Most people have been so thoroughly trained to think that obedience is a virtue and that doing as you’re told makes you a good person, that anything contrary to that can be very difficult for them to consider. But the truth is, being a moral person often requires disobeying so-called “authorities” who use their power to exploit and dominate innocent people. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” As Henry David Thoreau put it, “If [the law] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law.” As Aleksandr Solzhenitsy put it, “If a regime is immoral, its subjects are free from all obligations to it.” And as Howard Zinn put it, “The greatest danger [is] civil obedience, the submission of individual conscience to governmental authority. Such obedience led to the horrors we saw in totalitarian states. … [T]o establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience.”
Indeed, the worst atrocities in history were first made “legal,” and were carried out in the name of “law enforcement.” This was true in Nazi Germany, in Soviet Russia, in Communist China, and under dozens of other oppressive regimes, and even in supposedly free and enlightened countries. For example, the abuse and murder of the indigenous peoples in what is now Canada and the United States was done by agents of the state, in the name of “law.” And for many decades the heinous institution of slavery was also legal—though utterly immoral—and was enforced by governments all over the world. The list of examples of legalized injustice and oppression is nearly endless.
And those who resisted such evils were always dubbed “criminals” and trouble-makers. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Of course tyrants in power will always demonize any who don’t obey them. But the truth is, every authoritarian regime in history was funded and empowered by the law-abiding taxpayers, while every move towards a more free and moral society has been achieved by those who disobeyed those in power—not by asking nicely, not by voting or petitioning, but by disobeying and resisting those who claimed the right to rule. That is how reality works. As Frederick Douglass, a former slave, put it:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. … Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
And the opposite is also true, in that the power of tyrants, dictators and oppressors always comes from the compliance and obedience of the masses. Large scale evil has almost always been enabled and funded by basically decent people who were just paying their taxes, following the rules and obeying the law. To show just how true this is, here is an explanation of the point that was written well over four hundred years ago by a man named Étienne de La Boétie.
“[T]he more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing. … All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is. … He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body … he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? … [Y]ou can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.”
If any of this has caught your attention and your interest, below are links to more videos, articles and other resources on the topic. But first allow me to introduce myself. My name is Larken Rose, and I am the author of several books, including The Most Dangerous Superstition, and I want to end here by including an excerpt from that here. (If you want the full version, see below.)
———————( excerpt from “The Most Dangerous Superstition” )———————
How many millions have gazed upon the brutal horrors of history, with its countless examples of man's inhumanity to man, and wondered aloud how such things could happen? The truth is, most people wouldn't want to know how it happens, because they themselves are religiously attached to the very belief that makes it possible. The vast majority of suffering and injustice in the world, today and spanning back thousands of years, can be directly attributed to a single idea. It is not greed or hatred, or any of the other emotions or ideas that are usually blamed for the evils of society. Instead, most of the violence, theft, assault and murder in the world is the result of a mere superstition—a belief which, though almost universally held, runs contrary to all evidence and reason (though, of course, those who hold the belief do not see it that way).
The “punch line” of this book is easy to express, albeit difficult for most people to accept, or even to calmly and rationally contemplate: The belief in "authority," which includes all belief in "government," is irrational and self-contradictory; it is contrary to civilization and morality, and constitutes the most dangerous, destructive superstition that has ever existed. Rather than being a force for order and justice, the belief in "authority" is the arch-enemy of humanity.
Of course, nearly everyone is raised to believe the exact opposite: that obedience to "authority" is a virtue (at least in most cases), that respecting and complying with the "laws" of "government" is what makes us civilized, and that disrespect for "author- ity" leads only to chaos and violence. In fact, people have been so thoroughly trained to associate obedience with "being good" that attacking the concept of "authority" will sound, to most people, like suggesting that there is no such thing as right and wrong, no need to abide by any standards of behavior, no need to have any morals at all. That is not what is being advocated here—quite the opposite.
Indeed, the reason the myth of "authority" needs to be demolished is precisely because there is such a thing as right and wrong, it does matter how people treat each other, and people should always strive to live moral lives. Despite the constant authoritarian propaganda claiming otherwise, having respect for "authority" and having respect for humanity are mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed. The reason to have no respect for the myth of "authority" is so that we can have respect for humanity and justice.
There is a harsh contrast between what we are taught is the purpose of "authority" (to create a peaceful, civilized society) and the real-world results of "authority" in action. Flip through any history book and you will see that most of the injustice and destruction that has occurred throughout the world was not the result of people "breaking the law," but rather the result of people obeying and enforcing the "laws" of various "governments." The evils that have been committed in spite of "authority" are trivial compared to the evils that have been committed in the name of "authority."
Nevertheless, children are still taught that peace and justice come from authoritarian control and that, despite the flagrant evils committed by authoritarian regimes around the world throughout history, they are still morally obligated to respect and obey the current "government" of their own country. They are taught that "doing as you're told" is synonymous with being a good person, and that "playing by the rules" is synonymous with doing the right thing. On the contrary, being a moral person requires taking on the personal responsibility of judging right from wrong and following one's own conscience, the opposite of respecting and obeying "authority."
The reason it is so important that people understand this fact is that the primary danger posed by the myth of "authority" is to be found not in the minds of the controllers in "government" but in the minds of those being controlled. One nasty individual who loves to dominate others is a trivial threat to humanity unless a lot of other people view such domination as legitimate because it is achieved via the "laws" of "government." The twisted mind of Adolf Hitler, by itself, posed little or no threat to humanity. It was the millions of people who viewed Hitler as "authority," and thus felt obligated to obey his commands and carry out his orders, who actually caused the damage done by the Third Reich. In other words, the problem is not that evil people believe in "authority"; the problem is that basically good people believe in "authority," and as a result, end up advocating and even committing acts of aggression, injustice and oppression, even murder. The average statist (one who believes in "government"), while lamenting all the ways in which "authority" has been used as a tool for evil, even in his own country, will still insist that it is possible for "government" to be a force for good, and will still imagine that "authority" can and must provide the path to peace and justice.
People falsely assume that many of the useful and legitimate things that benefit human society require the existence of "government." It is good, for example, for people to organize for mutual defense, to work together to achieve common goals, to find ways to cooperate and get along peacefully, to come up with agreements and plans that better allow human beings to exist and thrive in a mutually beneficial and nonviolent state of civilization. But that is not what "government" is. Despite the fact that "governments" always claim to be acting on behalf of the people and the common good, the truth is that "government," by its very nature, is always in direct opposition to the interests of mankind. "Authority" is not a noble idea that sometimes goes wrong, nor is it a basically valid concept that is sometimes corrupted. From top to bottom, from start to finish, the very concept of "authority" itself is anti- human and horribly destructive.
Of course, most people will find such an assertion hard to swallow. Isn't government an essential part of human society? Isn't it the mechanism by which civilization is made possible, because it forces us imperfect humans to behave in an orderly, peaceful manner? Isn't the enacting of common rules and laws what allows us to get along, to settle disputes in a civilized manner, and to trade and otherwise interact in a fair, nonviolent way? Haven't we always heard that if not for the "rule of law" and a common respect for "authority," we would be no better than a bunch of stupid, violent beasts, living in a state of perpetual conflict and chaos?
Yes, we have been told that. And no, none of it is true. But trying to disentangle our minds from age-old lies, trying to distill the truth out of a jungle of deeply entrenched falsehoods, can be exceedingly difficult, not to mention uncomfortable.
For the rest of the book, or to check out a bunch of free stuff, see below.
The vast majority of injustice and oppression is carried out in the name of “the law,” not in spite of it. And the only way out of the vicious cycle that humanity has been stuck in for millenia—the only way for people to end authoritarian injustice permanently—is for the people to stop believing in the superstition of “authority,” and to stop imagining that they have some obligation to obey liars and crooks when those liars and crooks wear the label “government.” See below for more resources on the topic.
“THE MOST DANGEROUS SUPERSTITION”
As an audiobook:
In hard copy:
As an e-book:
—————( FREE STUFF )—————
“The Philosophy of Liberty” (video)
“If You Were King” (video)
“The Jones Plantation” (video)
“What Anarchy Isn’t” (free PDF)
“The End of Politics” (video)
“The Tiny Dot” (video)
“It Can’t Happen Here!” (video)