Jean-Léon Gérôme, Slave Auction, 1866, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Thus the tyrant enslaves his subjects, ones by means of others. He is protected by those from whom he would have to guard himself, were they not abased: but, as it is well said, to split wood one needs wedges of the selfsame wood. Such are his archers, his guards, his halberdiers. Not that they themselves do not often suffer at his hands, but these wretches, accursed alike by God and man, are content to endure evil in order to commit it, not against him who wrongs them, but against those who, like themselves, suffer him and cannot help it. And yet, when I think of those men who basely flatter the tyrant to profit at once from his tyranny and from the servitude of the people, I am almost as astonished by their folly as by their wickedness; for to get to the point, how can they approach a tyrant, but by withdrawing further from their liberty, and, so to speak, embracing and seizing their servitude with both hands? Let such men briefly lay aside their ambition, or slightly loosen the grip of their sordid avarice, and look at themselves as they really are; then they will realize clearly that the townspeople, the peasants whom they trample under foot and treat like convicts or slaves, they will realize, I say, that these people, mistreated though they be, are happier and in a certain sense freer than themselves. The laborer and the artisan, no matter how enslaved, discharge their obligation through obedience; but the tyrant sees men about him grovel and beg for his favor. They must not only do as he says; they must also think as he wills; and often to satisfy him they must anticipate his wishes. Their work is far from done in merely obeying him; they must also please him; they must wear themselves out, torment themselves, kill themselves with work on his behalf, and since they cannot enjoy themselves but through his pleasure, replace their preferences with his, distorting their character and corrupting their nature. They must continually pay heed to his words, to his intonation, to his glances, and to his smallest gestures: let their eyes, their feet, their hands be continually poised to follow or imitate his every motion, to espy or divine his wishes, or to seek out his innermost thoughts. Is that a happy life? Is that a life properly so called? Is there anything in the world more intolerable than that situation, not just for any man of nobility, but even for any man possessed of a crude common sense, or merely of a human face? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s own accord, one’s body, and one’s life!!
—Étienne de La Boétie (1 November 1530 – 18 August 1563), Discours de la servitude volontaire, 1549