Freedom over Servitude: Montaigne, La Boétie, and On Voluntary Servitude

Freedom over Servitude: Montaigne, La Boétie, and On Voluntary Servitude

Freedom over Servitude: Montaigne, La Boétie, and On Voluntary Servitude

Freedom over Servitude: Montaigne, La Boétie, and On Voluntary Servitude

Synopsis

This volume contains five articles by prominent scholars of French literature and political philosophy that examine the relation between Montaigne's "Essays," one of the classic works of the French philosophical and literary traditions, and the writings attributed by Montaigne to his friend, the French humanist Etienne de La Boetie's.

Three contributors to the volume suggest that Montaigne was the real author of the revolutionary tract "On Voluntary Servitude," along with the other works he attributed to La Boetie's. Two contributors describe the remarkable mathematical and/or mythological patterns found in both the "Essays" and the works ascribed to La Boetie's. Several essays articulate the revolutionary political teaching found in the "Essays" as well as "On Voluntary Servitude," challenging the conventional view of Montaigne as a political conservative. And all the contributors challenge the received view that he was an artless or nonchalant writer. The volume also includes new translations of both "On Voluntary Servitude" and the 29 Sonnets of Etienne de La Boetie that Montaigne included in all editions of the "Essays" except the final one. An important work for students and scholars of political philosophy, Renaissance history, and French and comparative literature.

Excerpt

This book represents an unusual endeavor in interdisciplinary collaboration. Its theme is the relation between Montaigne’s Essays, one of the classic works of the French philosophical and literary traditions, and the writings attributed by Montaigne to his friend, the French jurist and “humanist” Étienne de La Boétie. None of the contributors, who have diverse backgrounds in the study of political science and literature, share exactly the same perspective on that theme. But their conclusions overlap to a surprising extent. Two of the contributors (David Schaefer and Michael Platt) examine the connection between the politico-philosophic teaching of the Essays and that of the radical tract On Voluntary Servitude, published anonymously in the 1570s and ascribed to La Boétie solely on the basis of Montaigne’s testimony. Two of the contributors (Daniel Martin and Randolph Runyon) develop the theme of the remarkable mathematical and/or mythological order to be found in the Essays and in “La Boétie’s” works. and three contributors (Daniel Martin, Régine ReynoldsCornell, and David Schaefer) put forth the argument, partly inspired by the work of the great Montaigne scholar Arthur Armaingaud at the turn of the present century, that Montaigne himself was the author both of On Voluntary Servitude and of the other works he published in La Boétie’s name. Even though the other contributors refrain from taking a firm position on the latter issue, some aspects of their analyses indirectly lend support to the authorship thesis. and even if that thesis is not susceptible of definitive proof, I suggest that the evidence put forth on its behalf in turn deepens the findings of Platt and Runyon regarding the close connection between the Essays and the works attributed to La Boétie.

If the argument of the studies assembled here is correct, the typical view of Montaigne’s thought and art adopted by contemporary literary scholars stands in need of correction in several respects. First, the links between the argument of the Essays and that of On Voluntary Servitude challenge the widespread belief that Montaigne was a political conservative. Second, the evidence of the . . .

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