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Obedience is the act of carrying out commands.

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  • The wise man must not be ordered but must order, and he must not obey another, but the less wise must obey him.


  • Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins ... remain addicted to such things as running errands and messages, such as for kings, ministers, nobles, Brahmins, householders and young men who say, "Go here, go there! Take this there, bring that from there," the ascetic Gotama refrains from such errand-running.
  • You moralistic dog—admitting a hierarchy in which you are subordinate, purely that you may have subordinates; licking the boots of a superior, that you may have yours in turn licked by an underling.
  • The fear of some divine and supreme powers keeps men in obedience.
    • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Part III, Section 4. Memb. 1. Subsec. 2


  • Don't give yourselves to brutes — men who despise you — enslave you — who regiment your lives — tell you what to do — what to think or what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men — machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!
  • The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
  • For we will subject ourselves not to some ordinary harm, but to real danger, if we rashly hand ourselves over to the desires of those who rush headlong into strife and faction and so estrange us from what is good for us.


  • When Diogenes of Sinope was sold as a slave, he endured it most nobly. For on a voyage to Aegina he was captured by pirates under the command of Scirpalus, conveyed to Crete and exposed for sale. When the auctioneer asked in what he was proficient, he replied, "In ruling men." Thereupon he pointed to a certain Corinthian with a fine purple border to his robe, the man named Xeniades above-mentioned, and said, "Sell me to this man; he needs a master."


  • She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance.
  • In dealing with relationships, not only man-to-man, but also State-to-State and race-to-race, it is necessary to be able to conceive again of that obedience which does not humiliate but exalts, that command or leadership which commits one to superiority and a precise responsibility.


  • From the fight against the authority of the Church, State and family which characterize the last centuries, we have come back full circle to a new obedience; but this obedience is not one to autocratic persons, but to the organization. The ‘organization man’ is not aware that he obeys; he believes that he only conforms with what is rational and practical.
    • Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion (1989), pp. 157-158
  • Obedience to a person, institution or power (heteronomous obedience) is submission; it implies the abdication of my autonomy and the acceptance of a foreign will of judgment in place of my own. Obedience to my own reason or conviction (autonomous obedience) is not an act of submission but one of affirmation. My conviction and my judgment, if authentically mine, are part of me. If I follow them rather than the judgment of others, I am being myself; hence the word obey can be applied only in a metaphorical sense and with a meaning which is fundamentally different from the one in the case of “heteronomous obedience.”
    • Erich Fromm, “Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem,” On Disobedience (1981), p. 19


  • Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.
    • David Hume, “Of the First Principles of Government,” in Essays, Literary, Moral and Political, p. 32


  • It isn't right to be obedient only when things go well; it is much harder to be a good, obedient soldier when things go badly and times are hard. Obedience and faith at such time is a virtue.
    • Wilhelm Keitel, to Leon Goldensohn, May 17, 1946, from "The Nuremberg Interviews" by Leon Goldensohn, Robert Gellately (2004), p. 166


  • Men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves.
  • Τί δὲ καὶ ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν οὐ κρίνετε τὸ δίκαιον;
    • Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right?
    • Jesus in Luke 12:57
  • The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.


  • Obedience is the key to every door.
  • I find the doing of the will of God, leaves me no time for disputing about His plans.
  • Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, every one of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors, I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion.
  • Obedience is as basic an element in the structure of social life as one can point to. Some system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the man dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, through defiance or submission, to the commands of others. Obedience, as a determinant of behavior, is of particular relevance to our time. It has been reliably established that from 1933-45 millions of innocent persons were systematically slaughtered on command. Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded, daily quotas of corpses were produced with the same efficiency as the manufacture of appliances. These inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders. Obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purpose. It is the dispositional cement that binds men to systems of authority. Facts of recent history and observation in daily life suggest that for many persons obedience may be a deeply ingrained behavior tendency, indeed, a prepotent impulse overriding training in ethics, sympathy, and moral conduct. C. P. Snow (1961) points to its importance when he writes:
When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion. If you doubt that, read William Sbirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” The German Officer Corps were brought up in the most rigorous code of obedience ... in the name of obedience they were party to, and assisted in, the most wicked large scale actions in the history of the world.
While the particular form of obedience dealt with in the present study has its antecedents in these episodes, it must not be thought all obedience entails acts of aggression against others. Obedience serves numerous productive functions. Indeed, the very life of society is predicated on its existence. Obedience may be ennobling and educative and refer to acts of charity and kindness, as well as to destruction.
  • The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority
  • Son of Heav'n and Earth,
    Attend! That thou art happy, owe to God;
    That thou continuest such, owe to thyself,
    That is, to thy obedience; therein stand.
  • Ascend, I follow thee, safe guide, the path
    Thou lead'st me, and to the hand of heav'n submit.


  • Εἰ ἀπεθάνετε σὺν Χριστῷ ἀπὸ τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου, τί ὡς ζῶντες ἐν κόσμῳ δογματίζεσθε;
  • Πειθαρχεῖν δεῖ Θεῷ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀνθρώποις.
    • We must obey God rather than any human authority.
    • Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29


  • I shall love and respect, but neither command nor obey.
  • There are few things as nauseating as pure obedience.


  • . . . The man
    Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
    Power, like a desolating pestilence,
    Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
    Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
    Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
    A mechanized automaton.
  • The poor man’s son ... devotes himself for ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness. To obtain the conveniencies which these afford, he submits in the first year, nay in the first month of his application, to more fatigue of body, and more uneasiness of mind, than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from the want of them. ... He makes his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises. Through the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquillity that is at all times in his power.
    • Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 4, Chapter 1
  • You made your rulers mighty, gave them guards,
    So now you groan 'neath slavery's heavy rod.


Unless the gods deceive my mind,
That man is forging fetters for himself. ~ Theognis of Megara
  • Unless the gods deceive my mind,
    That man is forging fetters for himself.
  • Do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven.
  • The order of authority derives from God, as the Apostle says [in Romans 13:1-7]. For this reason, the duty of obedience is, for the Christian, a consequence of this derivation of authority from God, and ceases when that ceases. But, as we have already said, authority may fail to derive from God for two reasons: either because of the way in which authority has been obtained, or in consequence of the use which is made of it.
  • With regard to the abuse of authority, this also may come about in two ways. First, when what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted (if, for example, some sinful action is commanded or one which is contrary to virtue, when it is precisely for the protection and fostering of virtue that authority is instituted). In such a case, not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants. Secondly, when those who bear such authority command things which exceed the competence of such authority; as, for example, when a master demands payment from a servant which the latter is not bound to make, and other similar cases. In this instance the subject is free to obey or disobey.
  • Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support are ... the most serious obstacles to reform.


  • Il est bien malaisé (puisqu’il faut enfin m’expliquer) d’ôter à des insensés des chaînes qu’ils révèrent.
    • It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.
      • Voltaire, Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (1767): Troisième Entretien


  • The powerful, if they carry oppression beyond a certain point, necessarily end by making themselves adored by their slaves. For the thought of being under absolute compulsion, the plaything of another, is unendurable for a human being. Hence, if every way of escape from the constraint is taken from him, there is nothing left for him to do but to persuade himself that he does the things he is forced to do willingly, that is to say, to substitute devotion for obedience. ... It is by this twist that slavery debases the soul: this devotion is in fact based on a lie, since the reasons for it cannot bear investigation.
  • Thoreau's disobedience is disobedience as refusal. I won't live in your world. I will live as if your world has ended, as indeed it deserves to end. I will live as if my gesture of refusing your world has destroyed it.
    • Curtis White, “The spirit of disobedience: An invitation to resistance,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2006, p. 36


  • That ... is the road to the obedience of compulsion. But there is a shorter way to a nobler goal, the obedience of the will. When the interests of mankind are at stake, they will obey with joy the man whom they believe to be wiser than themselves. You may prove this on all sides: you may see how the sick man will beg the doctor to tell him what he ought to do, how a whole ship's company will listen to the pilot.
    • Xenophon, Cyropaedia, Book 1, Chapter 6; translation. Henry Graham Dakyns (Cyropaedia (2004) p. 29)

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 564
  • Obedience is the mother of success, the wife of safety.
  • Qui modeste paret, videtur qui aliquando imperet dignus esse.
    • He who obeys with modesty appears worthy of being some day a commander.
    • Cicero, De Legibus, III. 2
  • 'Tis the same, with common natures,
    Use 'em kindly, they rebel,
    But, be rough as nutmeg graters,
    And the rogues obey you well.
    • Aaron Hill, verses written on a Window in a Journey to Scotland
  • All arts his own, the hungry Greekling counts;
    And bid him mount the skies, the skies he mounts.
    • Juvenal, Third Satire. Translation by Gifford
  • All sciences a fasting Monsieur knows;
    And bid him go to hell—to hell he goes.
    • Juvenal, Third Satire. Paraphrased by Johnson—London
  • No nice extreme a true Italian knows;
    But bid him go to hell, to hell he goes.
    • Juvenal, Third Satire. Paraphrased by Phillips, in a letter to the king in reference to the Italian witnesses at the trial of Queen Caroline.
  • Though a god I have learned to obey the times.
    • Palladas, Epigram, in Palatine Anthology, IX, 441
  • Through obedience learn to command.
  • Rursus prosperum ac felix scelus virtus vocatur; sontibus parent boni, ius est in armis, opprimit leges timor.
    • Prosperous and successful crime goes by the name of virtue; good men obey the bad, might is right and fear oppresses law.
      • Seneca, Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules), lines 251-253
  • Obedience decks the Christian most.
  • The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)


Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

  • The sound convert takes a whole Christ, and takes Him for all intents and purposes, without exceptions, without limitations, without reserves. He is willing to have Christ, upon His own terms, upon any terms. He is willing to bear the dominion of Christ as well as have deliverance by Christ. He saith with Paul, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
  • O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in Thee; mercifully accept our prayer; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us the help of Thy grace, that in keeping Thy commandments we may please Thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    • Book Of Common Prayer, p. 436
  • The history of all the great characters of the Bible is summed up in this one sentence: — they acquainted themselves with God, and acquiesced in His will in all things.
  • "Arise, take up thy bed and walk." You are on your bed now. You put yourself there by your own sin. You have kept yourself there by your own choice. Every sinner is a sinner because he chooses to be; and you are no exception. Jesus commands you to repent and trust Him and follow Him. The moment you are willing to obey, He gives you strength to obey.
  • Worship is easier than obedience. Men are ever readier to serve the priest than to obey the prophet.
  • I believe that the fewer the laws in a home the better; but there is one law which should be as plainly understood as the shining of the sun is visible at noonday, and that is, implicit and instantaneous obedience from the child to the parent, not only for the peace of the home, but for the highest good of the child.
  • Poor, sad Humanity
    Through all the dust and heat
    Turns back with bleeding feet,
    By the weary road it came,
    Unto the simple thought
    By the Great Master taught,
    And that remaineth still,
    Not he that repeateth the name,
    But he that doeth the will!
  • True obedience to God is the obedience of faith and good works; that is, he is truly obedient to God who trusts Him, and does what He commands.
  • O that we could take that simple view of things, as to feel that the one thing which lies before us is to please God! What gain is it to please the world, to please the great, nay, even to please those whom we love, compared with this? What gain is it to be applauded, admired, courted, followed,—compared with this one aim of "not being disobedient to the heavenly vision?"
  • Let the ground of all thy religious actions be obedience; examine not why it is commanded, but observe it because it is commanded. True obedience neither procrastinates nor questions.
  • This is the secret of Christ's kingship— "He became obedient — wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him." And this is the secret of all obedience and all command. Obedience to a law above you subjugates minds to you who never would have yielded to mere will.
  • "Sir," said the Duke of Wellington to an officer of engineers, who urged the impossibility of executing the directions he had received, "I did not ask your opinion, I gave you my orders, and I expect them to be obeyed." Such should be the obedience of every follower of Jesus.

See also


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Ideologies Anarchism ⦿ Aristocratic Radicalism (NietzscheBrandes...) ⦿ Autarchism ⦿ Ba'athism (• Aflaqal-AssadHussein) ⦿ Communism ⦿ (Neo-)Confucianism ⦿ Conservatism ⦿ Constitutionalism ⦿ Dark Enlightenment ⦿ Environmentalism ⦿ Fascism (• Islamo-Eco-Francoism...) vs. Nazism ⦿ Feminism (• Anarcha-RadicalGender-criticalSecond-wave...) ⦿ Formalism/(Neo-)cameralism ⦿ Freudo-Marxism ⦿ Gaddafism/Third International Theory ⦿ Legalism ⦿ Leninism/Vanguardism ⦿ Juche (• Kim Il-sungKim Jong IlKim Jong Un...) ⦿ Liberalism ⦿ Libertarianism/Laissez-faire Capitalism ⦿ Maoism ⦿ Marxism ⦿ Mohism ⦿ Republicanism ⦿ Social democracy ⦿ Socialism ⦿ Stalinism ⦿ Straussianism ⦿ Syndicalism ⦿ Xi Jinping thought ⦿ New Monasticism (• MacIntyreDreher...)
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Concepts Alienation ⦿ Anarcho-tyranny ⦿ Anomie ⦿ Authority ⦿ Conquest's Laws of Politics ⦿ Duty ⦿ Eugenics ⦿ Elite ⦿ Elite theory ⦿ Emancipation ⦿ Equality ⦿ Freedom ⦿ Government ⦿ Hegemony ⦿ Hierarchy ⦿ Iron law of oligarchy ⦿ Justice ⦿ Law ⦿ Monopoly ⦿ Natural law ⦿ Noblesse oblige ⦿ Norms ⦿ Obedience ⦿ Peace ⦿ Pluralism ⦿ Polyarchy ⦿ Power ⦿ Propaganda ⦿ Property ⦿ Revolt ⦿ Rebellion ⦿ Revolution ⦿ Rights ⦿ Ruling class ⦿ Social contract ⦿ Social inequality ⦿ Society ⦿ State ⦿ Tocqueville effect ⦿ Totalitarian democracy ⦿ War ⦿ Utopia
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