Do What You’re Told

Sophocles. Antigone. 663-676.

The transgressor who abuses the laws
Or thinks he can push around his rulers
Won’t get a slap on the back from me.

In matters small, just, or otherwise
Obey the man the city elevates.
This is the man I myself would trust
To rule well, to be willingly ruled,
And to remain a just, noble comrade
When he’s assigned his station in the storm.

No one in charge: there’s no greater evil.
It wrecks cities, turns houses upside down,
And sends spear-bearing allies scrambling.
Obeying El Jefe is life saving
For the many who get with the program.

Blaise Pascal, far-seeing moralist, where are you on this?

Pensées. Fr.326 [=66 Laf.]

It’s dangerous to tell the people that the laws are unjust, since they obey them only because they believe them to be just. This is why you must at the same time tell the people they must obey the laws because they are laws, just as they must obey their superiors not because they are just, but because they are their superiors. In this way all sedition is prevented, if you can make the people understand this, and make them understand that it is the correct definition of justice.


ὅστις δʼ ὑπερβὰς ἢ νόμους βιάζεται
ἢ τοὐπιτάσσειν τοῖς κρατύνουσιν νοεῖ,
οὐκ ἔστʼ ἐπαίνου τοῦτον ἐξ ἐμοῦ τυχεῖν.
ἀλλʼ ὃν πόλις στήσειε τοῦδε χρὴ κλύειν
καὶ σμικρὰ καὶ δίκαια καὶ τἀναντία.
καὶ τοῦτον ἂν τὸν ἄνδρα θαρσοίην ἐγὼ
καλῶς μὲν ἄρχειν, εὖ δʼ ἂν ἄρχεσθαι θέλειν,
δορός τʼ ἂν ἐν χειμῶνι προστεταγμένον
μένειν δίκαιον κἀγαθὸν παραστάτην.
ἀναρχίας δὲ μεῖζον οὐκ ἔστιν κακόν.
αὕτη πόλεις ὄλλυσιν, ἥδʼ ἀναστάτους
οἴκους τίθησιν, ἥδε συμμάχου δορὸς
τροπὰς καταρρήγνυσι· τῶν δʼ ὀρθουμένων
σῴζει τὰ πολλὰ σώμαθʼ ἡ πειθαρχία.


Il est dangereux de dire au peuple que les lois ne sont pas justes, car il n’y obéit qu’à cause qu’il les croit justes. C’est pourquoi il faut lui dire en même temps qu’il y faut obéir parce qu’elles sont lois, comme il faut obéir aux supérieurs non pas parce qu’ils sont justes, mais parce qu’ils sont supérieurs. Par là voilà toute sédition prévenue, si on peut faire entendre cela et que proprement (c’est) la définition de la justice.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at