Friday, August 10, 2007

A 16th Century French Thinker Explains how We got Into this Mess.

Update: this post disappeared from the front page too quickly, so I put it back up for a while

Thanks to the web I have discovered a great political thinker unknown to me till now. He wrote what follows in about 1552.

On the American people:
It is incredible how as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say, on beholding such a situation, that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement. It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born. There is, however, no heir so spendthrift or indifferent that he does not sometimes scan the account books of his father in order to see if he is enjoying all the privileges of his legacy or whether, perchance, his rights and those of his predecessor have not been encroached upon. Nevertheless it is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection.

We have truly squandered our inheritance. The "Greatest Generation" would have been revolted at Bush's Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, and we let it pass without a murmur.

On the Republican party:

. . . whenever a ruler makes himself a dictator, all the wicked dregs of the nation---I do not mean the pack of petty thieves and earless ruffians19 who, in a republic, are unimportant in evil or good---but all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant.

A dictator always attracts petty crooks like Senator Stevens and Representative Cunningham.

On why Bush lives in a Bubble:
But the favorites of a tyrant can never feel entirely secure, and the less so because he has learned from them that he is all powerful and unlimited by any law or obligation. Thus it becomes his wont to consider his own will as reason enough, and to be master of all with never a compeer. Therefore it seems a pity that with so many examples at hand, with the danger always present, no one is anxious to act the wise man at the expense of the others, and that among so many persons fawning upon their ruler there is not a single one who has the wisdom and the boldness to say to him what, according to the fable, the fox said to the lion who feigned illness: "I should be glad to enter your lair to pay my respects; but I see many tracks of beasts that have gone toward you, yet not a single trace of any who have come back."

Nowadays, they write tell-all books after they leave the cabinet, but no one listens.

On what it must be like to be Abu Gonzales:
Good God, what suffering, what martyrdom all this involves! To be occupied night and day in planning to please one person, and yet to fear him more than anyone else in the world; to be always on the watch, ears open, wondering whence the blow will come; to search out conspiracy, to be on guard against snares, to scan the faces of companions for signs of treachery, to smile at everybody and be mortally afraid of all, to be sure of nobody, either as an open enemy or as a reliable friend; showing always a gay countenance despite an apprehensive heart, unable to be joyous yet not daring to be sad!

Poor Gonzales, you almost have to feel sorry for him.

On parents of the troops:

. . . you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows---to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance. . .

In memoriam, Pat Tillman. And 3356 other men and women who will not come home again.

On the solution:
From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces?

I wish it were so simple.

One last word to Etienne de la Boettie:
Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good!

Etienne de la Boetie,The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude


Professor Zero said...

So *this* was what la Boetie was about. It's brilliant. And I love the book title. Great post.

Joseph said...

Thanks, he IS brilliant. I just wonder why he is not well known.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how well a 16th century student captures 21st century America. de la Boetie's essay was written while he was in college. It wasn't published until after his death. Had he been a more prolific writer, he might well have been better known.

Kim said...

Have you seen this video?
Made by a philosophical descendant of de la Boetie:

isim said...

thank you