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Milgram's experimental view of authority obedience to authority an experimental view by stanley milgram


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Milgram's Experimental View of Authority Obedience to Authority an Experimental View by Stanley Milgram …

Milgram's Experimental View of Authority Obedience to Authority an Experimental View by Stanley Milgram

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of notable social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University
psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,[1] and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.[2]
The experiments began in July 1961. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question: "Was it that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust had mutual intent, in at least with regard to the goals of the Holocaust?" In other words, "Was there a mutual sense of morality among those involved?" Milgram's testing suggested that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs. The experiments have been repeated many times, with consistent results within societies, but different percentages across the globe.[citation needed] The experiments were also controversial, and considered by some scientists[which?] to be unethical or psychologically abusive, motivating more thorough review boards for the use of human subjects.

Before conducting the experiment, Milgram polled fourteen Yale University senior-year psychology majors to predict the behavior of 100 hypothetical teachers. All of the poll respondents believed that only a very small fraction of teachers (the range was from zero to 3 out of 100, with an average of 1.2) would be prepared to inflict the maximum voltage. Milgram also informally polled his colleagues and found that they, too, believed very few subjects would progress beyond a very strong shock.[1]
In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40)[1] of experiment participants administered the experiment's final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so; at some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment, some said they would refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment.
Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:
The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims,

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  • 1. Milgram s Experimental View of AuthorityObedience to Authority: An Experimental View. By Stanley Milgram. (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975). n the early 1960s Professor Stanley Milgram then of YaleI University, conducted a series of experiments on the behavior ofhuman beings whose purpose was to examine the phenomenon ofobedience to authority. The results were startling, since they showedthat human beings would inflict needless suffering on innocentfellows simply because an apparently legitimate authority com-manded them to do so. These results explained according toMilgram and other observers how it was possible for Hitler to com-mand the obedience of men to torture, kill, and destroy millions.The results also showed the consequent necessity for citizens to befar more careful about obeying the commands of their governmentsand, presumably, any other authorities or authority figures.Milgrams argument, therefore, utilized the results of a scientific ex-periment and scientific methodology and concepts generally toprove an explicitly political point about how men ought to regardauthority. This combination of empirical research in the socialsciences and of political philosophizing lends interest to Milgramswork as well as a certain degree of complexity. The present essaywill explore both the scientific and political aspects, and how theyinteract. This will be done under three major headings: Exposition(I); Responses and Criticisms (II); Authority and Science (III). (I) Exposition Obedience to Authority is the record of a series of experimentscarried out over four years, plus commentary and an attempt to ex-plain the phenomena Milgram uncovered. The commentary and ex-planation are as important as the experiments themselves, or nearlyso, because they reveal, often in ways Milgram does not intend, theexpectation, mind-set and attitude that provide the assumptions andinfluence the conclusions of the experiments. That is, because the ex-periments are supposed to tell us something to do about people andsociety, it is necessary to know what non-experimental values andassumptions Milgram brings to these experiments.
  • 2. 262 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER The book itself is not very long, only 224 pages including two ap-pendices, notes, references, and index. There are 15 chapters; thefirst three introducing the experiments, chapters four through ninedescribing the experiments themselves and the final six chapters con-taining explanation and commentary. One of the appendices is wor-thy of note because it deals with the ethical problems raised by themethodology of Milgrams experiments with human subjects. Thereare also statistical tables, charts, photographs and diagramsthroughout the book but mainly in the experimental chapters.Despite these and the difficulty of the subject matter, Obedience toAuthority is a well written, remarkably clear and sometimes com-pelling book. Chapter 1, "The Dilemma of Obedience" states the rationale forMilgrams series of experiments and gives a brief overall descriptionof the experimental procedure. Revealingly, the very first paragraphputs the problem of obedience in the context of Hitlers destructionof the European Jews, for Milgram throughout Obedience toAuthority will mix straight description of scientific experiments withcommentary that applies his research findings to what he calls "thedilemma of obedience." "Obedience," he says, "as a determinant ofbehavior, is of particular relevance to our time," (1) because obe-dience to the orders of totalitarian regimes is what made the Nazideath camps as well as other monstrous acts of inhumanity and warpossible in the twentieth century. Milgrams experiments were designed to take a closer look at thisphenomenon of obedience to orders from authority in an experimen-tal setting. In this design, volunteers are asked to take part in an ex-periment in which the use of pain as a teaching technique is to bestudied. The role of the volunteer is to be a "teacher" who will ad-minister electric shocks to the "learner" every time the learneranswers a question incorrectly. The learner is first given severalmatched pairs of words by the teacher, and subsequently the firstword of each pair is repeated to the learner. The learner is expectedto repeat the corresponding word. When he gives an incorrectanswer, the teacher then administers an electric shock by throwing aswitch. After each incorrect answer, the intensity of the shock is in-creased, until at some point the learner complains. This is thecrucial point of Milgrams experiment, for the real purpose of the ex-periment is to see if the teacher will stop obeying, i.e. will break offthe experiment when it seems he is inflicting real pain on thelearner. In reality, the learner is an actor who is uncannily good at
  • 3. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 263simulating the outward expressions of someone in great pain. Noelectric shock in fact is being administered to the learner. The realsubject of the experiment is the teacher who must make increasinglydifficult choices of whether to break off the experiment in the face ofthe orders from the scientist who has ostensibly arranged the experi-ment on one hand, and the complaints, protests and finally screams and pleas of the learner on the other. According to Milgram, "the results of the experiment are both sur-prising and dismaying" for most of the "teachers" in fact continuedto administer the shocks to the "learner" despite the learner s pro-tests and despite the teachers own obvious feelings of stress and theircomplaints to the authority figure conducting the experiment. Manysubjects will obey the experimenter no matter how vehement theprotest of the person being shocked, and no matter how much thevictim pleads to be let out. (5) The fact that almost two-thirds of theteachers could be classified as "obedient subjects" strikes Milgram asremarkable, calling for comment and explanation. The first point Milgram makes about the untoward results of hisexperiments is that there is no avoiding them. The experimental sub-jects, the "teachers," were not sadists and were in fact a fairlyrepresentative sample of the population at large, i.e., ordinary peo-ple. Secondly, even though many of the teachers protested, andhence knew what they were doing was morally wrong, they con-tinued to administer shocks. From this, Milgram concludes that themoral sense of the individual is easily overcome by social pressuresand that ethical rules such as the Fifth Commandment are not an in-herent part of human psychic structure. On the other hand, it is nottrue that the individual loses his moral sense when following ordersthat contradict his conscience. Rather, Milgram says, his moral con-cern shifts from his act itself to how well he does his job, wanting tolive up the expectation of the authority figure. Further, he looks tothe wider context of the purposes of society for legitimizing his ac-tions. One unexpected result of the experiment is that the teachersblame the learners stupidity and stubborness for the punishment in-flicted on him. Milgram concludes by making the point that evil actscommanded by social authority today are fragmented in such a waythat no one person is ever fully responsible for them. Rather, anumber of people each take a small part so that there is a long chainof actions from the initial command to the completion of the evilact. This tendency which reduces responsibility for evil actsMilgram sees as the "most common characteristic of socially orga-nized evil in modern society." (11)
  • 4. 264 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER In Chapter 2, "Method of Inquiry," Milgram gives details of how the experiments were carried out, as well as providing an explana- tion of the experiments rationale, which was to simplify the com-plex phenomena of obedience. To do this he matched the strength of obedience against a countervailing factor, in this case the moralprinciple that one should not inflict suffering on a helpless personwho is neither harmful nor a threat. Since the electric shocks whichthe teacher must administer are graded in 30 levels of increasing in-tensity, ranging from 15 to 450 volts, when and if the teacher breaksoff the experiment, it will be at one of 30 discrete levels. "Behaviorprior to this rupture is termed obedience. The point of the rupture istermed disobedience." (14) Thus, the procedure allows for quan-tifiable measurement and for control of variables. Among the details of the experimental procedure presented arehow participants were obtained for the study, locale of the experi-ment (at the " elegant Interaction Laboratory of Yale University " ),the instructions given to the teacher on the pretext that this was anexperiment about learning, and samples of the word pairs which thelearner was supposed to learn. Great attention was paid toverisimilitude, especially regarding the process of administering thesupposed shock. The shock generator had a series of 30 switches forinducing increasing levels of shock, with a red light and a buzzersound every time a "shock" was administered. The teachers wereeach given a sample shock, applied to their wrist, and they wereassured that even though the shocks "can be extemely painful, theycause no permanent tissue damage." (19) The experimenter underwhose authority the pretextual learning experiment was being run,wore a laboratory technicians coat, assumed a professional mannerand used a preestablished series of verbal prods to encourage theteachers when they resisted shocking the victim. Special attentionwas also paid to the manner in which the learner answered the ques-tions. He gave approximately three wrong answers for every correctone, and at the 75 volt level in the series began a pre-set series ofresponses, starting with grunts, then proceeding to complaints, thento demands to be released, then to refusal to cooperate, and finally"an agonized scream." (23) At the conclusion of the experiment,each teacher was debriefed and told the learner had in fact notreceived any shocks. This was done in a supportive manner so as notto embarrass the teacher who was also sent a follow-upquestionnaire and a report about the experiment in which he hadbeen a subject.
  • 5. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 265 Chapter 3, "Expected Behavior," describes the results of a surveyin which members of three audiences, one consisting ofpsychiatrists, another of college students, and a third of middle classadults, were asked to predict how the teachers would respond to theexperiment. All three audiences predicted that almost none of theteachers would complete giving the series of shocks, and that onlyone or two percent, a pathological fringe, would give the maximumlevels of shock. Milgram says this survey provided him with a benchmark to see how much we can actually learn from his experiment onobedience by contrasting actual with predicted behavior. He alsoelaborates on the assumptions that lay behind the predictions givenon the surveys: first, that most people are decent; and second, thatpeople act in certain ways because they themselves choose to do so,i.e., their behavior "flows from an inner core of the person," (38)apart from the physical or social setting. Chapter 4, "Closeness of the Victim," describes the initial set ofactual experiments that Milgram conducted. There were four suchexperiments in which 160 subjects were tested to determine how thelevel of obedience varied according to the physical proximity of thelearner to the teacher. The four variable conditions were: first, thatthe learner was hidden from the teacher in another room and com-municated his pretextual distress by banging on the wall; second,that the learner was hidden but his voice was relayed by amicrophone; third, that the learner was in the same room as the sub-ject; fourth, that the teacher held the learners arm while ad-ministering the shocks. In general, these experiments showed thatthe closer the learner was to the teacher, the less obedient theteachers were, i.e., they broke off giving shocks earlier in the seriesand in greater proportion. Thus, 35% were disobedient-i.e. re-fused to continue the shocks to the end-when the learner was hid-den and could communicate only by banging the wall; 37.5% weredisobedient when they could hear the learners voice, though not seehim; 60 % were disobedient when the learner was in the room withthem; 70% were disobedient when in physical contact with thelearner. Milgram offers six possible factors to explain why proximity,especially physical proximity where the teacher is in the same roomwith the learner, increases the level of disobedience, and asserts thatany theoretical model of obedience will have to take this fact into ac-count. (40) There were two unexpected results from this initial set of ex-
  • 6. 266 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWERperiments which continued to characterize the remainder as well.First, the experimental subjects were far more obedient than anyonepredicted, either in the surveys mentioned in the previous chapter oramong observers of the experiment itself. Second, the subjects ex-hibited a striking degree of emotional tension during the experi-ment, a fact which they confirmed when they were interviewedafterward. Milgram points out that this tension was the result of theconflict between two opposing tendencies-obedience to a person inauthority, and not harming an innocent person. He also points outthat the degree of tension also indicates how real the situation is forthe subject. "Normal subjects do not tremble and sweat unless theyare implicated in a deep and genuinely felt predicament." (8) Chapter 5, "Individuals Confront Authority," consists of descrip-tions of five of the subjects who acted as "teachers" in the first set ofexperiments described in Chapter 4. Milgram explains that the pur-pose of focusing on individuals is to provide a personal dimension tothe experiment and to find clues to understanding the process of obe-dience. However, Milgram warns that since the subject is unawareof the forces that control him and of the variation in experimentalconditions, the subject lacks a full understanding of the courses ofhis behavior. "A line must be drawn between listening carefully towhat a subject says and mistaking it for the full story." (7) Each vignette consists of a brief personality sketch of the subject,along with excerpts from interviews and descriptions of the subjectsresponses during the experiment. Milgram also adds his own evalua-tions. Thus, he notes that the social worker giggled nervously whenhe pressed the switches, that the welder who pressed all the switchesto the end indicated that he learned something but "he does not tellus what" (47), that the industrial engineer who broke off thinks thatpsychology is more important than engineering (52), that the pro-fessor of "Old Testament liturgy" who broke off the experimentmanifests "excessive fastidiousness" (48), and that the black drillpress operator who pressed all the switches expressed "total faith inthe experimenter." (50) Chapter 6, "Further Variations and Control," describes seven ex-periments in which Milgram sought to vary the experimental situa-tion and explore the conceptual limits of his previous experiment onobedience. In the first of these experiments, two changes were in-troduced. First, besides the programmed responses which thelearner would already give at various shock levels, he would alsostate he had a heart condition before the experiment began and then
  • 7. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 267claim his heart was bothering him at the 10th, 13th, and 22nd shocklevels. Second, the experiment would move to a different laboratorysetting, a more modest one with bare steampipes and a concretefloor instead of rugs. The learner was not in the room with theteacher, but gave his responses via a loudspeaker as in the second ex-periment in the first set. Despite these alterations there was nosignificant difference in results, 26 out of 40 pressing the shockboard to the end for an obedience rate of 65%, compared with 25out of 40 in the previous experiment. This set of conditions was used,with alterations, as the base line condition for subsequent ex-periments. The second experiment in this group changed the personalitystyles of the experimenter who gave the orders to the teacher, andthe learner whom the teacher shocked. A professional and aloof ex-perimenter was replaced by an avuncular, soft man, and an affablelearner was replaced by a man with a hard face "who looked as if hewould do well in a scrap." The results, says Milgram, "indicate thatthe change in personnel had little effect, (59) The table which sum-marizes the results of the experiment in Chapter 6 however showsthat the percentage of the obedient subjects was 50% as opposed to65% in the previous base line experiment. (60-61) In the third experiment in this set, orders were given to theteacher by phone and the experimenter was not physically present.Obedience dropped sharply to 20.5%; further, several of theteachers administered lower shocks than were required. The fourth variation was to use women as teachers only (thus farthe experiment had been confined to male subjects). The resultswere virtually identical to the base line experiment, 65% obedience,although the women subjects manifested a greater level of tension. The fifth variation introduced the notion of a contract, for thelearner indicated before signing the standard consent forms thatbecause of his heart condition, he must impose a condition on hiscompliance with the experimental procedure; namely, the ex-perimenter must stop when the learner demanded it. There wassome decline in the obedience level, but, writes Milgram, "it couldeasily represent a chance variation. " (66) The summary table showsan obedience level of 40% compared to the base line experiments65%. The sixth variation was to move the experiment entirely out of theconfines and sponsorship of Yale University which some of theteachers held in respect and even awe. A new laboratory was set up
  • 8. 268 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWERin the second story offices of a commercial building in a run-downshopping area of Bridgeport, and with the name of Yale Universityabsent as sponsor. The level of obedience, according to Milgram,"although somewhat reduced, was not significantly lower." (69)The summary table shows an obedience level of 47.5 % compared tothe base line 65% . The seventh variation was to allow the teacher to pick any shocklevel he wished rather than having to give increasingly more power-ful shocks. Only 2.5% pressed the final, most powerful shock, theremaining 95.5 %o (38 out of 40 teachers) not pressing any shock levelabove the 10th level when the learner first vehemently protested.The result, says Milgram, invalidates the theory that autonomouslygenerated aggression caused the subjects to press the maximumshock level. Chapter 7, "Individuals Confront Authority II" like Chapter 5,consists of descriptions of five of the teachers who took part in the setof experiments described in the previous chapter. Again, Milgramoffers evaluations of the responses of the various participants alongwith personality sketches and conversations that took place duringthe experiment and in subsequent interviews. Of the five vignettesoffered in this chapter, four describe people who pressed all theswitches, and his comments about them are fairly harsh. Typical ofMilgrams evaluation is this one describing the conversation with theunemployed man who pressed all the switches on the shock board:"The subjects objections strike us as inordinately weak and inap-propriate in view of the events in which he is immersed. He thinkshe is killing someone, yet he used the language of the tea table." (77) " Chapter 8, " Role Permutations, describes six experiments inwhich Milgram attempted a more radical analysis of the elementswhich constituted the experimental situation. Up to now, the rela-tionship and functions among the experimenter, the learner and theteacher were invariant. Thus, only the experimenter has ordered theteacher to shock the learners, not the learner himself, or someoneelse who is not a researcher. By altering this and other aspects of thefundamental relationship Milgram hoped to examine the roots ofobedience as a form of social behavior. In the first of these experiments, after the shock level at which thelearner first protests, the experimenter calls off the experiment, butthe learner demands that it continue. No teacher, however, ad-ministered any shocks after the experimenter demands they bestopped. From this, Milgram concludes that it is not the "substance
  • 9. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 269of the command," i.e. the command itself, that is of decisive impor-tance, but its " source in authority " (92), i.e. whether or not a personin authority issues the command. In the second experiment, a fourth person enters the experimentalsituation, a layman who is an apparent volunteer like the teacher. Inreality, he too is playing a role which is to run the experiment oncethe experimenter is called away on a pretext. No orders regardingshock levels are given by the experimenter before he leaves, and it isonly due to the enthusiasm of the other layman that the experimentcontinues in the usual way. That is, he gives the orders, gives prodsto the teacher and, in effect, runs the experiment. The result was asharp drop in compliance, only 4 of 20 teachers pressing all theswitches for an obedience rate of 20 % . The third experiment was a variation of the second. In this onethe new volunteer took over administering the shocks himself oncethe teacher refused to do so. Out of 16 teachers tested in this experi-ment, 12 stopped and 4 continued the shocks under the orders of thenew lay person. All of the 12 teachers who stopped the experimenteither protested the continued administering of shocks or physicallyattempted to stop the experiment by interfering with the shockgenerator or with the actions of the new volunteer himself. In the fourth experiment, a pretext is found to reverse the roles ofthe learner and the experimenter so that the experimenter receivesthe shocks while the learner runs the experiment. The experimenter,however, protests at the 150 volt level just as the learner had in theprevious experiments. The result was that none of the teachers testedadministered shocks beyond the point at which the experimenter,now in the role of learner, protested. Milgram notes that manyteachers explained their disobedience on humanitarian grounds, notrecognizing that they were "simply following the bosss orders."(104) Milgram also notes that this and the previous three ex-periments confirm the essential fact that the teachers are respondingto the authority of the experimenter, not to the order itself. "It is notwhat subjects do but for whom they do it that counts." (104) In the fifth experiment two experimenters instead of one give con-trary commands. At the point where the learner first protests, onedirects that the experiment continue, the other directs it to stop. Inall cases, the teachers stopped the experiment, almost always at thispoint of conflict of authority. Since conflict between authorities isfar more effective in stopping the experiment than the pleas andscreams of the victim, Milgram concludes that "action flows from
  • 10. 270 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWERthe higher end of a social hierarchy to the lower." (107) That is, thesubject will respond to signals from persons on a higher level than hisown, but not to those below it. Also, Milgram notes that at the pointof conflict, teachers tried to determine which experimenter had thegreater authority. In the sixth experiment, there are again two experimenters, but nolearner. Consequently, one of the experimenters volunteers to be thelearner and protests at the usual points in the progression of shockintensity. The result is striking, because the rate of obedience (65%)is the same whether the learner is a scientist (as in this experiment)or a layman (as in the previous experiments). The fact that a personidentified as an experimenter became the learner made no differencecompared to the base line experiment. Chapter 9, "Group Effects," describes two experiments in whichthere are more than one teacher in order to discover the effect ofconformity to peer pressure on the rate of obedience. Milgrambegins the discussion by distinguishing conformity from obedience.While both conformity and obedience affect a persons behavior,conformity is implied and voluntary, imitative of the actions ofpeers, while obedience is explicit, following the orders of someone inauthority. In the first experiment, there are three teachers, only one ofwhom is a naive subject. One of the teachers who is in on the experi-ment sits at the shock board with the naive subject who has the jobof pressing the switches. At the 150 volt level, when the learner giveshis first strong protest, the non-naive teacher breaks off participa-tion in the experiment, but stays in the room leaving the naive sub-ject alone at the shock board. The result was that fully 90% of thenaive teachers broke off the experiment before the end, a 10% rateof obedience. In the second experiment, there are two teachers, oneof them naive, who however, does not have the job of pressing theswitches on the shock board. This instead is done by the secondteacher who is in on the experiment. In this situation, only 3 of 40subjects tested refused to participate to the end. From these two experiments, Milgram concludes that "the mutualsupport provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark wehave against the excesses of authority" and that "any factor that willcreate distances between the subject and the victim, will . . . lessendisobedience." (121) Chapter 10, "Why Obedience? An Analysis," attempts to explainwhy the experimental subjects obeyed the demands of the ex-
  • 11. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 271perimenter, knuckling under to authority and performing actionsthat were callous and severe. Milgrams analysis is theoretical, of ahigh level of generality and is comprised of five parts. Milgram starts with an analysis of the concept of hierarchy, point-ing out that dominance structures are found throughout natureamong all kinds of animals. Hierarchy is found among human be-ings as well, mediated by symbols rather than based on physicalstrength. From an evolutionary point of view, hierarchical socialorganizations help species survive in coping with the physical en-vironment, warding off attacks from other species, and by definingclearly the status of each member of the group so that internal con-flict is minimized. From this evolutionary viewpoint, Milgram next proceeds to a"cybernetic viewpoint" which he maintains will provide us with amodel to alert us to the changes that logically must occur whenhitherto autonomous entities are brought into a hierarchical struc-ture. Automata living in isolation can be described by using a"homeostatic" model in which the automata comprise an opensystem requiring input from their environment to maintain their in-ternal states. A lack or a need felt within the automata makes themdo something to its environment to fill that lack or need, e.g. eatingsomething when hungry. However, such automata when broughtinto a social organization need regulation if they are not to treatother automata as part of their environment, e.g. eat them. Hence,the need for " an inhibitor that prevents automata from actingagainst each other." (127) If such an inhibitor does not evolve, thespecies will perish. In human beings, this inhibitor is their con-science. A more powerful form of social organization can be achieved by ahierarchical ordering in which there are subordinate elements con-trolled by superordinate ones. By combining many such hierarchicalarrangements, we arrive at the typical pyramidal form of socialorganization. However, Milgram states, an inhibitor of conscience isnot sufficient to allow control of one automaton by another, so theconscience itself must be secondary to the need to cede control to thesuperordinate element. Conscience, while necessary for autonomousfunctioning within a social context generally, cannot override thedemands of the social organization when it becomes hierarchical.Next, Milgram points out that the variability characteristic of in-dividual organisms, but of human beings especially, must be over-come if the group is to function. That is, it is not a case of limiting
  • 12. 272 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER the activity to the lowest or preferred level of any one of the in- dividuals, but of internally modifying each individual so that they all operate at the socially ordained level. The basic reason why this occurs is rooted not in individual but in organizational needs. (131) There is a process of internal modification Milgram terms "the agentic shift," which takes place when an individual enters a hier- archical social arrangement, and directs the individuals behavior toward obedience. An individual is either obedient or not within the social arrangement according to whether the agentic shift takes place. Milgrams explanation of obedience is in reality a two-valued logic. "Where in a human being shall we find the switch that con- trols the transition from an autonomous to a systematic mode?" Milgram asks. "Hierarchical inhibitors and disinhibitors alter the probability of certain neural pathways and sequences being used." This chemoneurological cause is reflected in an internal psychological state, for the person entering an authority system nolonger views himself as acting on his own but as an agent executing the wishes of his superior. This attitude Milgram calls "the agenticstate" which is "the master attitude from which the observedbehavior flows." (133) Chapter 11, "The Process of Obedience: Applying the Analysis tothe Experiment," is not a detailed analysis of Milgrams series of ex-periments but of the concept of the agentic state with reference tothe experiments. He considers three aspects: first, the antecedentconditions that move a person from an autonomous to an agenticstate; second, the consequences of this shift behaviorally andpsychologically for the person himself; third, the binding factorsthat keep a person in the agentic state. There are a number of factors that make up the antecedent condi-tions of the agentic state, which, in effect, program the individual tobe obedient to authority. In the context of a persons lifetime, theseare family, institutions such as school, employment, and themilitary as well as rewards such as job promotions. The net result ofthis experience is the internalization of the social order. Within aspecific situation there are more immediate factors that lead to theagentic state. The individual must perceive that he has entered asocial situation in which an authority figure is appropriate and thatone such figure is identifiably present. Other immediate factors arethe subjects perception that he has entered an authority system, thecoordination of specific commands with the particular purpose of anauthority, and an overarching ideology which justifies the authoritysituation.
  • 13. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 273 The general consequences of a person entering the agentic state is that he becomes "something different from his former self, with newperspectives not easily traced to his usual personality. " (143) The reasons for this are that once a person is in an authority situation andsubordinate to an authority figure, he tunes into the signalsemanating from the authority figure; he is attentive to each word and responds willingly to them because the authority situation hasre-defined the circumstances and details in such a way as to effec- tively dictate reality for the person. As a result, the person ex- periences a loss of personal responsibility for whatever actions he is to perform since he is now concerned instead with how well he per-forms in the authority situation. The persons self-image, Milgramsays, is no longer involved with the actions he is commanded to per- form. Commands, which both describe an action to be performed and demand that it be done, effect the action of obedience in theperson. The agentic state is not just another word for obedience;rather, it is that state of mental organization which enhances thelikelihood of obedience. Obedience is the behavioral aspect of the State. (148) There are necessarily binding agents which keep a person in the agentic state. Otherwise any disturbances would eliminate thetendency to obey authority despite internal disagreement with itsorders and produce the tension manifested by some of the subjects inthe experiments. These binding agents are first, the sequentialnature of the actions since once a person starts obeying he becomesimplicated in the procedure and accepts the expectation that he willcontinue; second, the fact that disobedience is, in effect, a socialgaffe, which would cause an embarrassing situation to arise betweenthe person and the authority figure; and third, the anxiety producedwhen a person contemplates disobedience. Chapter 12, "Strain and Disobedience," offers an explanation ofthe subjects choice of obedience or disobedience to the experimenterin non-moral terms. Instead of choice, the term "strain" is intro-duced to explain why some subjects were obedient and some werenot. From the cybernetic viewpoint, strain arises because thedemands on an autonomous entity are different when the person isby himself than when in a hierarchical situation; that is, the "designrequirements of an autonomous unit are quite different from thoseof a component . . . designed for systems functioning." (153) In ef-fect, a design compromise has been reached, and the compromisedoes not always work very well. Necessarily there will be
  • 14. 274 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER mechanisms for the resolution of strain; disobedience will arise when the mechanisms are unable to cope and the level of strain over- comes the binding factors that retain a person in the agentic state. Strain is seen in an actual sense in the tension experienced by the experimental subjects. The reason they felt tension is that transfor- mation to the agentic state is only partial for some persons. Unlike the more potent authority systems of totalitarian governments, the authority system of the laboratory is less pervasive, allowing "residues of selfhood" to remain beyond the experimenters authori- ty. The agentic state is like sleep, numbing the capacity for moral judgment just as sleep numbs the capacity to hear; however, a per- son may be awakened from both if a stimulant is loud enough. The experimental subjects experience several sources of strain including cues of pain from the victim, moral objections to inflicting pain, fear of retaliation, demands to stop the experiment from the victims, and a conflict between their actions and their self-image. Features that reduce the closeness between the subjects actions and their conse- quences also reduce the level of strain and are called "buffers." (157) There are several mechanisms for the resolution of strain, including avoidance, denial, physical conversion (in which psychologicalstrain shows as tics, laughter, etc.), minimal compliance such aspressing the switches for a short period, subterfuge, searching forreassurance, blaming the victim, and noninstrumental dissent, i.e.,protesting but obeying anyway. All of those mechanisms, however,allow the authority relationships to remain intact. Disobedience isthe ultimate means of resolving tension, but is a difficult act, whicharises as a series of stages; inner doubt, externalization of doubt, dis-sent, threat, and finally disobedience. While it destroys the experi-ment, disobedience is nevertheless a positive act. In the next two chapters, Milgram presents objections to thevalidity of the experiments and his refutation of them. Chapter 13,"An Alternative Theory: Is Aggression the Key?," deals separatelywith the thesis that the subjects in the experiment obeyed becausethe scientific setting allowed the release of their latent aggression.This explanation is based on Freuds notion that destructive forcesare present in the personality of all individuals but usually remainsuppressed. Presumably, the experiment, by giving legitimacy to theexpression of aggressive behavior, allowed the release of destructiveinstincts. Milgram denies the validity of this alternative explanation,however, stating that obedience and not aggression is the key to whymen kill in war, for example. He also cites experimental evidence for
  • 15. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 275this view, noting that when the teachers were allowed to choosetheir own shock level, very few went beyond the learners first pro-test. In Chapter 14, "Problems of Method," Milgram observes thatmany people upon learning of the experiments seek to deny theirvalidity because they hold an image of man that does not allow forthe kind of behavior exhibited in the experiments. Most people,these critics assert, would most often disobey authority rather thanhurt an innocent person. Therefore, there must be something wrongwith the experiments. There are three defects usually cited: 1) thatthe experimental subjects were not typical, 2) that the subjects didnot believe they were really hurting the victim, and 3) that thelaboratory setting is so special that nothing can be inferred from itabout real life situations. Milgram answers the first objection bypointing to the wide variety of people who volunteered to be sub-jects for the experiment. In answer to the charge that the recruit-ment of volunteers is self-selecting, he cites a study that showed thatpeople who volunteer for psychological experiments are less"authoritarian" than people who do not volunteer. Milgramanswers the second objection by citing the results of a questionnairegiven to the subjects a year afterwards which showed that the greatmajority of them believed the experiment to be real and the shocksgenuine. He also points out the tension they showed during the ex-periment. He answers the third objection by stressing that howeverdissimilar the laboratory may be compared to living under Nazigovernment, the psychological process of obedience is invariant. Inauthority situations, i.e., those composed of subordinate andsuperordinate roles, the person responds not because of the contentof what he is ordered to do, but because of his relationship to theauthority figure. Chapter 15, "Epilog," generalizes on how obedience to authoritylies at the heart of the grossest evils of our time and the consequentmoral dilemmas they produce. The process of obedience to authorityis the same in Nazi Germany, Vietnam and the Andersonville prisoncamp. An interview with an American soldier who participated inthe My Lai massacre is included to emphasize these points. (II) Responses and Criticisms (A) Responses. Milgrams experiments are possibly the best knownof all those carried out on the behavior of human beings. They have
  • 16. 276 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWERa shocking quality, as if a veil has been ripped aside, leaving us tostare at the stark nakedness of human nature, revealing detailswhich horrify, shock, and embarrass us. The interest which theyaroused in the world of empirical psychology and social science isrevealed by the number of responses-some critical, some extendingthe experimental procedure to other areas-written by scientiststhemselves. There has been at least one book triggered by Milgramsresearch (besides his own) and many articles have been writtenabout it. Some of the articles deal with ethical issues raised both byMilgrams conclusions and by the nature of the experimentsthemselves which involved deception of the experimental subjects,as well as subjecting them to great distress. More remarkable than the academic response to Milgrams ex-periments is that they have become known not only to well-informed people who might be expected to be interested in suchthings, but to the general populace at large. There have been no lessthan two plays written and produced based on the experimentsdescribed in Obedience to Authority, one in England in a repertorysetting by playwright Dannie Abse, and another in the United Stateson network television, starring the erstwhile captain of the starship" Enterprise. " There has been an article in Esquire Magazine andMilgram himself, it should be pointed out, has enlarged the publicknowledge and notoriety of his experiments by lecturing about thembefore college audiences and an appearance on NBC televisions To-day Show. There are two basic reasons for the genuine popular interestshown in Milgrams experiments. In the first place, reports of themfirst appeared in psychological journals during the 60s, as didMilgrams attempts to bring them to popular notice. SinceMilgram s experiments could readily be interpreted as dire warningsagainst obedience to malevolent authority, they fit easily into theanti-authoritarianism of that time, particularly in the context of op-position to the war in Vietnam. Also Milgrams own presentationportrayed his experiments as explaining the Nazi phenomenon at atime when world attention was focussed on the capture, trial, andexecution of Adolf Eichmann. Indeed, the tie-in of his experimentswith Nazism is made so frequently in Obedience to Authority and inMilgrams popular presentations that it finally becomes impossible1. Paul Meyer, "If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You?," Esquire,73 (Feb. 1970), 72 et seq.
  • 17. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 277to see his experiments as anything but an anodyne, an attempt torelieve the pain of the memory of the vast evil of the Nazi holocaustagainst the Jews; Milgram mentions the holocaust in the very firstparagraph of his book as if to say once we understand it or once wecan explain it, then we may prevent it from ever happening again. Another reason for the interest in Milgrams experiments is thatthey blatantly reveal a facet of human nature we would deny,namely, how easily we are influenced by others. It is noteworthythat most people upon hearing of Milgrams experiments are re-pelled by them. Denial of their validity or egregiousunderestimating of the number of people who will obey are typicalresponses, and Milgram is no doubt correct when he maintains thatobjections about the ethicality of his experiments would not be halfso vehement if most of the participants had quit them. Our conceptof human nature from the time of the Renaissance is that we areautonomous and rational, ruled by reason. Lately, we have foundout differently, but enough sense of our independence and in-dividual reason survives in our culture that we are shocked 2whenever the discoveries of psychology and sociology contradict it.The irrational inner urges that direct our personal behavior, and thefact that social pressures determine most of our opinions are thingswe do not wish to know. That men would obey another man simplybecause he appears in the guise of an authority figure and therebyinflict needless pain on another human being is also something thatwe would rather not recognize. But Milgrams research has showedit to us, and in our shock and embarrassment lies also its compellinginterest. (B) Methodological Questions. The reluctance of many observersto accept the findings of Milgrams research has led to criticismswhich attempt to deny their validity. Milgram deals with several ofthem in his book, but significant questions remain. While we mayreadily admit that, as Milgram argued, his experiments are ap-plicable beyond the laboratory and that most of his subjects didbelieve they were administering a real shock, some lingering ques-2. "What we have learned under the guidance of studies in modern social psychology,with the dismaying spectacle before us of enlarging masses of insecure individuals seek-ing communal refuge of one sort or another, is that the rationalist image of man istheoretically inadequate and practically intolerable . . . . We know no conception ofindividuality is adequate that does not take into consideration the myriad ties whichnormally bind the individual to others from birth to death." Robert A. Nisbet, TheQuest for Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 229.
  • 18. 278 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER tions remain about the selection process by which volunteers were garnered for the experiments. Did they not, in effect, constitute a self-selected pool more ready to accede to authority than the popula- tion at large? Surely, people who volunteer for whatever reason will more readily go along with what is demanded of them than those who are forced. That is why particularly dangerous military mis- sions are sometimes put on a volunteer basis and why elite forces who are required to perform such missions, such as the Green Berets and the Marines, are volunteer forces. Milgram denies this point, maintaining that the argument is circular as if it says that those who are willing to obey are willing to obey. The point is a tricky one but it is not entirely semantical, for the fact of the volunteering itself by the participants is the critical point which is beyond experimentalcontrol or observation. Therefore, Milgram cannot say what effect ithas on his experiment and it remains a point for conjecture andspeculation. There are several other significant methodological difficultieswhich tend to weaken Milgrams conclusions. One of them dealswith the question of what constitutes disobedience. Is it simply theact of breaking off the experiment and refusing to participate fur-ther in it as Milgram would have it? Clearly, the subjects gave manyother signs of distress and extreme tension; they attempted tosubvert the experiment by giving lower shock levels than demandedwhen the experimenter was out of the room, they gave shocks asbrief as possible in duration, gave verbal clues to the learner, andargued with the experimenter. Yet, while Milgram (or his cohorts)carefully described all of these actions, he classified them as "non-instrumental" and did not include them in his measure of disobe-dience. In real life, however, such "non-instrumental" acts can losea man his job or even his life as they did the Russian poetMandelstam. Surely, if such actions count in real life, they ought tocount in some fashion in Milgrams experiment, especially as heclaims the experiment is applicable outside the laboratory. Another question arises over the experimenters statement made toall the teachers in the experiments that no "tissue damage" would3. The same holds true for research of the type done by Alfred Kinsey in the area of sex-ual behavior. If questionnaires regarding sexual behavior are randomly handed out,the population refusing to answer them may be defined by a type of sexual behaviorwhich they are hesitant to write about, even anonymously, e.g. chastity or homosex-uality. This, of course, would invalidate any attempt to generalize from the question-naire results to the population at large.
  • 19. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 279result from the shocks, which amounted to a guarantee that the ex-periment was not dangerous. According to Milgram this statementwas made only to lend authenticity to the experiment. Yet itoperates not merely as a detail of Milgrams stage management likethe lights of the shockboard, but also as a factor in the rational deci-sion of at least some of the subjects to remain obedient. We knowthis because they said so in their statements which are quoted insome of the interviews which Milgram provides. For instance, the"slow" drill press operator who showed far less tension than theusual subject cited it as a reason why he continued to press all theswitches. He also, not incidentally, himself had experienced a largeelectric shock once on his job which, as he explained, had causedhim pain but had not killed him. The point is that the presumedmalevolence of an authority and the immorality of obedience to itscommand are of far less degree if carrying out the order causes tem-porary pain but not permanent damage. Significantly, the state-ment about "tissue damage" was repeated to encourage recalcitrantteachers even though it is not listed as one of the four "verbal prods"of increasing severity to be used by experimenters when the teachersrefused to go on pressing switches. This, in turn, implies thatMilgram himself understood, but chose to ignore, the importance tothe teachers of the guarantee that their actions would not per-manently injure the learners. Another methodolgical issue has to do with Milgrams own dis-counting of the results of three sets of experiments described inChapter Six. In the first one, a stern experimenter and an affablelearner were replaced by a friendly experimenter and a tough look-ing learner. In the second one, Milgram contracted for an explicitagreement which defined conditions under which the learner coulddiscontinue the experiment due to his "bad heart"; in the third, hechanged the experimental setting from Yale to a downtown location.All three experiments resulted in significant decreases in the obe-dience rate, from 65% to 50% in the first, from 65% to 40% in thesecond, and to 47.5% in the third. Yet Milgram claimed that thesereductions were a matter of statistical indifference, having "little ef-fect" in the first, of "chance variation" for the second, and "notsignificantly lower" for the third, even though the first showed a23% drop in the rate of obedience as defined by Milgram, the sec-ond a 38% drop, and the third a 27% drop. In previous ex-periments, variations of the same range or less were consideredsignificant as in the experiments described in Chapter Four. These
  • 20. 280 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER effects, particularly of the agreement with the learner, thus weaken the strength of Milgrams general conclusions about the willingness of ordinary people to obey malevolent authority, especially when combined with the effect of the statement that no tissue damage would result from the experiments. The net effect of considering the methodological objections to Milgrams experimental view of authority is to weaken it but not to invalidate it. That is, while it is true that people are far more com- pliant to authority (and to social pressure in general) than we might like to admit, the situation is not as severe as Milgram concludes. In- deed, as we have seen, Milgram in some measure must discount the results of some of his experiments, ignore certain phenomena, and define disobedience in very restrictive terms in order to sustain the degree of menace he sees in mens relationships to social authority. In fact, his statements constantly placing his experimental results in a political context, particularly in connection with the Holocaust, make it apparent that Milgram has a political as well as a scientific reason for his view of authority. Milgram analyzes a problem, how can the mad horrors of the twentieth century have happened-the police state, the gas ovens, the Gulag, the A-bomb, the Cold War-and reaches the conclusion that we are far too compliant to authority, which also implies a solution-that men ought not toobey authority as readily as they do. The problem, he asserts starkly,is not authoritarianism as a mode of political organization "butauthority itself." (179) But such an analysis either says too much ortoo little; too much because, as Milgram admits, we cannot livewithout authority, and too little because authority is so diffuse andomnipresent that we cannot attack it without further refinement ofthe issue. Thus, Milgram has, through his experiments, presented uswith a dilemma from which we cannot escape. The result of takingwhat Milgram describes as "an experimental view" of obedience toauthority is to condemn human nature for its inherent weaknesswhile, at the same time, encouraging the human race to a task thatis well beyond its capacity or strength. (C) Ethical Objections. One response to Milgrams series of ex-periments, which appeared even before his book appeared andwhich was based on reports of the experiments published inpsychological journals, was the appearance of serious ethical objec-tions by Milgrams own colleagues in experimental psychology. It isapparent from Milgrams own description, as well as the observa-tions of those who have seen films of some of the experiments, that
  • 21. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 281the teacher/subjects undergo severe stress. Milgram described thiseffect, in an earlier paper in a passage that did not appear in hisbook. Many subjects showed signs of nervousness in the experimental situa- tion and especially upon administering the more powerful shocks. In a large number of cases the degree of tension reached extremes that are rarely seen in sociopsychological laboratory studies. Subjects were observed to sweat, tremble, stutter, bite their lips, groan and dig their fingernails into their flesh. These were characteristic rather than ex- ceptional responses to the experiment. One sign of tension was the regular recurrence of nervous laughing fits.... The laughter seemed entirely out of place, even bizarre. Full blown uncontrollable seizures were observed in three subjects. On one occasion, we observed a seizure so violently convulsive that it was necessary to call a halt to the experiment." Such signs of psychological discomfort are obvious indications ofsevere mental stress. Several psychologists condemned the researchfor this reason, especially Diana Baumrind who pointed out thatstress and embarrassment were frequent results of recent forms ofhuman research in social-psychology. Milgrams response to thischarge is found in an appendix to Obedience to Authority and in anexchange of letters published in Dannie Abses book version of hisplay based on Milgrams experiments, The Dogs of Pavlov. He writeshere that the degree of stress was not anticipated, but that once hebegan the experiments, he felt impelled to their completion; thatdespite their distress at the time of the experiment, the subjects sus-tained no permanent injury; that many of the subjects said of the ex-periments that they thought they were good, approved of them, orhad learned something about themselves. Milgram also states thatonly the subjects may judge the experiment, and particularly citesthe case of the young man who was a subject and who later refusedmilitary service during the Vietnam war. Another aspect of theethical debate is the issue of whether it is fair to lie to the subjects ineffect by telling them that the purpose of the experiment is aboutlearning rather than obedience. Milgram claims that the deceptionis legitimate, no different from a play or a movie.4. `Behavioral Study of Obedience," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 67 (1963),371-78.5. Dannie Abse, The Dogs of Pavlov (London: Vallentine-Mitchell, 1973), 37-44,126-27.
  • 22. 282 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER The real issue however would seem to be whether or how seriouslythe subjects were damaged psychologically by going through the ex-periment. Here, there is some debate, with Milgram claiming thatpost-interviews showed no permanent damage. Yet, one of the sub-jects described by Milgram who was "obedient," i.e., had pressed allthe switches, revealed that after he had described his actions in theexperiment to his wife, she had responded, "You can call yourselfEichmann." Such announcements from a spouse are not easilyforgotten. As Professor Baumrind wrote, "From the subjects pointof view procedures which involve loss of dignity, self-esteem andtrust in rational authority are probably most harmful in the long run "8 Whatever the final resolution of the ethical debate, one thing iscertain: Milgrams most obedient subjects acted no worse than hedid. They inflicted imaginary pain at the behest of apparentlylegitimate authority; but Milgram, in the name of science, permit-ted the subjects to undergo real psychic pain at the behest of no oneat all despite the protest of his colleagues. (III) Authority and Science (A) Milgrams Scientific Method. Milgram states at the outset ofdescribing his experiments that, "Simplicity is the key to effectivescientific inquiry" (13) and, indeed, this is true. Like Galileo,Newton and Darwin, Milgram sought, when confronted with ahighly variable and epistemologically dense set of phenomena, toreduce them to their empirical essentials. This process of scientificreduction involves selecting some elements for study and discardingothers, and then explaining the entire set of phenomena in terms ofthe selected elements. A good example from the history of biology,and one easily understood, is that of Mendels discovery of thegenetic control of somatic characteristics. Among all the variety andmultitude of cases of inherited characteristics, Mendel chose oneplant, the pea plant and seven easily observed and measurablecharacteristics including height, color, etc. From a series of ex-periments in which Mendel carefully controlled the mechanism ofgenetic transmission, he derived a series of mathematical laws which6. Diana Baumrind, "Some Thoughts on Ethics of Research; After Reading Milgram s`Behavioral Study of Obedience, " American Psychologist, 19 (1964), 421-23. Quotedin Abse.
  • 23. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 283 accurately described and predicted how characteristics would betransformed from one generation to the next. He also inferred an en-tity, one which he could not see, by which genetic transfer tookplace, i.e. the gene. In this way, Mendel reduced the complexity ofgenetic phenomena to a set of mathematical laws and posited the ex-istence of a then unobservable element which caused thephenomena. Mendels research is nearly an ideal example of howscientific research proceeds, by reducing chaos to simplicity. Milgram hoped to do the same thing, but choosing the elementson which to concentrate is a tricky business. (Mendel was either ex-traordinarily lucky or possessed of marvelous insight.) Obviously, itis possible to oversimplify, and this, regrettably, is what Milgramhas in fact done. The use of the laboratory setting itself is, let it besaid, a brilliant stroke, though not entirely original with Milgram.But, as he notes, critics have doubted the validity of generalizingfrom this setting to the world at large, something that is never saidabout, e.g., Mendels experiments with the pea plant. WhileMendels explanation can be extended from peas to other plants, andthen to animals, Milgrams experiments cannot be extended in likefashion. The main reason is that the variety of authority relation-ships far exceeds the variety even of genetic transmissions, and themodes of disobedience are infinitely variable, as anyone who hasraised an active child can testify. Thus, authority relationships inchild rearing, employment, military, religious, and public ordersituations are all very different from each other. While there areresemblances (or we could not identify them all as authority situa-tions), the differences are tremendous, and the applicability ofMilgrams experiments must be in doubt, unless, that is, Milgramwere to systematically apply his theories to all these kinds of situa-tions, something he does not even attempt to do. As Milgram notes,"Psychological matter, by its nature, is difficult to get at and likelyto have many more sides to it than appear at first glance." (13) Milgrams research yields results typical of most research in thesocial sciences-theories of a high level of generality that aremechanical and unconvincing; middle level theories, such as theagentic shift, which are partially successful as explanations; finally,low level theories or "laws" which are simply generalizations fromthe evidence. Milgrams high level explanation of obedience is acurious blend of an attitudinal anti-authoritarianism and psycho-social theorizing combined with a clumsy amalgam of variousmechanistic formal explanations, including evolutionary,
  • 24. 284 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER cybernetic, neurological, and chemical. In the end, Milgram con- tradicts himself by the assertion that, "[a]n element of free choice determines whether the person defines himself in this way or not," a statement which comes at the end of the chapter (10) in which he puts forth his evolutionary, cybernetic, and chemical modes. (134) But an element of free choice relieves the need for "chemical in- hibitors" or any comparable explanation in which human behavior is driven by non-intentional causes. Milgram is on somewhat firmer ground when offering theories of a middle level of generality which more directly rest on empirical observations. Thus, he posits an "agentic shift" when the individual yields his conscience into the control of an authority figure which, Milgram states, must happen as an individual enters a hierarchical situation. The notion that a person will perfom acts under the com- mand of authority that he would refuse to do otherwise is a perfectly valid inductive generalization from Milgrams experiments, albeit one he could have made beforehand. This generalization is the basis for the theory of the "agentic shift" (which is roughly comparable to Mendels "genes") However, while there is some basis for supposing that such a psychological phenomenon as the agentic shift exists and while Milgram describes it in some detail, there is no question that he pictures its operation in terms which are too black and white. That is, Milgram supposes that before the agentic shift occurs the person is a fully independent and rational agent, in control of his faculties, who would refuse to perform any act contrary to his con- science. After the shift occurs, this same person is now ready to per- form acts comparable to those performed by the agents of the Nazi SS. There is no room for qualified assent of the sort that often is the case when adults obey authority, or for understanding the different kinds and degrees of obedience one gives, for instance, to policemen,parents, military officers, government officials, bosses or spouses.The ancient Stoic obeying the laws of Rome exemplifies the sameempiric law as the actions of a guard at Auschwitz for Milgram. In short, what is lacking in Milgrams theoretical explanation isthe capacity to explain satisfactorily the nearly infinite degree ofkinds of human relationships, for the authority relationship is notthe same in all social hierarchies, nor is it even the same within asingle hierarchy. Thus, Milgram says that the obedience of the Ger-man soldier to his sergeant follows the same empirical laws thatdescribe the obedience the Nazi generals gave to Hitler. (130) Yet itis not true, for we know that some Wehrmacht generals not merely
  • 25. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 285obeyed like automatons, but aided and advised Hitler, and willinglycarried out his orders, while others did not. Thus, General Jodi,Hitlers Chief of Staff, was tried and shot at the end of the war,whereas Admiral Doenitz was sentenced to a relatively short prisonterm. Finally, it was Prussian military officers, such as Count VonStauffenberg, the very archetype of authoritarians, who tried to killHitler, which indicates, if nothing else, the variability of the "agen-tic shift." Milgram has been particularly successful in discovering low leveltheories or "laws" because his experiments clearly highlight the ef-fects of such causal factors as proximity to the victim, closeness ofauthority, divided authority, institutional context, the nature ofcommands, and peer rebellion on obedience. His experiments alsoshow, implicitly but no less clearly, how effective authority based onscience is, since one of the unintended results of Milgrams researchis to have demonstrated experimentally that scientific authoritytakes its place alongside political, legal, military and religiousauthority in modern society. It is unlikely that the volunteers wouldhave subjected the victim to presumed shock at the behest of aminister, policeman or military officer in that context, coming in offthe street, as it were. That is, while people will perform difficult oreven cruel tasks under, e.g. military authority, the indoctrinationinto military life is presumed to require an intensive period of "basictraining." But this is not true of scientific authority in this case, forthe teachers in the experiment gave shocks after only a minimal in-doctrination. (B) Milgrams Concept of Authority. Milgram never explicitlydefines his concept of authority, presuming instead that an ex-perimental view will be morally neutral and will present the issue incontemporary and immediate terms. (xi) Milgrams actual viewsabout authority and obedience to it are not difficult to discern,however, for there are attitudinal elements which appearthroughout Milgrams explanation and commentary and which in-timate very clearly that Milgram perceives obedience to authority asa severe danger to our civilization, that he views the exercise ofauthority by a social agent as often destructive, and that he virtuallyequates the systematic use of authority with a form of fascism. Hismany references to Nazis and the concentration camps which ap-pear throughout the book from beginning to end and his specificstatements about the danger of the all-too-human tendency to obeymalevolent authority make his attitude apparent. But a more reveal-
  • 26. 286 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER ing comment appears in his statement about one of the experimental subjects, the Professor of Old Testament theology. This subject had stopped giving the victim shocks shortly after the first protest, thus standing as one of the disobedient subjects. Asked afterwards how most effectively to strengthen resistance to inhumane authority, the Professor said, "If one had as ones ultimate authority, God, then it trivializes human authority." (49) But this insight, worthy of an Aquinas, a Bonhoeffer, or a Maimonides, is not sufficient for Milgrams purposes. He comments, "Again, the answer for this man lies not in the repudiation of authority but in the substitution of good-that is, divine-authority for bad. (49) Again, what Milgramseeks is the destruction, apparently, of authority itself. "For theproblem is not `authoritarianism, as a mode of political organiza-tion or a set of psychological attitudes but authority itself." (179) Although Milgram concedes the need for authority, (212) he doesnot in fact really understand or accept its function in human life, forMilgrams prescientific attitude, i.e., the one he held before he ranthe experiments, is a simple but fervent rejection of authority itself.The degree to which men are compliant to authority no doubtfrightened him, but his reaction is to portray the condition as farworse than it is. It is as if Milgram wants to shock his readers by ex-posing the weakness of human nature itself. Here lies the explana-tion for the repugnance toward his experiments: Milgram not onlydisdainfully exposes the weaknesses of his individual human sub-jects, but the weakness of our common human nature as well, andhe does this with the attitude of a fifth grade teacher lecturing herclass for writing dirty words on the desk-tops. What Milgram has missed is how deep the need for authority is,how important role models, parents, teachers and social authoritiesare in the formation of our characters as children, how, even asadults, we still need to look to bosses, peers, spouses, public figuresand religion for direction and support in the daily business of con-ducting our lives. As a result, he has egregiously misdiagnosed thebasic causes of the evils of the modern era, for it can be plausiblyargued that the real evil of our time is not that men too willinglyobey authority, but that they are not willing enough to obey it. Theissue of social authority and the degree to which men do and should7. As an illustration of this point, the guest interviewed on the "Today Show" the dayafter Milgram appeared on it was an expert whose concern was the ominous increase inthe rate of forcible rape. The more immediate danger to society thus came from menwho disobeyed social authorities rather than from those who obeyed them.
  • 27. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 287obey it is far more complex than Milgram acknowledges or implies.We cannot settle the question here, but we will add in passing theview of sociologist Robert Nisbet who argues that it is the destruc-tion of intermediate social authorities which stand between the in-dividual and the state that is the main cause of the evils of moderntimes. We are prone to see the advance of power in the modern world as a consequence, or concomitant, of the diminution of individual freedom. But a more useful way would be to see it in terms of the retreat of authority in many of the areas of society within which human beings commonly find roots and a sense of the larger whole. 8 The basic human requirement for authority and authority struc-tures that Nisbet points out must somehow be balanced against thedangers of misuse of authority that Milgram points out. This is thetrue dilemma of authority of our time. (C) Anti-Authoritarianism and the Priority of Theory. Milgram sattitude toward authority has directly influenced his attempt at ex-plaining and evaluating his research results. That is, Milgrams ac-tual procedure has not been to analyze a complex phenomenon byrunning a series of experiments and then arriving at theories to ex-plain the results. Rather, he began with a highly defined concept ofauthority and then set up his experiments and conducted hisresearch guided by that attitude. This is not the same as saying thathe set out to prove that his concept of authority was true and twistedthe evidence in any way to suit his preconceived notions. It is to saythat Milgram set up his experiments and read his research resultswith a definite attitude toward authority in mind and that it in-fluenced the way he literally saw authority in light of his ex-periments. For, as we have seen, Milgram began with the idea thatauthority was a phenomenon not only somehow mixed up with theturmoils and vast evils of the twentieth century, but as a primarycause of those turmoils and evils. The projection of Milgrams anti-authoritarianism into the pro-cesses of the research itself is shown clearly in the manner in whichhe treats the results of his observation and experiments, namely, hisanti-authoritarianism has led him to emphasize the degree to whichpeople in general are compliant to authority. This attitude has ledMilgram in turn to deny the validity of three sets of experiments8. Nisbet, op cit., xiv.
  • 28. 288 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER which showed how easily disobedience to authority could be in- creased by a change in personnel, by a prior agreement with the vic- tim and a change of setting from Yale. More significantly, it has also led him to discount many manifestations of resistance to authority, denying them even status as evidence in the experiments. These manifestations were the so-called "non-instrumental" ones such as verbal protest, not pressing the switch at the next highest level of in- tensity, or pressing the switches for as short a time as possible. Had each of these non-instrumental manifestations been given a relative value and included as evidence of resistance to authority along with "disobedience" itself-i.e. the act of breaking off the experiment-a much different picture would emerge, one more subtle and hence more applicable to the complexities of authority relationships in the real world, and one more hopeful about the potentialities of human nature. (For instance, each subject could have been assigned a "score," 10 for disobedience, 5 for verbal protest, 2 for not pressing the proper switch level, etc. Then a curve, or sliding scale would result with relative levels of disobedience, rather than a "sheep ver- sus goat" phenomenon. But this did not fit Milgrams understanding of how authority works.) The fact that Milgram had a definite concept or attitude about authority which influenced the manner in which he ran his ex- periments and interpreted their results is not unusual. Such a pro- cedure is characteristic of the social sciences, where the phenomena are complex and highly charged with meaning before the scientist even approaches them. The social scientist, no less than the layman, has ideas about such things as war, politics, economics, family life and authority, which when articulated constitute a theory in scien-tific terms. This fact is well understood in reference to social science,but what is not so well understood is that holding the theory beforeanalyzing the evidence is characteristic of the physical sciences aswell. Indeed, the insight most characteristic of twentieth centuryphilosophy of science is just this point, that it is the practice of scien-tists to have a theory in mind before proceeding to experiment andthat, contrary to Bacon, the scientists mind is not a tabula rasa inwhich explanatory conceptions arise only after he has examined hisresearch results. Scientific observation, wrote N.R. Hanson, is a"theory-laden" undertaking, for observation of a particular objectin an experiment is shaped by previous knowledge of that object.°9. Norwood R. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 1965), 19. The same point is also made by Popper, Kuhn, Einstein, and Duhem.
  • 29. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 289 The priority of the theoretical to the particular is true of all fields of empirical science not just the social sciences, although it stands out more in the social sciences because the prior theoretical com- mitments are likely to be ideological or political in nature. But then this highlights a fundamental dilemma for Milgram and for the social sciences in general; if experimental research is influenced and directed by theories held prior to the experiment, and if the ex- perimental results themselves are literally seen in terms of the theory, then how can Milgram and social scientists in general guarantee that their research results and the theories explaining them are true or objective? (D) The Authority of Science. One aspect of authority that Milgram misses is the way that science operates as a kind of authori- ty in comtemporary society. It is deeply ironic that Milgram does not comment on this fact anywhere in his book because the authority of science is the effective basis of his experiments. That is, the motivating "force" which moved the experimental subjects to "shock" the victim and the force against which they were to rebel in order to generate a quantifiable measurement of disobedience, was the authority of empirical science. Indeed, Milgram was meticulous in reinforcing the impression that the subjects were helping carry out a scientific experiment, including such details as white laboratory coats, electric lights on the shockboard, the text of the newspaper advertisement soliciting test subjects, the laboratory set- ting and, above all, the actual indoctrination at which the subjects were told that they were helping carry out an experiment. It was against this carefully stage-managed array of cues to scientific authority that the subjects were to rebel or with which they were tocomply. The use of science as the source of authority was in no way ac- cidental, since it was the one authority that Milgram could mosteasily manipulate and the one which was nearest to him. As a bonafide research scientist, Milgram is an authority figure on a par with a minister of the Gospel, a high ranking military officer, or a police - official, and thus could influence peoples behavior in an experimen tal context. So deeply does the authority of science root in the mores of our society that only a cursory indoctrination was necessary to in-volve the subjects and to get them to perform an act which no other kind of authority could so quickly and so easily motivate, i.e. inflic-ting pain on an innocent person. The reason that science was so ef-fective as a source of authority in the experiments did not rest,
  • 30. 290 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWER ultimately, on anything Milgram himself did, but was the result of a long tradition in the West of accepting science as an authority, which extends back to the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Science was, so to speak, the avatar of reason, the one human activi- ty that could produce intellectual certainty and whose practical results could improve the lot of mankind. Science and Reason, so conceived, arose from the release of the human intellect from the fetters of religion, metaphysics, superstition, fear, tradition and pas- sion, in short from all the forces of irrationality. Science was seen to be disinterested and benevolent, a model as well as a method for understanding the nature of man and society. The widespread suc- cess of science in the elaboration of theories, in the number and im- portance of discoveries about the physical universe, and in enabling man to control his environment reinforced its status as a source of authority in our culture. It was on this tradition of authority that Milgram depended for effecting the obedience of his experimental subjects. Two contradictions result from Milgrams use of science as the source of authority in his experiments. The first derives from the im- plication that science is or can be a malevolent authority, for this weakens the value of the very authority, namely science, by which Milgram attempts to prove something about authority. That is, Milgram seeks to prove that human nature is too compliant towards authority by means of scientific experimentation, at the same time that the authority he uses in his experiment is scientific authority. If we then accept Milgrams conclusion as experimentally proved that we are too complacent towards authority, we further ought to ques- tion the truth of his conclusion, since it assumes our full acceptance of the authority of science. In conclusion, if we accept Milgrams premises, then we both ought and ought not to accept his conclu- sions, which in the purely formal terms of logic means that at least one of his premises is incorrect. Which of these premises is incorrect is difficult to say, but most likely Milgram has overstated the utility of the scientific method in explaining social phenomena such as obe- dience to authority. In less formal terms, the real effect of Milgramsseries of experiments is to weaken science as an authority source, notonly because they can be interpreted to weaken all authoritysources, but also because of the serious ethical question they raisedas to whether Milgram should have lied to his subjects and put themthrough the extreme stress that many of them experienced. The second contradictory result of Milgrams experiments is that
  • 31. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 291they revealed something about human behavior which contradictsthe rationalistic tradition in which science plays an important part,i.e. they revealed that men tend to obey authority even when itviolates their personal notions of morality and that mens values andidentities are more often the result of their social environment thantheir personal choice. In short, science as a rational method ofdiscovery has determined that mans behavior is irrational. Thisdiscovery seems to have depressed and angered Milgram; however itis worth noting that other research conducted by social scientistssuggests that other aspects of human nature contradict Enlighten-ment expectations, e.g., that man is aggressive by nature, that he isterritorial, that sex roles and intelligence are genetically influencedif not determined. Science has authority because we expect that ittells us the truth. Now science, through the discoveries ofpsychology, sociology and anthropology, is re-affirming thingsabout human nature which Enlightenment rationalism denied, butwhich older traditions such as Christian theology and Greekphilosophy affirmed. (E) Conclusion. The combination of empirical science andpolitical philosophizing is not new in the history of Western thoughtsince the Renaissance. Indeed, from Bacons New Atlantis to Skin-ners Walden Two this combination has been a potent mixture in ourculture, our politics, and our thinking. The difference is that in thetwentieth century, the social sciences have developed to the pointwhere they can sometimes give the same kinds of control and infor-mation regarding individual human beings and social institutionsthat empirical science had hitherto given us about physicalsubstances and living matter. Thus, while Hobbes, for example, -could only speculate about how the nature of man and society appeared from a scientific point of view, social scientists today have attheir disposal a large amount of precise, empirical knowledge fromwhich to develop what Milgram calls "an experimental view" ofboth man and society. However, what the addition of scientifictheory and experimental information adds to our understanding ofman and society and how science transforms our understanding bythe addition of these elements is still an open question. Milgram makes the point that while many critics of the socialsciences claim they dont discover anything not already known, thatis not true for his series of experiments. (27) Yet, the facts that in-dividuals are easily influenced by others, and often will obeymalevolent authority was well known prior to Milgram; in fact, they
  • 32. 292 THE POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEWERwere known to the ancients. Milgrams "discovery" that men willperform deeds under the command of legitimate authority that theyotherwise would not perform-which includes acts of heroism andbravery, not just cruelty-is but one specific aspect of a moregeneral fact now amply demonstrated by social psychology, namely,that individual personality contains large elements that are sociallyand culturally induced. To repeat, this contradicts our cherishedEnlightenment illusion that we are both rational and in full com-mand of ourselves, and it is ironic that modern science provides thecontradictory evidence. Yet, it was Aristotle who defined man as a"social animal" and the fact of our social nature was well known tothose close observers of life in the Greek city-state, Socrates, Plato,Thucydides, Euripides and the Sophists. Indeed, to the Greeks, menwere simply citizens of their cities, not autonomous individualscooly picking and choosing their allegiances according to a logicalrubric. The re-affirmation of traditional concepts of human sociality inthe social sciences indicates the difference between the physical andthe social sciences. While Aristotles Physics is a mystery to modernphysicists and of no use in the study of physical phenomena, theEthics and Politics are still read today for their insight into socialphenomena. As science has developed since the seventeenth century,its method has more easily dealt with physical phenomena thansocial phenomena and we can speculate that the reason is that thecomplexity of sciences subject matter has overmatched the range ofits method as it has approached the areas of the social sciences. Thefinal implication is that if we are to obtain adequate knowledge ofsocial reality, it must come from other sources as well as from socialscience. This is demonstratedkby the fact that the human race hashistorically had such knowledge long before the advent of socialscience, i.e., before the application of empirical methodology tosocial phenomena. An adequate expression of the reality of socialphenomena must be looked for in religion, philosophy, history andones own personal experience in addition to empirical science, sincethese other accesses to reality are necessary to gain a full and bal-anced view of social phenomena. But if men are social animals whose ideals and courses of actionare frequently prescribed by their social environment, then thedangers of malevolent social authority are intense and severe. Nor isthis merely a deduction; it is an observation only too often made bycitizens of those states subject to the risk of misrule by tyrants,
  • 33. MILGRAM AND AUTHORITY 293demagogues and autocrats. Indeed both Aristotle and Plato describethese dangers in great detail, and both prescribe a remedy, Aristotlea mixed constitution (really a division and balance of power) andPlato an education based on ideals for the guardian class. Yet, thelast voice we hear on the subject of the dangers of malevolentauthority, and the all too human ease with which we accede to it,should be a current one, for while the ancients had their specialtravails, we have had ours as well. In this sense, Milgrams ex-perimental view of authority serves us well and makes a positivecontribution. The science may be faulty-the research not correctlyevaluated, the theories incomplete and contradictory-but science isthe idiom of our time, just as myth was for the Greeks. WhatMilgram has really done is to illustrate the danger of authority inproperly scientific fashion for our time, for what was well knownthroughout recorded history, we will accept only under the authori-ty of science.Brown University Graduate Center JOHN C. CAIAZZA