Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Obedience in a corona time

Disobey! A Philosophy of Resistance
Forfatter: Frédéric Gros
Forlag: Verso (Storbritannia)
PHILOSOPHY /  Why, where, when and for how long are we obedient?


The new English edition of Desobéir (2017) by the French philosopher Frédéric Gros (b. 1965) was published just before the world introduced massive coronary restrictions. The global political situation has changed significantly since then Disobey! was first published in French, but still raises some relevant questions when it comes to political obedience and disobedience.

Gros is a professor of philosophy at the University of Paris-XII and the Department of Political Studies (Sciences-Po). He has written books on psychiatry, law and war, in addition to writing the best-selling book Philosophy of Walking (2009)

The title of this book seems provocative, for how many will be politically disobedient to the coronary restrictions? Is not it now that we must be obedient, since it is a matter of life and death? But that is also why the book is interesting to read – because what does Gros really mean by disobedience?

The tax authorities, the army and the church

The book is first and foremost about the temptation to be politically obedient. It is a deep dive into where disobedience began, and where the desire to obey comes from, all the way to Socrates' time: Why, where, when and for how long are we obedient?

Gros refers to Immanuel Lace when he writes that philosophy always ends in disobedience. He believes that thinking is provocative, since it is intended to loosen the mind, and then fix it. In that sense, philosophizing is disobedience. Why should we be disobedient? Well, it's just opening your eyes, according to him.

Where is the ethics behind obedience and disobedience?

The provocative thing about Gros' portrayal of obedience is that obedience is often not active – you just act and live. Obedience has almost become a routine. Gros writes about "the three great centers of blind obedience in the West": the tax authorities, the military and the church. We pay taxes without thinking. There is an automaticity in it, just as we pay for the daily bread. So one can wonder why this provokes? The answer is simple: Because it's true.

Where is the ethics behind obedience and disobedience? It is about thinking without reading a book, making life choices without a director of conscience, making choices about one's own health without blindly following the doctors' recommendations. It requires courage and critical vigilance. Gros' Socratic message is about thinking for yourself and daring to break with most people. He believes that obedience and disobedience help to shape the individual's freedom.

"How can we distinguish between submission, submission, conformity, consent and obligation, or between rebellion, resistance, transgression, civil disobedience and civil dissent?" he asks.

Why must the submissive obey? Yes, because it is impossible for them to be disobedient. Then they risk being humiliated, beaten and excluded. It will simply cost them too much. Such submission arises due to an unbalanced and unfair hierarchical relationship. The slave has to obey his master. As such, we are forced to obey the tax authorities or the law.

But what is the opposite of being part of an obedient society? Anarchy? He does not answer that. Are we talking about system changes over time, as we see tendencies that are happening right now, both in Norway and in the rest of the world, with, among other things, a diversity debate or climate crisis?

Disobedience creates change

Gros is relieved that the twentieth century has broken with the idea that obedience is always good. For disobedience creates political change and leads humanity forward. Disobedience is active.

Demonstrations and civil disobedience are necessary, even if this fundamental democratic right exposes people to ill-treatment. The corona demonstrations around the world have demonstrators who believe we are in a corona dictatorship – and refuse to follow the restrictions imposed by the state. Gros actually believes here that all forms of disobedience lead the world forward, even the unhealthy ones, because it gives the "self" the opportunity to reflect and be in debate with itself. This is the work of taking care of the self, as his colleague Michel Foucault emphasized.

When we are disobedient, we listen more to ourselves, as opposed to when we are obedient; then we just follow most people. When we are disobedient, we break with the social framework. We are completely alone. Gros will encourage us to this solitude.

Pinar Ciftci
Pinar Ciftci
Ciftci is a journalist and actor.

You may also like