Last night we turned our attention to the Étienne de La Boétie work we’d heard so much about in the Montaigne chapter I wrote about in my last post: “On Voluntary Servitude.” I’d asked people to read the long introduction, and the short first chapter for last night. Some read the intro, but most did not, having been turned off as soon as the editor got explicitly interpretive. After all we sought out the work because we wanted to hear more about the argument from de La Boétie himself, not from Bakewell mediated Montaigne. I had read both the assigned chunks, of course, but it turns out that I was the only one who had not read the rest of the book. One man exclaimed as noted in the title; he voiced the sentiment of the group.
We got off to an roaring start with the case someone carefully laid out on the blackboard for the view that Étienne de La Boétie did not exist, was/is rather just a nom de plume of Montaigne’s. (To be fair, Bakewell planted that seed, but, boy, did R run with it.) Here goes, sans the graphic: Étienne is Stephen, or, the first Christian, and he is of, if we Latinize, Boethius, author of The Consolation of Philosophy (an early neo Platonist defense of Christianity). R admits he’s not sure how “On Voluntary Solitude” connects to the Consolation, still… Does he really believe this account, and want us to too? Not really! — just having fun. And it was.
The men talked a lot about the differences in the challenge of withdrawing consent from an authoritarian government that is elected, and one that represents a highly diverse society such as ours, not to mention, the huge question we had taken up just before the meeting’s end, of what La Boétie means — referentially — by withdrawing consent. What is passive tendering of consent? Is there a third option, or does a citizen either give or withhold consent? Where does doing nothing fall?
The Go back! command was once again a rude surprise (especially now that the clock from the room has been removed, and none of us of course has watches or cell phones), and particularly unwelcome. Two hours at a clip is just too little time.
I haven’t mentioned in awhile (and for new readers) that these men always make it a point to thank me for coming, for my time, and for bringing these books and ideas into their lives.