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“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”

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“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”
Erich Fromm

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Erich Fromm’s essay “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” suggests that humankind’s evolution has, and continues to rely on man’s capability to exercise disobedience. While discussing the positions of disobedience being considered a vice, and obedience being a virtue, Fromm reflects upon the history of Adam and Eve believing that “eating the forbidden fruit” was man’s first act of disobedience.

This is the point that broke the bond between man and nature requiring man to be dependant upon his own powers, while rewarding him with his “complete” humanity, freedom, and independence.

Another example Fromm discusses is the Greek myth of Prometheus’ defiance of the gods. Prometheus proclaimed that he “would rather be chained to this rock than be the obedient servant of the gods.” These are just a couple acts of defiance throughout the course history that have contributed to man’s evolution.

Through acts of disobedience, man has continued to evolve spiritually, as well as intellectually.

In addition, Fromm goes on to explain that just as disobedience has been the construct for humankind, blind obedience has the power to wipe it out it altogether. Fromm believes that the driving force catapulting man into the position of ultimately destroying all civilization is that, while currently living in the Atomic Age, he is emotionally anchored to the Stone Age.

Although Fromm is steadfast in his belief that disobedience is essential for humanity’s progression, he is not arguing that disobedience is always a virtue, or that all obedience is considered a vice, but acknowledges the dialectical relationship between the two.


With ignorant obedience to a person, institution, or any other power, one consents to slavery, as with reckless disobedience, one is said to be a rebel only acting from raw emotion, void of any conviction or principal. He adds to this by introducing the concepts of rational and irrational authority, explaining that rational authority would be equivalent to that of a teacher and student whereby there is mutual benefit, while irrational authority would be identified by the likes of a slave and his owner who demonstrates complete disregard of the slave’s happiness or well-being, his only interest being how the slave will benefit him.

Through a veil of lies man obeys the State, the Church, the mass opinions of their peers, or any other organization that they view to be in power. This affords him a false sense of safety and protection. In his obedience, man feels strong allowing him to be controlled by the fear of being isolated or having undesirable repercussions greet him as a result of any disobedience. Throughout history it has been evident that, for the most part, the few in power have ruled over the majority. The foundation of this relationship has been “the few” equating obedience with virtue and disobedience with sin, resulting in man not only needing to obey, but wanting to obey.

Man’s inability to see that he has lost his ability to disobey and stand up for what he believes and values, instead of what he has been brainwashed to believe and value, will inevitably ensure the destruction of all civilization at the hand of man. Man’s only saving grace will be his ability to realize the error of his ways and to begin to challenge, criticize, and disobey.


“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”
Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm’s essay “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem” discusses why disobedience is the fundamental element needed to further civilization. He explains that society views disobedience as a vice and obedience as a virtue, thereby manipulating the majority. Those “few” seated in the power positions of society have successfully programmed the masses to be obedient, so that they may retain their coveted reining positions.

Fromm suggests that for man to have the capability to disobey, he must first be “fully developed” in order to realize the courage it takes to disobey those in power. He goes on to predict that man’s careless obedience is what will turn him into the slaves of those in power and ultimately cause the demise of all civilization. In closing, Fromm addresses humanity’s need to obey in order to feel safe and secure and their struggle to be true to their beliefs and values when it requires disobedient behavior in the eyes of the majority. Fromm believes that the only way to ensure civilization’s growth is for disobedience to exist.

Cite this “Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”

“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem”. (2016, May 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/disobedience-as-a-psychological-and-moral-problem/

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