The Discourse was unlike any written political essay before this time. A call for mass civil disobedience and defense of liberty, it not only questioned the legitimacy of authority over others, including elected rulers, it dared to ask why people consent to their own enslavement by the authority. He called for people to resist oppression not through bloodshed but by withdrawing their consent. It is thus readily apparent why libertarians should care about this treatise. And indeed, some are aware of it.
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This essay is pulled from Literature of Liberty , March issue. See full issue. His vision also offers highly sophisticated insights into ethics and political psychology. The Discourse begins by rejecting all political authority, the subjection of some men by others. How did this political servitude come about? The answer is complex. Finally, the machinery of the tyranny rests its power, in addition to public largesse through taxation, pomp, and symbols , on an extensive network of patron-client relationships which passes on the privileges and economic power in concentric circles of vested interests.
The strong linkages of shared profit and power cementing rulers with privileged underlings reinforce these techniques. Any call to regicide, given the popular delusion and love of servitude, would be vainglorious. Regicide would simply substitute another ruler to rule over still docile subjects. But the powerful fear of freedom, and the pessimism about the mass psychology of obedience and voluntary servitude, hide from him any practical alternative.
Any call to revolution would be unreasonable since it would merely change the cast of rulers while continuing the popular obedience to the new set of rulers.
Online Library of Liberty
Access options available:. James B. Atkinson and David Sices, intro. For all these reasons, the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude merits a more prominent place in scholarly accounts of the development of political philosophy in this period, and in intellectual-historical accounts of the genealogy of sovereignty through the medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment periods. The scholars responsible for this separate, annotated edition, James B. Atkinson and David Sices, have done a service not only to the author himself and his work, but also to anyone in the present interested in these vitally important topics. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.
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