Francesco Gallino

Domination and uchronia. Reading Tocqueville in light of La Boétie

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Affinities between Tocqueville's thought and La Boétie's concept of «voluntary servitude » have been suggested by many important Tocqueville specialists. In this paper I analyse this connection in depth. I argue that La Boétie's concept allows to both enlighten and clarify some inner tensions of Tocqueville's thought. After defining the notion of «voluntary servitude», I focus on three tocquevillian issues: his penitentiary thought, his theory of power, and his critics of historiography. In all of them, subjugated people are described as both the victims and the backers of domination. I suggest that this short-circuit is linked to one of Tocqueville's core values: human freedom. If people's apathy is neither natural (as it is produced by authorities) nor unbreakable (as people might refuse to consent), freedom - even in authoritarian contexts - turns out to be unrestrainable, and the course of history open and unpredictable.


  • Tocqueville
  • La Boétie
  • Voluntary Servitude
  • Penitentiary System
  • Political Pedagogy


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