Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

La Boétie, Étienne de

Born: 1530, Sarlat
Died: 1563, Germignan
  • Laurent GerbierEmail author
Living reference work entry

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_302-2


Born in 1530 to a family of wealthy merchants in Sarlat, Périgord, Étienne de La Boétie was trained in the humanities and law and became a councillor in the Parlement of Bordeaux, where he met Michel de Montaigne, who was to become his closest friend. He died in 1563 near Bordeaux, at the age of 33. His famous Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, probably completed it around 1554, was only published in 1574, in a Protestant collection of anti-monarchical essays. However, the critical analysis of domination developed by the Discourse does not concern the sole French Catholic monarchy: La Boétie rather expands the classical analysis of tyranny and applies it to any form of individual power. This political radicalism defined the way La Boétie was to be read and published from the sixteenth century to the present: the Discourse offers a model to link the rejection of any kind of servitude with the constant reminder of the part the subjects themselves always take in it. Indeed, by forging the concept of “voluntary servitude,” La Boétie underlines that no individual may ever reduce any people to servitude without their active consent. He then endeavors to understand the root of this actual corruption of the human nature: “custom” is the force that led humanity to forget its native impetus toward freedom, and friendship seems to be the only antidote against the habituation to servitude.

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Primary Literature

  1. La Boétie, É. 1976. Le Discours de la servitude volontaire. Ed. M. Abensour. Paris: Payot.Google Scholar
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  3. La Boétie, É. 1991. Œuvres Complètes. Ed. L. Desgraves. Bordeaux: William Blake. This edition includes La Boétie’s translations of Xenophon and Plutarch, as well as his French and Latin poetry.Google Scholar
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Secondary Literature

  1. Cahiers La Boétie, n° 1. 2012a. Amitié et compagnie. Autour du Discours de la servitude volontaire. Ed. S. Geonget, and L. Gerbier. Paris: Garnier.Google Scholar
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  3. Cahiers La Boétie, n° 3. 2013. Lectures politiques de La Boétie. Ed. L. Gerbier. Paris: Garnier.Google Scholar
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre d’Études Supérieures de la RenaissanceUniversité François RabelaisToursFrance