Erich Fromm’s thesis in ‘Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem’ to be that man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Fromm envelops the argument of disobedience, and whether or not obedience is virtuous and disobedience and a vice. He begins by reviewing the story of Adam and Eve. That human history had begun with their act of disobedience and as a result this had been the first evidence of independence and freedom. That when both Adam and Eve had left the Garden of Eden, they had fully become dependent upon their own powers and had became fully human. He explores further the argument by introducing that when a man leaves an obedient realm for a paradise (where their act of disobedience had guided them). I think this is cool because there have been numerous of communities created in this manner. If you look at the chasm between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 17th, 18th and the 19th century this is evident. At this time there were a considerable amount of exiles and émigrés who had either been forced to leave a state out of disobedience or even out of fear from persecution.
Fromm believes that an individual’s intellectual development begins when the person becomes disobedient. He also thinks that if an act of disobedience was responsible for the beginning of human life, than it very well be responsible for the end of human history. The thought had occurred to him that it is not so altogether impossible that man will destroy civilization within the next 5-10 years. Fromm believes that if man did commit this mistake then it would be caused by man who was obeying those who are in power i.e. state, church. For one to disobey, to Fromm this would be a direct act of courage, the courage to be oneself. He believes that when a person is a fully realized and developed individual, and has developed the capability to think for themselves only then can they posses the power to be disobedient.
Fromm suggests that if disobedience were a virtue and obedience a vice, then there would be a dialectical relationship between obedience and disobedience. One of Fromm’s major arguments is that Obedience is a submission, that it suggests “the abdication of autonomy and the acceptance of a foreign will or judgment in place of their own”. He then introduces the concept of rational and irrational authority. An example of rational authority can be found between teacher and their student and the one between a slave and master would be an example of irrational authority. He later describes of irrational authority, that in order for this to be true, there will have to be the use of force, because no one in their right mind would allow themselves to be exploited if they could for obvious reasons prevent it.
His last argument suggests that human history itself has dictated the level of disobedience and obedience. That human history has developed this conception of obedience that to disobey is an act out of sin. Also, that to obey is seen as a sign of virtue. Its hard to disobey know because there are so many institutions and agreements that require one party to be obedient to someone or something. To turn away from the truth and to grow disobedient now would be in violation of what history has set aside for conception of being obedient.