In This Review

On Obedience: Contrasting Philosophies for the Military, Citizenry, and Community
On Obedience: Contrasting Philosophies for the Military, Citizenry, and Community
By Pauline Shanks Kaurin
288 pp, Naval Institution Press, 2020
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As commander in chief, U.S. President Donald Trump has disrupted civil-military relations, showing total indifference to established chains of command and emphasizing personal loyalty over constitutional duty. In this timely and thoughtful book, Kaurin doesn’t address Trump directly but provides an invaluable guide for situations in which demands for obedience conflict with the imperatives of conscience. How should military personnel and ordinary citizens respond to troubling orders or manage the competing claims of loyalty to the group and belonging in a broader society? Through chapters considering the virtue of obedience, discipline and loyalty, and the use of judgment and discretion, she argues that individuals faced with demands to obey should adopt a “critical” stance that keeps the wider context in view while allowing them to act in morally and practically sustainable ways. She concludes by testing her approach in a number of hypothetical scenarios, including receiving orders to launch a nuclear strike, dealing with a toxic company commander, and coping with the tensions between a mission’s goals and a senior commander’s orders.