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Resumen: The category of «voluntary servitude» (coined by Étienne de La Boétie) is a two-dimensional term for political theorists. Most commonly, militant thinkers use it as a freedom tool, as it deplores political obedience. On the other side, since it describes servitude as a voluntary condition, it can easily turn into an obstacle for emancipatory ambitions: how could you set slaves free, if they choose not to be? In this case, the term «voluntary servitude» can assume two different meanings: emancipatory (as it states that people could free themselves simply by wanting to), and authoritarian (in which slaves are willing to be slaves); and as a matter of fact, this second implication of the Discours has often been overlooked by philosophers. How should we deal with such an ambiguous concept? Reading La Boétie again is required first in order to fully understand all the implications embedded in the term «voluntary servitude». Two characteristics stand out. First, people’s submission is stupid, since they will never be happy in tyranny (freedom being a necessary condition for happiness). At the same time, they nevertheless wittingly choose it (this is not a «miscalculation» which we could make them aware of). In order to fully understand the meaning of this tool, we need to test it against those authoritarian theories whose thinkers found in the voluntariness of submission the legitimation for despotism. To accomplish this task, we start with two comparisons: La Boétie and Thomas Hobbes, whose theories, despite their opposite premises and conclusions, present many points in common and reveal to be closely related; the Discours and the Legend of the Great Inquisitor by Fedor Dostoevskij, the latter describing freedom as an unbearable burden for most people. The discussion on these two comparisons allows us to turn our attention to the analysis of Antonio Borgese’s reflections on La Boétie and fascism, and in particular to his definition of Mussolini as an «empty automaton». This second inquiry helps us to make an attempt to answer our fundamental question: is the category of voluntary servitude a secret ally of authoritarianism? In order to prevent this possibility, militant thinkers ought to make a more rigorous use of La Boétie’s category. Voluntary Servitude can be profitably adopted as a «freedom tool» by political thinkers and philosophers only by respecting its fundamental ambiguity and its unsolvable and paradoxical content.
Palabras clave: La Boétie. Voluntary Servitude. Freedom. Submission. Emancipation.