Of Étienne de La Boétie we remember, at most, two things. First, he was the friend of Michel de la Montaigne. When La Boétie died, Montaigne wrote “if you ask me why I loved him, all I can say is, because it was him, because it was I.” La Boétie is less well known for his principal work, a rambling essay on political allegiance entitled Discours de la servitude volontaire, ou le Contr’un: the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-One. The “One” was the King, tyrant or dictator who ruled the many, and why the many permitted that to happen was the puzzle La Boétie set out to answer, in a foundational if neglected work of political theory

What La Boétie wanted to know was why people agree to be oppressed by their rulers. “I should like merely to understand,” he wrote:

how it happens that so many men, so many villag ...