European Journal of Political Theory 12 (4):483-509 (2013)

Étienne de La Boétie (1530–63) is a central, if enigmatic, figure in modern French political philosophy. While his name is most famous for his friendship with Montaigne, his Discours de la servitude volontaire (Discourse of Voluntary Servitude) is a tour-de-force of humanist political writing, a youthful paean to liberty arguing that subjection to tyrants is the result of popular corruption. This article argues that the text can be read as a reflection on the perils and promise of transparency. Reading La Boétie helps us see two radically different ways in which members of a polity can be known to one another – two models of transparency – and it offers an important, but ultimately unsettling, political ideal based on a classical conception of civic friendship. The article draws out the importance of this ideal for modern anti-corruption efforts
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DOI 10.1177/1474885112471267
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