Today, I discuss the false virtue of obedience, a better way to look at it, and why loyalty is better.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Virtue?
  • What Is Obedience?
  • What Makes Obedience A False Virtue?
  • Focus On Loyalty
  • Question Unjust Authority
  • Chose Loyalty and Obedience
  • Actionables

What Is Virtue?

“All that a man loses in the pursuit of virtue is comfort.”

Virtue is behavior that shows high moral standards – for example, being generous to those in need or being patient during a challenging time. Although difficult to perform, virtuous actions build stable lives and accomplish meaningful goals.

What Is Obedience?

obedience army vet saluting

Obedience is about following orders. Loyalty is about discerning the values and virtues of those you fight with and for.

Obedience is “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.”

To submit to authority is to be obedient. Obedient people follow orders when given, usually without questions. For example, if your boss asks you to do something, and you do it, you are being obedient. You are following the orders given to you and submitting to authority.

What Makes Obedience A False Virtue?

Although “obedient” is a negative word, it is not bad. As with humility, there is much to salvage here, and we need to recognize that.

I am an individualist, but I am not against authority or hierarchy. We cannot exist as a species if we do not recognize competence, power, and ability and rank these things accordingly. Some people are more talented than others. When you learn a new skill from a teacher, you must be obedient to his edicts if you wish to improve. You can rebel against their suggestions and lessons, but what will you accomplish? Nothing, and you’ll remain ignorant and arrogant.

Obedience only serves a practical, pragmatic reality. It cannot be a virtue. Virtue is right actions, following what is good at the expense of what is comfortable. Obedience does not determine if something is good or virtuous. You can follow evil orders and be considered obedient.

Focus On Loyalty

love virtuous | watering plants

Be loyal to that which is virtuous.

Loyalty is the virtue of remaining committed to an idea, person, or group regardless of the difficulties involved in your commitment. Furthermore, you are dedicated to a virtuous ideal when you are loyal. You cannot be faithful to what is evil. And loyalty serves deeper needs than obedience. Obedience is about following orders. Loyalty is about reflecting deeply on the relationships one has and doing your best to meet everyone’s virtuous ends.

Virtue is always the primary consideration. Your status or power does not limit virtue. You are virtuous based entirely on your actions. Whereas obedience only deals with authority, and that power may be evil or corrupting.

To earn more money, I obediently follow my boss’s orders. I do not care about virtue or our relationship’s longevity. If the financial factors are not pleasing, I will seek a new relationship. My loyalty is shallow, but my obedience is there.

I am loyal to my wife. The value she brings me is more profound than money. I aim to be a better man to help her achieve her virtuous ends and create the best relationship I can. My loyalty is deeper, and I will uproot many aspects of my life to please her. Why? Because our relationship is based on virtue. Thus, creating a healthy relationship with her will serve my virtuous ends.

Whereas blindly following my boss’s orders may negatively affect my family, personal life, and other goals. My relationship with my wife serves my virtuous ends. Thus, I am loyal.

Question Unjust Authority

Lastly, obedience destroys individuals’ capacity to challenge authority. When one is blindly obedient, one can serve unjust causes. The best way to snap people out of obedience is to push them to be their best selves. When an individual pursues virtue, better habits, and his best self, he achieves independence that gives him the confidence to challenge authority healthily and productively.

I do not care for “rebels.” Individuals who rebel against authority simply because it is an authority are useless in my opinion. Challenging the edicts of your boss just because “he’s the man” is an immature response to life. We should be obsequious to those who know more than we do or are in positions of authority that they have earned. Experience, skill, and talent are clear indicators of competence. We should not spit at competence because we want to be “independent” in the most shallow sense of the word.

Rebel against authority that demands approval even when you have reasonable opposition. Once again, pursuing virtue helps. The more virtuous we are, the clearer we can think. Question authority when appropriate. But don’t waste time challenging power simply because you can.

Chose Loyalty and Obedience

You must follow just authority: good leaders, wise teachers, fair bosses. But you must not replace loyalty with obedience. Be loyal to those who are virtuous. Do not be afraid to refuse some orders and always question the character of those telling you what to do.

But avoid pointless rebellions. Just because you dislike the word “obedience” doesn’t mean you need to push back like a spoiled teenager. You can be loyal and obedient. You are wise enough to understand when you should or should not do something.

Keep reading, working on yourself, and pursuing virtue to further sharpen your wisdom. And earn loyalty from good people, so you can know when you are being a fool or fighting against an unjust authority.


“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” – Henry David Thoreau

  1. Who are you obedient to? Why? Are they worth taking orders from?
  2. Who are you loyal to? Why are you loyal to them?
  3. Do you believe you are worthy of giving orders to others? Do you think you are worthy of being loyal to?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.