On voluntary servitude

“How is it possible that so many people, so many towns, so many cities, so many nations, can endure a single tyrant, whose only power is that which people give him; who cannot hurt them, except inasmuch as they will endure it; who would not cause any harm, except they would rather suffer than contradict.” This passage appears in the first pages of La Boetie’s Treatise on Voluntary Servitude. No wonder Montaigne had a crush on the man.

This text is not offering a solution, but forcefully raising the question of our submission to power. Why do we yield? Our countries, let’s call them Western democracies, have grown out of political tyranny. But how many families, neighbourhoods, or business units live in fear of a single despot.

Power is a relationship. It may be cast in layers of regulations, property deeds, and privileges. But the fundamental premise remains. No single individual will ever contain their own power. Mana does not emanate from a sacred space within the tyrant’s body. Its existence depends on a complex network of relationships, glued in fear and hope, of which we form a node. And the first step to freedom may be no more than acknowledging this, always – you’re only powerful because people let you.

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