The Marxist psychologists seek to discredit the virtue of obedience by conflating it with a certain psychological disposition. The disposition in question is one we all feel to some extent. We tend to conform to our social environment and feel distress when we find ourselves out of step with this. Part of this conformity is the tendency to obey whoever this environment singles out as a commanding figure. (I will not say an authority figure, because authority is a distinctly moral category, and we are now considering only the pre-rational level of psychological pressure.) The psychologist then cites the Frankfurt School portrayal of the “authoritarian personality type” or Professor Milgram’s ghastly experiments to argue that we obviously need less respect for authority, where by “authority” they mean the residual rivals of their own power: fathers and priests, never professors and newspapermen.
Now, the disposition to conform and obey is itself a generally positive thing. In everyday life, the psychologically easy thing to do is usually also the correct thing to do, and I doubt even the liberals’ own order could last a day without this basic instinct to obey. However, this instinct is not the virtue that we call “respect for authority” or “obedience”. Obedience is a part of the virtue of justice, and it requires that we obey licit orders from legitimate authorities simply because this is a moral duty. It may or may not be psychologically easy. Usually it is, but we shouldn’t hold this against the virtue. Virtuous acts are usually pleasant, or at least less unpleasant than the alternative. This only sounds counterintuitive because our moral energies concentrate on those rare times when desire and duty clash. Ordinarily, eating, wearing clothes, being friendly, paying taxes, and pulling over when the cops signal are the right things to do, but we don’t need to moralize ourselves into them because self-interest suffices. However, like the other virtues, obedience shows itself most clearly when it is unpleasant, when the virtue is performed for its own sake. Thus, the best image of obedience is the menial sailor who remains loyal to his captain even when the whole rest of the crew is crying mutiny and demanding he join them; the sailor does this, moreover, not because he particularly likes the captain, but because he knows that the captain is the one he has a duty to obey. In such a situation, the one with a mere disposition to obey will not remain loyal; he will line up behind the powerful and charismatic leader of the mutiny.
The psychologists slander obedient men as being psychologically weak and ethically shallow, but this is the opposite of the truth. A true appreciation of authority is only possible to one with a strong moral sense. It cannot be a substitute for a personal sense of justice since this is its very foundation, and it in no way inclines a man to obey immoral orders.
Finally, I admit to being more than a little put off by these partisans of the anti-authoritarian status quo telling the dissidents that we need to stop being such mindless followers.
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