Why do we obey? The politics of obedience

Course Dates: 16/04/24 - 02/07/24
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Keeley Street
We groan against bosses, berate politicians, demonstrate against most aspects of the social system, and then humbly take our orders from above. Is obedience imprinted in our genes? How submissive must people be for society to function? In this short course we will discuss the politics of obedience – drawing on psychology, anthropology, history, and political philosophy.
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Why do we obey? The politics of obedience
  • Course Code: HPC159
  • Dates: 16/04/24 - 02/07/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 19:30
  • Taught: Tue, Evening
  • Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)
  • Location: Keeley Street
  • Tutor: Christian Michel

Course Code: HPC159

Tue, eve, 16 Apr - 02 Jul '24

Duration: 12 sessions (over 12 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

In all social groups, activities need to be coordinated, a consequence of the division of labour, and certain prohibitions are upheld (almost universally: Do not harm people, do not take their stuff). We will discuss how much obedience is required to maintain a functioning society, and how much domination, exploitation, discriminations and multiple forms of violence will human beings tolerate, and why.

What will we cover?

We will discuss the politics of obedience:
- drawing on psychology, with practitioners like Erich Fromm and Stanley Milgram
- on anthropology, with Pierre Clastres, who studied stateless and classless societies
- on political philosophy, starting with Etienne de La Boétie’s dazzling “Discourse on Voluntary Servitude”, written when he was 19, before he became Montaigne’s closest friend.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

By the end of the course you should be able to: Based on what has been covered, students will question how liberating are the works of major contemporary thinkers, from Robert Nozick to Noam Chomsky. Students will also consider and ask radical questions about systems of government (starting with “Should there be one at all?”) And then decide for themselves which one, if any, they want to support.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This is an `introductory` course and does not assume any previous study or reading. As with most of City Lit’s history and current affairs courses, intellectual curiosity and an open mind are more important than specific previous knowledge.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Tutor presentations with visuals (to be emailed to students after each lesson), lively class discussions, and preparatory readings of short texts.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No additional costs. Although much of the material used in class will be emailed to students, you may want a pen and paper to take notes during presentations or discussions.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Please explore our website for similar courses.

Christian Michel

After a brief stint at Sorbonne University reading French Lit and odd jobs in the film industry, Christian Michel joined a financial firm in Paris, before moving to Geneva, working on projects in West Africa and Russia. To use a common metaphor, business is only looking at trees, whereas Christian was keen to gain a perspective on the whole forest. He developed an interest in economics, questioning the purpose of it all – why work, why trade, why money, why growth, and what effects do production and consumption have on us, on our society and on nature. Christian has written a couple of books (in French) on these topics and many articles. He has been teaching various courses at City Lit since 2013.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.