re: Now It

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Writes Jeffrey R. Snyder: Christopher Manion’s blog on the Anti-Bush reminded me of the words of Etienne de la Boetie, from The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1548). De la Boetie noted that the people never blamed the tyrant for the evils they suffer, but always placed responsibility on particular individuals who influenced the tyrant. The tyrant was always blameless:

“Actually the people never blame the tyrant for the evils they suffer, but they do place responsibility on those who influence him; peoples, nations, all compete with one another, even the peasants, even the tillers of the soil, in mentioning the names of the favorites, in analyzing their vices, and heaping upon them a thousand insults, a thousand obscenities, a thousand maledictions. All their prayers, all their vows are directed against these persons; they hold them accountable for all their misfortunes, their pestilences, their famines; and if at times they show them outward respect, at those very moments they are fuming in their hearts and hold them in greater horror than wild beasts. This is the glory and honor heaped upon influential favorites for their services by people who, if they could tear apart their living bodies, would still clamor for more, only half satiated by the agony they might behold. For even when the favorites are dead those who live after are never too lazy to blacken the names of these man-eaters with the ink of a thousand pens, tear their reputations into bits in a thousand books, and drag, so to speak, their bones past posterity, forever punishing them after their death for their wicked lives.”

De la Boetie did not plumb the psychology of the need to hold the tyrant blameless, but it is a subject worth pondering. I’ll speculate. Possibly it is the strong desire for an all-powerful earthly protector, champion and savior. People want such a power to exist and be used for them. They want it to be used to provide benefits to them. Think of the good that could be accomplished with such power. Thus, they can’t think ill of it – to do so would be to admit that what they want, and the way that they want it, is wrong. Consequently, the bad things that happen are always a misuse or accident of power, the result of some improper skewing influence or “special interest” – never the very essence of the thing itself. It’s just that the wrong person is in power or a position of influence, and we will correct that in the next election. So decades and generations pass, and further “reforms,” though always being made, are still needed.

11:57 am on August 7, 2003