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In principle, obedience is the observance of commands or prohibitions through appropriate actions or omissions . The word is derived (similar to obeying ) from hearing , listening , listening and can range from a purely external act to an internal attitude.

Obedience means submitting to the will of an authority , obeying an order , fulfilling a demand, or failing to do something forbidden . The authority is mostly a person or a community , but it can also be a convincing idea , a god or one's own conscience . A distinction can be made between voluntary and forced obedience (see below).

Example of civil disobedience : Despite several prohibition signs, bicycles are parked under the canopy of a bank in Göttingen.

The opposite of obedience is disobedience , resistance or rebelliousness , whereby the latter is meant negatively from the point of view of the educator (or ruler) and is therefore derogatory and is also felt as such by the educated or affected person. The importance of disobedience is assessed differently in education. While obedience can be a common virtue in educational processes, children’s store education sees disobedience as a desirable attitude that (after Alexander Sutherland Neill and Stanley Milgram, for example) is practiced far too rarely. According to the two authors mentioned, this also means that refusal of obedience in situations in which there is e.g. B. is about the enforcement of human rights, too little is exercised. This means that disobedience is too seldom available as a behavior variant alongside obedience.

Obedience, like all other educational goals, is not a fixed value. Rather, the meaning of obedience in our society changes with its norms and values ; these apply or develop gradually and lose their importance again - as does obedience and subordination. Likewise, the importance of obedience is not the same in all social classes or groups. In general, obedience was more pronounced in working-class families until the end of the 20th century than in the rising middle classes , where personal freedom is more in the foreground (see Gustav Grauer, Literatur). The rank of obedience, its assessment of different educational goals, is, similar to other educational ideas, goals, orientations and guiding principles, very different in different social milieus.

Differentiation of species

A soldier is “disciplined” with a whipping .
Military obedience
is a strictly enforced following of commands and orders. The failure to follow , so disobedience, often attracts sanctions and often means a risk for the safety of others. In special cases, however, refusal to obey may also be required, such as refusal of orders for legal or ethical reasons. The tension between order and conscience has Heinrich von Kleist literary in his play The Prince of Homburg worked.
Filial obedience
The self-joining of children in the family unit , which is composed of a natural affiliation with the parents results. In a figurative sense, it also includes the child-childish behavior of adults. In the context of Enlightenment pedagogy (19th century) it was assumed that the child's obedience to the educator was a prerequisite for the child to be able to achieve a developmental state in which it overcomes its non-liberating nature and becomes accessible to education . After this educational philosophy had already been questioned by reform education and replaced by educational history, in the 1970s Katharina Rutschky and Alice Miller subjected Enlightenment education, for which they now coined the catchphraseblack education ”, to a psychoanalytic interpretation who, instead of the enlightenment intention, focused on a presumed precarious mental state of the educator, who was driven less by his educational goal than by his personal self-improvement to break the child's will. Alexander Sutherland Neill saw child obedience as opposed to freedom and self-determination ; This kind of obedience was of no value to him and only promoted adaptation to existing or required social structures. Arno Gruen went one step further by describing obedience from the previous point of view as a cause for the underdevelopment of identity and self-confidence, for the reduction in empathy and critical ability as well as for the reduction in the perception of reality.
Solidarity obedience
a self-insertion into the group of solidarity , even if one is not self-confident in detail about an idea or action.
Sociological obedience
“Obedience” as a central defining characteristic for “ rule ” in contrast to “ power ” for the sociologist Max Weber .
Obedience as forced behavior
in extreme pressure situations (see the obedience experiments by Stanley Milgram and the Stanford prison experiment ), which of course, according to Milgram, is not difficult for most contemporaries. He suspects: We have not learned any behavior patterns that could be called resistance (to nonsensical orders or authority).
Voluntary obedience
against rules that are recognized as good (like the Ten Commandments ), against the will of God in general (cf. resignation , serenity ) or against one's own conscience - one could also speak of “submission” here. Is related to
Obedience in Religious Communities
In religious , but also other communities as a voluntary vow to the superior in the sense of the evangelical councils poverty , chastity and obedience.
Obedience as self-discipline
Behind this is an attitude that sees the sense of arrangements and the social structure on which they are based as positive.
Advance obedience
Feeling an expectation; before an instruction is expressly formulated, it is already "obeyed". It was first formulated as a maxim of the Jesuits . He played an important role in the effectiveness of National Socialist fighting organizations.
Cadaver obedience
He is the sacrificium intellectus , that is, the sacrifice of the mind, according to a phrase from the rules of the Jesuit order . Blind obedience is another variant of the ego given away to the authority of social organizations, for example in the phrase “ The party is always right ”.


  • Gustaf Grauer: Concepts and Educational Practices. In: family education, social class and school success. b: e tabu 24, Weinheim 1971, pp. 37-58.
  • Friedrich Koch : The Kaspar Hauser Effect. About dealing with children. Opladen 1995, ISBN 978-3810013590 .
  • Stanley Milgram : The Milgram Experiment - On Obedience to Authority. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 1982, ISBN 3499174790 .
  • Alexander Sutherland Neill : Theory and Practice of Anti-Authoritarian Education. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek, ISBN 3-499-16707-7 , p. 157 f (obedience and discipline) .
  • Mathias Wirth: Distance of obedience - theory, ethics and criticism of a virtue. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-16-154086-8 .

See also

Wiktionary: obedient  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Obedience  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Arno Gruen: Consequences of Obedience. April 12, 2003, accessed March 2, 2020 .
  2. Pope Benedict XVI: “In entering into the will of God we only come to our true identity. The world today needs the testimony of this experience in the midst of its desire for 'self-realization' and 'self-determination'. "