Throughout history, tyrants and corrupt leaders have always nurtured obedient citizens: People who do not complain, but obey and accept whatever is given to them. So the question arises: Is the “stable citizen” truly stable?
Almost five centuries ago, French political philosopher Etienne de la Boetie (1530-1563), answered this question. La Boetie, who was a judge and writer, is the founder of modern political philosophy in France.
In his essay, ‘The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude,’ La Boetie said that tyrants have power because people give it to them. He says the great mystery of politics was obedience to rulers, where people agree to be looted and oppressed by their governments.
His essay can easily be viewed as a legal plea condemning absolute monarchy and any type of arbitrary regime. La Boetie argues that any tyrant remains in power while his subjects grant him that, therefore delegitimising every form of power.
La Boetie believed that prolonged repression leads to the creation of generations of citizens who get used to suppression and adapt to tyranny that eventually leads to the emergence of a human model called “stable citizen”. Thus, stability does not always mean progress, but it often means inaction, and hence stability has nothing to do with progress.
In some countries in the region, where repression, tyranny and corruption prevail, citizens have been domesticated and accustomed to the extent that their interests are limited to religion, livelihood and football. Hence, they cannot think of anything beyond this extremely interconnected trilogy. This is what La Boetie calls “voluntary servitude”.
For example, there are people who yearn for yesterday’s coloniser to protest their faltering reality. In voluntary servitude, religion for (stable citizen) has nothing to do with right and justice, but becomes just rituals and fulfilment of formal practices away from good behaviour.
History tells us that there are individuals in every society who bring destruction to their countries, and that include passive citizens who are no different from saboteurs. If a citizen does not reject or protest against a crime, he or she is equally culpable. This is an indisputable legal issue
Those who lie, cheat, and bribe, and practise hypocrisy, feel guilty only if they miss a prayer in a mosque or church. They do not defend their home countries unless they are sure that they will not be harmed. They may get angry at seeing practices that violate religious tenets, but will keep silent no matter how many people are killed in their countries.
Obedient citizens do not care about national duties. They are concerned only about their households, busy bringing up children. Such passive citizens engage themselves in watching football, wrestling and boxing that make them happy and help them forget their concerns.
La Boetie views such a citizen as the biggest barrier to social and economic progress. This citizen will eventually face consequences far worse than those protesters who go out on the streets to secure his homeland from tyranny, corruption and killing.
La Boetie’s political theory applies to Iraq and Lebanon, which have been experiencing sweeping protests for more than a month. Despite the dynamism in the streets of both Arab countries — regardless of the social and historical differences between them — there are many who still act as passive citizens.
These citizens prefer to sit in the safety of their homes and watch corruption, poverty and other crimes destroying their countries.
History tells us that there are individuals in every society who bring destruction to their countries, and that include passive citizens who are no different from saboteurs. If a citizen does not reject or protest against a crime, he or she is equally culpable. This is an indisputable legal issue.
Saboteurs, supported by one or more regional parties, are more like weevils that destroy the foundations of each structure. They disguise as normal people but they are driven by regional or foreign agendas to destroy their countries.
In Iraq and Lebanon, power and wealth have been monopolised by certain corrupt political elites. When nations with abundant natural resources and wealth are hijacked by corrupt leaders, peoples will not have a meaningful life. That’s when the pushback happens. That’s what you see in the streets of Iraq and Lebanon.
Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.