be submissive or to be free, reject freedom and take the yoke ; who consent to their evil, or rather who seek it... If it costs them anything to regain their liberty, I wouldn’t urge them to do it ; even if the most that they want to do is to recover their natural rights and, as it were, to return from the state of beast to that of man again. But I don’t even expect them to be so bold ; I admit that they prefer I know not what kind of assurance of living miserably to a doubtful hope of living as they would like to. But what ! If to have liberty it’s enough to desire it, if it’s sufficient just to want it, will there be a nation in the world that believes it’s paying too much for it by acquiring it with a simple wish ? And who would regret wanting to recover something that has to be recovered at the price of blood, something that the loss of which makes life bitter and death welcome to every man of honour ? Certainly, as the fire from a small spark grows stronger and stronger and the more wood it finds to burn the more it devours, but it burns out and is finally extinguished by itself when it ceases to be fed – so the more tyrants plunder, the more they demand ; the more they ruin and destroy, the more they’re provided with and the more they’re served. They grow stronger and stronger, and become ever more ready to destroy everything. But if they aren’t supplied with anything, if they aren’t obeyed without being fought and struck, then they remain naked and defeated and are nothing, just as the branch having no more juice or nourishment at its root becomes dry and dead.
In order to acquire the good that he desires the bold man fears no danger, the wise man isn’t put off by any pain. Only the cowardly and the torpid know neither how to endure evil nor how to recover what they limit themselves to merely covet. The energy to try to acquire is taken away from them by their own cowardice ; all that remains is the natural desire to possess. That desire, that will that’s common to the wise and to the unwise, to the brave and to the cowardly, makes them desire all the things whose possession would make them happy and content. There’s only one thing that men, I don’t know why, don’t have the strength to desire, and that’s freedom, so great and so sweet ! As soon as it’s been lost all evils follow, and without it everything else, corrupted by servitude, lose their taste and flavour entirely. Men disdain freedom only, it seems, because if they desired it they would have it ; it’s as if they refuse to make that precious acquisition because it’s too easy.

Poor miserable people, foolish people, nations obstinately attached to your evils and blind to what’s good for you ! You let the best and most important part of your revenue be taken from you before your very eyes, you let your fields be plundered, your houses robbed and stripped of the old furniture of your ancestors ! You live in such a way that nothing’s yours anymore. It seems that you would now consider it a great happiness if you were left with only half your property, your families, your lives. And all those ravages, those misfortunes and that ruin don’t come to you from your enemies but only from the enemy, from the very person that you’ve made what he is, from the one for whose sake you go to war so bravely and for whose greatness you don’t refuse to offer yourselves up to death. Yet that master has only two eyes, two hands, one body, and nothing more than the last of the inhabitants of the infinite number of our cities. What he has more of are the means you provide him to destroy you with. Where does he get all those eyes that spy on you, if not from you ? How can he have so many hands to strike you if he doesn’t borrow them from you ? Are not the feet with which he treads on your cities also yours ? Has he any power over you but your own ? How does he dare to assail you unless he has an understanding with you ? What harm could he do to you if you weren’t the fences of the thief who’s plundering you, if you weren’t the accomplices of the murderer who’s killing you and if you weren’t your own traitors ? You sow your fields so that he can devastate them, you furnish and fill your houses to furnish his plundering, you bring up your daughters so that he can indulge his lust, you feed your children so that he can make them soldiers at best, so that he can lead them to war and to slaughter, so that he can make them ministers of his lusts and executors of his vengeance. You wear yourselves out in suffering so that he can enjoy his delights and wallow in his dirty and villainous pleasures. You weaken yourselves so that he can be stronger, and so that he can hold you more harshly by the shortest bridle. And instead of so many indignities that the beasts themselves wouldn’t submit to, you could free yourself if you tried – not even tried to deliver yourself, but even just if you wanted to free yourselves !

Resolve to serve no more, and you are free. I don’t ask you to actively resist him, to undermine him, but just to stop supporting him and you’ll see him, like a great colossus whose base has been broken, melt under his weight and break down.
Doctors rightly advise against trying to heal incurable wounds, and perhaps I’m wrong in urging like this a people who seems to have long since lost all knowledge of their ailment – which is enough to show that their disease is fatal. Let us therefore seek to understand, if possible, how this stubborn will to serve has taken root so deeply that one would think that the very love of freedom isn’t very natural.
There’s no doubt, I do believe, that if we lived with the rights that we have from nature and according to the precepts it teaches us we would naturally be subject to our parents, subjects of reason without being slaves of anyone. Each of us naturally recognises in ourselves the impulse to obey our father and mother. As to whether reason is innate in us or not – a question amply debated by the academies and agitated by the whole school of philosophers – I don’t think I’m erring in saying that in our soul there’s a natural germ of reason. Developed by good advice and good examples, this germ blossoms out into virtue, but it often aborts, suffocated by the vices that arise. What’s clear and evident and what no one can ignore is that nature, the minister of God and ruler of men, has created us all and cast us all in the same mould to show us that we are all equal, or rather brothers. And if, in the sharing out of her gifts she has lavished some advantages of body or mind on some more than on others, she hasn’t wanted to place us in this world as if on a battlefield, and hasn’t sent the strongest or most skilful into a forest like armed brigands to bully the weakest. Let us rather believe that by giving greater shares to some and smaller shares to others she wanted to give rise to fraternal affections and to put them in a position to practise it, since some have the power to help while others need to receive help. Therefore, since this good mother has given us all the earth for a home, since she has housed us all in the same house, formed us all on the same model so that each one of us could look at the other and almost recognise him or herself in a mirror, since she has given us all the beautiful gifts of the voice and the word so that we can better meet and fraternise and produce through the communication and exchange of our thoughts, the communion of our wills ; since she has sought by every means to establish and tighten the bond of our alliance, of our society, since she has shown in all things that she didn’t want us to be merely united but to be like a single being, how can we doubt then that we are all naturally free, since we are all equal ? It cannot come into anyone’s mind that nature has put anyone in bondage, since she has put us all together in company of one another.
In fact, it’s quite pointless to ask if freedom is natural, since no one can be held in servitude without harm being done to them : there’s nothing in the world more contrary to nature, that’s so reasonable, than injustice. Freedom is thus natural, which is why in my opinion we are not only born with it but also with the passion to defend it.

And if by chance there are any who still doubt this – so degenerate as to not recognise their gifts or their native passions – I must do them the honour they deserve and hoist up brute beasts into the pulpit, so to speak, to teach them their nature and their condition. The beasts, so help me God, if men will listen to them, cry out to them, "Long live liberty !" Many of them die as soon as they are caught. Like the fish that loses its life as soon as it’s pulled out of the water, they let themselves die so as not to survive the loss of their natural state of freedom. If animals had any pre-eminence among themselves, they would make this freedom their nobility. Other animals, from the largest to the smallest, when caught, resist so strongly with their nails, horns, beaks and paws that they demonstrate the value they place on what they lose. Once caught they give us so many flagrant signs of their knowledge of their misfortune that it’s remarkable to see them then languish rather than live, and bemoan their lost happiness rather than enjoy themselves in servitude. What else does the elephant mean when, having defended himself to the end, with no more hope, on the point of being taken, he sinks his jaws into the trees and breaks his tusks, except that his great desire to remain free inspires him and leads him to haggle with the hunters, to see if he’ll be able to get away with the price of his teeth and if his ivory, left as a ransom, will redeem his freedom ?
We flatter the horse from birth to get him used to serving. Our caresses don’t prevent him from biting his bridle, from kicking under the spur when we want to tame him. By this, it seems to me, he wants to show that he’s not serving of his own free will, but under our constraint. What else can I say ?

"Even the oxen under the yoke whine,
and the birds in a cage complain

as I once said in verse, when I passed my time writing poetry... [5]
Thus, since every being endowed with sentiment feels the misfortune of subjection and runs after freedom ; since the beasts, even those made for the service of man, can only submit to it after protesting a contrary desire, what misfortune could have so distorted man – the only one truly born to live free – as to make him lose the memory of his first state and the desire to regain it ?

There are three kinds of tyrants.
Some reign by election of the people, others by force of arms, and the last by succession. Those who have acquired power by the law of war behave – as we know and rightly say – as if they were in a conquered country. Those who are born kings are not much better in general. Born and bred in the bosom of tyranny, they suck the tyrant’s nature in with their milk and consider the peoples who are subject to them as their hereditary serfs. According to their dominant inclination – greedy or prodigal – they use the kingdom as their inheritance. As for the one who holds his power from the people, it seems that he should be more bearable ; he would be, I believe, if as soon as he sees himself elevated above all the others, flattered by I know-not-what called greatness, he didn’t decide not to remain the same as he was until then. He almost always considers the power that the people have bequeathed on him as something to be passed on to his children. But as soon as they’ve adopted this attitude it’s strange to see how they surpass all other tyrants in all sorts of vices and even in cruelties. They find no better way of securing their new tyranny than to reinforce servitude and to eliminate ideas of freedom so well from the minds of their subjects that, however recent the memory of it is, it soon fades from their memory.
To tell the truth I do see some differences between these tyrants, but I don’t see any in terms of choice : for although they come to the throne by different means their way of ruling is always more or less the same. Those who are elected by the people treat them as a bull to be tamed, the conquerors as their prey and the successors as a herd of slaves that belongs to them by nature.

I will ask this question : if by chance some brand-new people were born today, neither accustomed to subjection nor used to liberty, ignorant even of the name of the one or the other, and it were proposed to them to be subjects or to live free, what would be their choice ? Undoubtedly they would much rather obey reason alone than serve a man, unless they were like the people of Israel who, without need or compulsion, gave themselves a tyrant. I never read their history without feeling an extreme displeasure that would almost lead me to be so inhuman as to rejoice in all the evils that befell them. Because for men, for as long as they are men, to allow themselves to be subjugated it’s necessary that they’re either forced to do so or that they’ve been deceived. Forced by foreign arms as Sparta and Athens were by those of Alexander, or deceived by factions as the government of Athens was that had previously fallen into the hands of Pisistrates. They often lose their freedom by being deceived, but are less often deceived by others than they are by themselves.
Thus the people of Syracuse, the capital of Sicily, pressed by wars, thinking only of the danger of the moment, elected Denys the First and gave him command of the army. They didn’t realise that they had made him as powerful as he was when that evil man, returning victorious as if he had defeated his fellow citizens rather than his enemies, first made himself a captain, then a king and a tyrant king. It’s incredible to see how the people, as soon as they are subjugated, suddenly falls into such a deep forgetfulness of their freedom that it’s impossible for them to wake up and to regain it : they serve so well and so willingly that it seems to us that they’ve not only lost their freedom but have actually gained their servitude.
It’s true that at the beginning one serves under compulsion and is conquered by force ; but those following serve without regret and willingly do what their predecessors had done under compulsion. Men born under the yoke and then nourished and brought up in servitude, without looking further are content to live as they were born and don’t think they have any other goods or rights than those they’ve found ; they take for their natural state the state of their birth.
However there’s no heir, even prodigal or nonchalant, who doesn’t one day look at his father’s records to see if he’s enjoying all the rights of his estate and whether anything has been done against him or his predecessor. But habit, that has such great power over us in all things, has above all the power to teach us to serve, and as is said of Mithridates who eventually became accustomed to poison, has the power to teach us to swallow the venom of servitude without finding it bitter. There’s no doubt that nature directs us where it wants whether we are well or badly off, but we have to admit that it has less power over us than habit. However good nature may be, it’s lost if it’s not nurtured, and habit always shapes us in its own way in spite of nature. The seeds of the good that nature puts in us are so small and so frail that they can’t resist the slightest shock of a contrary habit. They’re less easily maintained than they’re spoiled, and they even degenerate like those fruit trees that retain the characteristics of their species as long as they are allowed to grow, but lose them and bear different fruit from their own according to the way they are grafted.
Herbs too have their own properties, their own naturalness, their own uniqueness ; yet time, weather, soil or the hand of the gardener greatly increase or decrease their virtues. The plant seen in one country is often no longer recognisable in another. Whoever sees the Venetians, a handful of people living so freely that the most miserable of them wouldn’t want to be king, who are born and brought up in such a way that they know no other ambition than that of maintaining their liberty for the best, who are educated and trained from the cradle in such a way that they wouldn’t exchange a strand of their liberty for all the other felicities of the earth : would anyone, I say, who saw such people and then went to the domain of some "great Lord", finding there people who were born only to serve him and would give up their own lives to maintain his power, think that these two peoples are of the same nature ? Or would he not rather believe that in leaving a city of men he had entered into a park of beasts ?

It’s said that Lycurgus, the legislator of Sparta, had fed two dogs, both brothers and both suckled with the same milk. One was fattened up in the kitchen and the other brought up to run around the fields to the sound of the horn and the cornet. Wanting to show the Lacedemonians that men are as culture has made them, he displayed the two dogs in the public square and placed a soup and a hare between them. One ran to the dish of soup and the other to the hare. And yet, he said, they are brothers !
With his laws and his political art he educated and trained the Lacedemonians so well that each of them preferred to suffer a thousand deaths rather than submit to any other master than law and reason.
I take pleasure in recalling here an anecdote concerning one of the favourites of Xerxes, the great king of Persia, and two Spartans. When Xerxes was making his war preparations to conquer the whole of Greece he sent his ambassadors to several cities in that country to ask for water and land – that was the Persian way of summoning cities to surrender. He was careful not to send any to Sparta or Athens, because the Spartans and Athenians, to whom his father Darius had previously sent them, had thrown some of them into ditches and others into wells, saying, "Go and take water and earth from there, and bring them to your prince !" Those peoples couldn’t bear that even by the slightest word their freedom should be infringed upon. The Spartans recognised that in doing so they had offended the gods, and especially Talthybia, the god of the heralds. They therefore resolved, in order to appease them, to send two of their fellow-citizens to Xerxes so that, disposing of them as he pleased, he could take revenge on them for the murder of his father’s ambassadors.
Two Spartans, one named Sperthies and the other Bulis, offered themselves as voluntary victims. They set off. When they arrived at the palace of a Persian named Hydarnes, the king’s lieutenant for all the cities of Asia on the seacoast, he welcomed them very honourably, gave them a great deal of hospitality and, one thing leading to another, asked them why they so strongly rejected the king’s friendship. “Spartans," he said, "see by my example how the King knows how to honour those who deserve it. Be sure that if you were in his service and he had known you, you would both be governors of some Greek city." The Lacedemonians replied, "In this, Hydarnes, you can’t give us good advice, for although you’ve experienced the happiness that you promise us, you’re entirely ignorant of the happiness that we enjoy. You’ve experienced the King’s favour but you do’t know what a delicious taste freedom has. And if you had just tasted it you would advise us to defend it, not only with spears and shields, but with teeth and nails.” Only the Spartans spoke the truth, but each of them spoke according to the education he had received. For it was as impossible for the Persian to regret the freedom he’d never enjoyed as it was for the Lacedemonians, who had enjoyed it, to endure slavery.

Cato of Utica, while still a child and under the tutelage of his master, often went to see the dictator Sylla, to whom he had access both because of the rank of his family and because of his family ties. In those visits he was always accompanied by his tutor, as was the custom in Rome for the children of the nobles. He saw one day that right in the mansion of Sylla, in his presence or by his command, some were imprisoned and others condemned ; one was banished, the other strangled. One demanded the confiscation of a citizen’s property, the other his head. In short everything happened there not as with a magistrate of the city but as with a tyrant of the people ; it was less the sanctuary of justice than a cavern of tyranny. This young boy said to his tutor : "Why don’t you give me a dagger ? I’ll hide it under my robe. I often enter Sylla’s room before he’s up... I have an arm strong enough to free the city from him.” That’s truly the word of a Cato. This beginning of a life was worthy of its death. Keep the name and the country to yourself, just tell the story as it is : it speaks for itself. They will say at once : “That child was a Roman, born in Rome, when it was free.” Why do I say this ? I certainly don’t claim that the country and the soil have nothing to do with it, for everywhere and in all places slavery is bitter to men and freedom is dear to them. But it seems to me that we must have pity on those who, at birth, are already under the yoke, that we must excuse them or forgive them if, not having seen even the shadow of freedom nor having heard of it, they don’t feel the misfortune of being slaves. If there are countries, as Homer says of the land of the Cimerians, where the sun shows itself quite differently from ours, where after having provided light for them for six consecutive months it leaves them in darkness for the other six months, is it any wonder that those who are born during that long night, if they haven’t heard of brightness nor ever seen the day, become accustomed to the darkness in which they were born without desiring light ?
One never regrets what one’s never had. Grief comes only after pleasure, and unhappiness is always associated with the memory of some past joy. Man’s nature is to be free and to want to be free, but it easily goes in another direction when education leads him there.

Let us say then that while all things become natural to man when he becomes accustomed to them, only he who desires just simple and unaltered things retains his real nature. Thus the first explanation for voluntary servitude is habit. That’s what happens to the bravest horses that first bite their bridle and then play with it, who having once been reluctant under the saddle then present themselves to the harness and proudly swell up under the armour.
People say that they’ve always been subjects, that their fathers lived like that. They think that they’re bound to perpetuate the evil ; they persuade themselves of this by examples and they themselves consolidate the possessions of those who tyrannise them by its duration.
But the truth is that years never give the right to do wrong. They increase the insult. There are always some, better born than the others, who feel the weight of the yoke and can’t refrain from shaking it, who can never be tamed by subjection and who, like Ulysses seeking by land and sea to see the smoke rising over his home again, are careful not to forget their natural rights, their origins,
They aren’t content to just see what’s right at their feet without looking back or forward. They remember the past in order to judge the present and to foresee the future. They’re the ones who, having a good head of their own have further refined it by study and knowledge. When freedom’s entirely lost and banished from this world, they imagine it and feel it in their minds and savour it. And servitude disgusts them, no matter how well it’s clothed.

The Turkish sultan has realised that books and thought more than anything else give men a sense of their dignity and a hatred of tyranny. I understand that in his country he has few scholars, nor does he ask for any. The zeal and passion of those who in spite of circumstances have remained the devotees of liberty remain generally ineffective, whatever their number, because they can’t agree among themselves. The tyrants take away all freedom to do things, to speak and almost to think, and they remain isolated in their dreams. Momus wasn’t joking much when he found fault with the man forged by Vulcan in that he didn’t have a small window in his heart so that one could see his thoughts. It’s said that Brutus and Cassius, when they undertook to deliver Rome (i.e. the whole world), didn’t want Cicero, that great zealot of the public good, to be part of their party, judging that his heart was too weak for such a high task. They believed in his will, but not in his courage. Whoever wishes to recall past times and to consult the ancient annals will be convinced that almost all those who, seeing their country abused and in bad hands and have formed the design to deliver it with a good, whole and upright intention, have easily succeeded ; to manifest itself freedom always came to their aid. Harmodius, Aristogiton, Thrasybulus, Brutus the Elder, Valerius and Dion, who conceived such a virtuous plan, carried it out with good fortune. In such cases, a firm resolve almost always guarantees success. Brutus the Younger and Cassius succeeded in breaking the bondage ; they perished when they tried to bring back freedom, not miserably – for who would dare to find anything miserable either in their life or in their death ? – but to the great damage, to the perpetual evil and utter ruin of the Republic, which, it seems to me, was buried with them. The other attempts made since then against the Roman Emperors were only the conspiracies of a few ambitious men whose lack of success and bad ends are not to be regretted, since they didn’t want to overthrow the throne but only to shake up the crown, seeking to drive out the tyrant in order to better keep the tyranny. As for them, I would have been very angry if they’d succeeded and I’m glad that they’ve shown by their example that the holy name of liberty mustn’t be abused to carry our an evil action.

But to return to my subject that I’d almost lost sight of : the first reason why men serve voluntarily is that they are born serfs and brought up as such. From this first reason follows this other one : that people easily become cowardly and effeminate under tyrants. I am grateful to the great Hippocrates, the father of medicine, for having written about that so well in his book On Diseases. That man had a good heart, and he showed it when the King of Persia wanted to lure him with offers and great gifts ; he answered frankly that he would make it a matter of conscience to cure barbarians who wanted to kill the Greeks, and to serve by his art those who wanted to enslave his country. The letter that he wrote to the King can still be found in his other works ; it will always bear witness to his courage and nobility.
It’s certain that with freedom one immediately loses one’s valour. Submissive people have neither ardour nor pugnacity in battle. They go into battle as if bound and numbed, painfully fulfilling an obligation. They don’t feel the ardour of freedom boiling in their hearts that makes them despise danger and want to win honour and glory by a good death among their companions. Among free men on the contrary it’s every man for all and every man for himself : they know that they will reap an equal share of the bad consequences of defeat or of the good achievements of victory. But submissive people, lacking in courage and vivacity, have a low, soft heart and are incapable of any great actions. Tyrants know that well. So they do everything they can to abase them.
The historian Xenophon, one of the most serious and esteemed among the Greeks, has written a little book in which he has Simonides converse with Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse, on the miseries of the tyrant. This book is full of good, serious lessons, that also have an infinite grace in my opinion. Would to God that all the tyrants who ever lived had placed it before them as a mirror. They would certainly have recognised their warts in it and would have been ashamed of their tarnishes. This treatise speaks of the pain experienced by tyrants who, doing harm to all, are obliged to fear everyone. It says, among other things, that bad kings take foreign mercenaries into their service because they no longer dare to give arms to their subjects whom they’ve mistreated. In France itself, even more in the past than today, some good kings have had foreign troops in their pay, but it was rather to safeguard their own subjects ; they didn’t skimp on the expenses of sparing men. That was also, I believe, the opinion of the great Scipio the African, who preferred to have saved the life of a citizen than to have defeated a hundred enemies. But what’s certain is that the tyrant never believes his power to be secure unless he has reached the point of having only worthless men as subjects. One could rightly say to him what, according to Terence, Thrason said to the master of the elephants :

"You who are so brave,
Are in charge of the animals ?"

This ruse of tyrants, to abase their subjects, was never more evident than in the conduct of Cyrus towards the Lydians after he had seized their capital and taken their rich king Croesus captive. The news was brought to him that the inhabitants of Sardis had revolted. He soon brought them to obedience. But not wishing to sack such a beautiful city or to be obliged to keep an army there to subdue it, he thought of an admirable expedient for securing it. He established brothels, taverns and public games there and published an ordinance obliging the citizens to go to them. He was so successful with this town that afterwards he never had to draw the sword against the Lydians. The wretches amused themselves by inventing all sorts of games, so much so that from their very name the Latins formed the word by which they designated what we call pastimes, which they called Ludi, by corruption of Lydi.

Not all tyrants have so expressly declared their desire to effeminate their subjects ; but in fact what this one formally ordered most of them did in secret. Such is the natural inclination of ignorant people, who are usually more numerous in the cities : they are suspicious of those who love them and trust those who deceive them. Don’t think that there’s any bird that’s better captured by imitating their calls, nor any fish that bites the hook sooner for the delicacy of the worm than all those people who are quickly drawn into servitude for the slightest sweetness that they are given to taste. It’s a marvellous thing that they let themselves go so quickly if only they’re tickled. The theatre, games, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, paintings and other drugs of that kind were for the ancient peoples the baits for servitude, the price of their ravished freedom, the tools of tyranny. That method, that practice, those lures were those employed by ancient tyrants to lull their subjects under the yoke. Thus stultified peoples, finding all those pastimes beautiful and being amused by vain pleasures that dazzled them, got used to serving as naïvely but worse than little children who learn to read with brightly illuminated pictures.

The Roman tyrants added to these methods by often making the citizens feast, by gorging as much as necessary rogues who indulge in the pleasure of the mouth more than anything else. Thus the most aware of them wouldn’t have left his bowl of soup to recover the freedom of Plato’s Republic. The tyrants were generous with the quarter of wheat, with the jug of wine and with coins, and it was a pity then to hear the cry : "Long live the King !” Those slow-witted people didn’t realise that they were merely recovering a share of their own property, and that the very shares that they were recovering couldn’t have been given to them by the tyrant if he hadn’t previously taken it away from them. One who one day collected the taxes, who gorged himself at the public feast blessing Tiberius and Nero for their liberality, the next day, forced to abandon his possessions to greed, his children to lust, and his very blood to the cruelty of those magnificent emperors, said no more than a stone and stirred no more than a stump. Ignorant people have always been like that : they’re willing to dissolutely benefit from pleasures that they can’t receive honestly ; they’re indifferent though to the wrong and the pain that they could honestly suffer from.

I see no one today who, hearing of Nero, doesn’t tremble at the mere name of that vile monster, that filthy plague of the world. It must be said however, that after the death – as disgusting as his life – of that firebrand, that executioner, that savage beast, the famous Roman people felt such displeasure, remembering their games and their feasts, that they were on the point of mourning him. That’s at least what Tacitus, an excellent author and a most reliable historian, writes. And one will not find that strange if one considers what the same people had already done at the death of Julius Caesar, who had dispensed with the laws and with freedom in Rome. It seems to me that he was praised above all for his "humanity", which was more harmful to his country than the greatest cruelty of the most savage tyrant who ever lived, for it was indeed that venomous gentleness that made the Roman people drink the beverage of servitude. After his death the people, who still had in their mouths the taste of his banquets and in their minds the memory of his prodigalities, piled up the benches of the public square to make a great pyre of honour for him ; then they erected a column for him as for the Father of the People (the head of the column bore that inscription) ; finally they paid more honours to that dead man than they should have done to a living man, and first of all to those who had killed him.
The Roman emperors especially didn’t forget to take the title of People’s Tribune, because that office was held to be holy and sacred ; established for the defence and protection of the people it enjoyed a high favour in the country. By this means they made sure that the people would trust them more, as if it were enough for them to hear that name, without needing to feel its effects.
But the tyrants of today don’t do much better : before committing their most serious crimes they always precede them with a few pretty speeches on the public good and the relief of the unfortunate. We know the formulas they use so finely ; but can we speak of finesse where there’s so much impudence ?
The kings of Assyria, and after them the Medes, appeared in public as seldom as possible in order to make the people suppose that there was something superhuman in them, and to let those dream who imagine things that they can’t see with their own eyes. Thus so many nations who were long under the empire of those mysterious kings became accustomed to serve them, and served them all the more willingly because they didn’t know who their master was, or even if they had one ; so that they lived in fear of a being whom no one had ever seen.

The first kings of Egypt hardly ever appeared without carrying a branch or fire on their heads ; they masked themselves and played the jester, by those strange forms inspiring respect and admiration in their subjects who, if they hadn’t been so stupid or submissive would have had to laugh at them. It’s truly lamentable to discover all that the tyrants of the past did to establish their tyranny, to see what few means they used, always finding the population so well disposed towards them that they only had to spread a net to catch them ; they never had greater ease in deceiving them and never enslaved them better than when they were laughing at them most.
What shall I say of another piece of nonsense that the ancient peoples took at face value ? They firmly believed that the toe of Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, worked miracles and cured the sick of the spleen. They embellished the tale by saying that when the King’s corpse was burned the toe was found in the ashes untouched by the fire. The people have always made up their own lies and then added their own stupid faith in them. Many authors have repeated those lies ; it’s easy to see that they’ve picked them up from the gossip of the towns and the fables of the ignorant. Such as the wonders that Vespasian did when returning from Assyria and passing through Alexandria on his way to Rome to take over the Empire : he cured the lame, made the blind see clearly and a thousand other things that could only be believed, in my opinion, by those who were more blind than those he healed.

The tyrants themselves found it strange that men should allow another to mistreat them, so they readily cloaked themselves in the mantle of religion and dressed themselves up as much as possible in the garments of divinity to endorse their wicked lives. Thus Salmonée, for having mocked the people by making himself Jupiter, is now in the depths of hell according to Virgil’s oracle who saw him there :

"There lie the huge bodies of the sons of Aloüs,
Those who, splitting the air with their deformed heads
Dared to attack the homes of the gods,
And to drive out the King of Heaven from the eternal throne.
There I saw the sacrilegious rival of those gods,
Who usurped the divine privilege of lightning
To extract from the people a criminal approval
With four proud steeds and resounding hooves,
Harnessing a vain chariot in the trembling Elide
Spreading terror with a torch in his hand :
Fool who, from the supposedly sovereign sky,
By the noise of his chariot and his bronze bridge
Imitated the inimitable sound of thunder !
But Jupiter threw down the true thunderbolt
And spilled, covered with a whirlwind of fire,
The chariot and the steeds and the lightning and the God :
His triumph was short, his punishment is eternal.

If he who simply wanted to play the fool was treated like that then, I think that those who have abused religion to do evil will find themselves in an even better position.

Our tyrants of France also sowed I know-not-what sorts of things : lily flowers, toads, bulbs and ceremonial banners. All things which for my part I don’t want to believe are mere poppycock, since our ancestors believed in them and in our time we’ve had no occasion to suspect them to be so. For we’ve had some kings so good at peace and so valiant in war that though they were born kings it seems that nature didn’t make them like others, and that the Almighty God chose them before their birth to entrust them with the government and care of this kingdom. And if that weren’t so, I wouldn’t want to enter the fray to debate the truth of our myths, nor would I want to peel them back too freely so as not to take away the beautiful themes on which our French poetry is able to elaborate so well, this poetry not only embellished but so to speak revived and brought to new heights by our Ronsard, Baïf and du Bellay : they’re making such progress in our language that soon, I dare to hope, we shall have nothing to envy the Greeks or Latins, apart from their having preceded us.
Certainly, I would do great harm to our rhyme (I gladly use that word which pleases me, for although many have made it purely mechanical, I can see enough others capable of ennobling it and restoring it to its original lustre). I would, I say, be doing him a great disservice if I were to take away from him these pretty tales of King Clovis in which our Ronsard, in his Franciade, so pleasantly and easily deployed his verve. I understand his scope, I know his fine mind and I know the grace of the man. He will do his business with the banners as well as the Romans did with their anchors and those "shields of heaven thrown down", of which Virgil speaks. He will make as good use of our holy bulb as the Athenians made of their Erisichthone basket. He will speak of our coat of arms as well as they do of their olive tree, which they claim still exists in the tower of Minerva. Of course, I would be foolhardy to want to contradict our books and thus run onto the territory of our poets.

But to return to my subject, from which I have strayed I know not how, is it not clear that tyrants, in order to establish themselves, have endeavoured to accustom the people not only to obedience and servitude but also to their devotion ? All that I have said so far about the means employed by tyrants to enslave is exercised only on the ignorant little people.

I come now to a point that I believe to be the essence and the secret of domination, the support and foundation of all tyranny. Anyone who thinks that pikes, guards and the watch guarantee tyrants would be very much mistaken. They use them, I believe, as a symbol and like a scarecrow more than they rely on them. The archers bar the entrance to the palaces to the unskilled who have no means of harming them, not to the bold and well-armed. It’s easy to see that among the Roman emperors fewer escaped danger thanks to the help of their archers than were killed by the archers themselves. It’s not the bands of horsemen and the companies of foot soldiers, it’s not the weapons that defend a tyrant, but always only – it will be difficult to believe this at first, though it’s the exact truth – four or five men who support him and who subject the whole country to him. It’s always been like that : five or six have had the ear of the tyrant and have approached him themselves, or they have been called by him to be the accomplices of his cruelties, the companions of his pleasures, the pimps of his voluptuousness and the beneficiaries of his rapines. These six train their leader so well that he becomes wicked to society, not only because of his own wickedness but also because of theirs. These six have under them six hundred, whom they corrupt as much as they corrupted the tyrant. These six hundred have under them six thousand, whom they raise to positions of dignity. They give them the government of provinces or the management of money in order to control them by their greed or by their cruelty, so that they use them at the right time and who do so much harm that they can only maintain themselves under their shadow, and can only exempt themselves from laws and punishments thanks to their protection. There’s a great series of those who follow them. And whoever wishes to unravel the thread will see that not six thousand, but a hundred thousand and millions are held to the tyrant by this unbroken chain that welds them together and binds them to him, as Homer makes Jupiter boast that by drawing such a chain he brings all the gods to himself. Hence the increase in the power of the Senate under Julius Caesar, the establishment of new functions, the institution of new offices, certainly not to reorganise justice but to give new supports to tyranny. In short, the gains and favours received from tyrants have reached the point where those who benefit from tyranny are almost as numerous as those who would enjoy freedom.
According to the doctors, although nothing seems to be changed in our body, as soon as some tumour is manifested in one place all the humours go to that wormy part. In the same way, as soon as a king has declared himself a tyrant all the bad souls, all the dregs of the kingdom – I don’t say a bunch of little rascals and scoundrels who can neither do harm nor good in a country, but those who possess ardent ambition and notable greed – gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the spoils, and to be, under the great tyrant, as many little tyrants.

Such are the great thieves and the famous privateers ; some run the country, others hunt down travellers ; some are in ambush, others on the lookout ; some massacre, others rob, and although there are preeminences between them and some are only valets and others leaders of the band, in the end there isn’t one who doesn’t profit, if not from the main booty at least from its remains. It’s said that the Cilician pirates gathered in such great numbers that the great Pompey had to be sent against them, and that they attracted to their alliance several beautiful and large cities in whose harbours they placed themselves in safety on returning from their excursions, giving them in exchange a share of the plunder that they had collected.
That’s how the tyrant enslaves his subjects one by one. He’s guarded by those from whom he should guard himself, if they were worth anything. But it has been well said that in order to split wood, corners are made of the wood itself ; such are his archers, his guards and his pikemen. Not that these don’t often suffer themselves ; but the wretched people, abandoned by God and by men, are content to endure evil and to do it, not to the one who does it to them but to those who, like them, endure it and can’t help it. When I think of those people who flatter the tyrant in order to exploit his tyranny and the servitude of the people, I’m almost as often astonished by their wickedness as I am filled with pity at their foolishness.
For in truth : is approaching the tyrant anything other than walking away from one’s freedom and, as it were, embracing and clasping his servitude with both hands ? Let them put aside their ambition for a moment, let them get rid of their greed and then let them look at themselves, let them consider themselves : they will clearly see that those villagers, those peasants whom they trample underfoot and treat like convicts or slaves, they will see, I say, that those, so badly treated, are happier than they are, and in a way freer. The ploughman and the craftsman, however enslaved they may be, are free by obeying ; but the tyrant sees those around him being obsequious and begging his favour. They not only have to do what he commands but also have to imagine what he wants and often even, to satisfy him, to anticipate his desires. It’s not enough that they obey him, they also have to please him ; they have to force themselves, to torment themselves and to kill themselves in dealing with his affairs, and since they’re only pleased when he has pleasure, they must sacrifice their tastes to his, they must force their temperament and violate their own nature. They must be attentive to his words, his voice, his looks, his gestures : their eyes, their feet and their hands must be constantly occupied in spying on his wishes and guessing his thoughts.
Is that living happily ? Is it even living ? Is there anything in the world more unbearable than that situation, not for any man with a heart but for anyone who has only common sense, or even just the form of a man ? What condition is more wretched than to live like that, having nothing of one’s own and depending on another for one’s ease, one’s freedom, one’s own body and life ?
But they want to serve in order to amass goods : as if they could acquire anything that really belongs to them, since they can’t even say that they belong to themselves. And as if anyone could have something of his own under a tyrant : they want to make themselves become possessors of goods, forgetting that it’s themselves that give the tyrant the strength to take everything away from everyone, and to leave nothing that can be said to be anyone’s. Yet they see that it’s the possession of goods that make men dependent on his cruelty ; that there’s no crime more worthy of death in his opinion than the advantages of others ; that he loves only riches and attacks only the rich ; these, however, come before him like sheep before the butcher, full up and well-fed as if to make him envious.
These favourites should remember less those who gained much from tyrants than those who, having gorged themselves for a time soon afterwards lost both their goods and their lives. They should think less of the great number of those who acquired riches there than of the small number who kept them. If we go through all of ancient history and recall all that that we remember, we’ll see how many of them, having reached the ears of princes by evil means, either by flattering their low inclinations or by abusing their naivety, ended up being crushed by those same princes who had as easily elevated them as they were inconstant in defending them. Among the great number of those who found themselves in the company of evil kings there are few, if any, who didn’t themselves experience the cruelty of the tyrant that they’d previously stirred up against others. Often enriched in the shadow of his favour by the spoils of others, in the end they enriched him themselves with their own skins.

And even good people – the tyrant sometimes likes them – however advanced they may be in his good grace, however brilliant their virtue and integrity (that inspire some respect even in the wicked when seen at close quarters) ; these good people, I say, cannot remain for long with the tyrant ; they too must suffer his evil and experience his tyranny. Like a Seneca, a Burrhus, a Trazéas, that trinity of good men, the first two of whom had the misfortune to approach a tyrant who entrusted them with the management of his affairs, both of whom were cherished by him, and although one of them had brought him up, having provided as a token of his friendship the care he had taken of him in his childhood, are not those three, whose deaths were so cruel, sufficient examples of how little confidence one should have in the favour of a wicked master ? In truth, what friendship can be expected from someone who has a heart hard enough to hate a whole kingdom that does nothing but obey him, and from a being who, not knowing how to love, ruins himself and destroys his own empire ?
Now if it’s said that Seneca, Burrhus and Traséas suffered such misfortunes only because they were too good, let us look carefully around Nero himself : we shall see that all those who were in grace with him and who maintained themselves there by their wickedness had no better end. Who ever heard of such unbridled love, such stubborn affection, who ever saw a man so stubbornly attached to a woman as this one was to Poppée ? And he poisoned her himself ! His mother, Agrippina, in order to put him on the throne had killed her own husband Claudius ; she’d done everything and suffered everything to favour him. And yet her son, her infant son, the one she’d made Emperor with her own hand, took her life after having often mistreated her. No one denies that she would have deserved this punishment had it been inflicted by anyone else.
Who was ever easier to handle, simpler and, to put it better, more foolish than the Emperor Claudius ? Who was ever better taken care of by a woman than he was by Messalina ? Yet he delivered her to the executioner. Stupid tyrants remain stupid to the point of never knowing how to do good, but I don’t know how, in the end, the little spirit they have in them causes them to use cruelty even towards their loved ones. We know well enough the word of one who, seeing the throat of his wife, the one he loved most, without whom it seemed he couldn’t live, addressed this pretty compliment to her : "This beautiful neck will be cut off in a while, if I order it !” That’s why most of the ancient tyrants were almost all killed by their own favourites : knowing the nature of tyranny, the favourites were hardly reassured by the tyrant’s desires and they distrusted his power. Thus Domitian was killed by Stephanus, Commodus by one of his mistresses, Caracalla by the centurion Martial excited by Macrinus, and so were almost all the others.

Certainly the tyrant never loves, and is never loved. Friendship is a sacred name, a holy thing [6]. It exists only between good people. It’s born of mutual esteem and is maintained less by benefits than by honesty. What makes a friend sure of the other is the knowledge of his integrity. His good nature, his fidelity and his constancy are his guarantees. There can be no friendship where there’s cruelty, disloyalty and inequity. When villains get together, it’s a conspiracy, not a society. They don’t love each other but fear each other. They’re not friends, but accomplices.
Even if this weren’t so it would be difficult to find a sure love in a tyrant, because being above everyone and having no peers he’s already beyond the limits of friendship. Friendship flourishes in equality, which is always equal and can never stumble. That’s why there’s, as is said, a kind of good faith among thieves when they share the booty : because they’re all peers and companions. If they don’t love each other at least they fear each other. They don’t want to diminish their strength by becoming disunited.
But the favourites of a tyrant can never rely on him because they themselves have taught him that he can do anything, that no right or duty obliges him, that he’s accustomed to have only his will as his reason, that he has no equal and that he’s the master of all. Isn’t it deplorable that in spite of so many striking examples, knowing the danger so present, no one wants to learn from the miseries of others and that so many people still approach tyrants so willingly ? That there isn’t one who has the prudence and courage to say to them, like the fox in the fable to the lion who was pretending to be sick : "I would gladly visit you in your den, but I see enough traces of the beasts that go in there ; as for those that come out, I see none."
Those wretches see the treasures of the tyrant shining ; all amazed, they admire the glitter of his magnificence ; enticed by this glow, they approach him without realising that they’re throwing themselves into a flame that cannot fail to devour them. Thus the imprudent satyr in the fable, seeing the fire glowing that Prometheus had stolen, found it so beautiful that he went to kiss it and burned himself. Thus the butterfly who, hoping to enjoy some pleasure, throws himself into the fire because he sees it shining, soon experiences, as Lucan says, that he too has the power to burn.
But let us suppose that these minions escape from the hands of the one they serve – they never escape from those of the king who succeeds him. If he’s good, then they must be accountable and submit to reason ; if he’s evil like their former master he cannot fail to have his own favourites who, usually, not content with taking their places also most often take as well their goods and their lives. Can it be then that there’s anyone who, in the face of such a peril and with so few guarantees, would take such an unfortunate position and serve such a dangerous master with such suffering ?

What pain, what martyrdom, great God ! To be busy night and day pleasing a man and to distrust him more than anyone else in the world ! To be always on the lookout, to have your ear to the ground, to spy out where the blow will come from, to discover the pitfalls, to explore constantly the faces of your competitors, to guess who the traitor is. To smile at everyone and to be wary of all, to have neither open enemy nor ensured friend, to always show a laughing face when the heart’s cold ; not being able to be joyful, nor daring to be sad !
It’s really pleasant to consider what they get from such great torment, and to see the benefit that they can expect from their pains and their miserable life : it’s not the tyrant that the people accuse of the evil they suffer, but rather those who govern them.
They, the peoples and the nations, all of them, down to the peasants, down to the labourers, know their names, count their vices ; they heap a thousand insults upon them, a thousand swear-words. All the prayers, all the curses are directed at them. All the misfortunes, all the plagues, all the famines are counted against them : and if one sometimes pretends to pay them homage, at the same time someone else curses them from the bottom of his heart and holds them in greater abhorrence than wild beasts. That’s the glory, that’s the honour they receive for their services from people who, if they could each have a piece of their body, wouldn’t yet consider themselves to be satisfied, or even half-consoled for their sufferings. Even after their death, those who survive them don’t cease to blacken with the ink of a thousand pens the name of those devourers of peoples, and to tear their reputation to pieces in a thousand books. Even their bones are, so to speak, dragged through the mud by posterity, as if to punish them even after their death for their wicked life.

So let us learn ; let us learn to do well. Let us raise our eyes to heaven for our honour or for the love of virtue, better still for that of Almighty God, the faithful witness of our acts and judge of our faults.
As for me, I think, and I don’t think that I’m wrong, that since nothing’s more contrary to a good and liberal God than tyranny, that he reserves some special punishment in Hell for the tyrants and their accomplices !

Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (e-book)

[1probably initially inspired by the brutal repression by the royal army of a peasant revolt against taxes near Bordeaux in 1548.

[2who famously wrote about de la Boétie in his Essays : "Besides, what we ordinarily call friends and friendship are only acquaintanceships and familiarities tied up by some occasion or convenience by means of which our souls are sustained. In the friendship of which I speak they mingle and merge into each other with such a universal mixture that they erase and no longer find the seam that joined them. If I am pressed to say why I loved him, I feel that this can only be expressed by answering : Because it was him, because it was me."

[3by a group of anti-monarchist Protestants.

[4by Ray.

[5there follows here a digression addressed to a certain Bertrand de Larmandie, baron of Longa. (translator’s note)

[6Friendship is a sacred name, a holy thing – this passage inevitably evokes the celebrated friendship between de la Boétie and Montaigne. (translator’s note)