Jennifer Roback Morse
Talk radio keeps my brain engaged while I’m doing the all-important Mom work of driving kids around. So, while driving between a child’s therapist appointment, dropping him off at school, and then taking the mini-van in for repairs, I caught Dennis Prager’s radio program on wisdom. He observed that wisdom isn’t valued much in today’s world. If offered a choice between being famous and being wise, most college kids would look at you like you’d lost your mind. No contest. Fame trumps wisdom, every time.

I submit there is a reason we lack wisdom. We are afraid of legitimate authority. In fact, many in our culture question whether any authority really is legitimate. Therefore, we have no concept that obedience can be a virtue. As a matter of fact, obeying your parents can be the simplest and most straightforward way of gaining wisdom.

Yes, you heard it here, on a conservative, semi-libertarian website: obedience can be a virtue. Obedi-phobia is a cultural and personal disaster. Don’t bother looking it up: I just invented it. Obedi-phobia means a pathological fear of obedience to legitimate authority.

What is legitimate authority? Everyone who knows more than I can be a legitimate authority on that subject. Parents are legitimate authority figures over their children. The Law, in our Anglo-American tradition, exercises authority over us all, because the law is made through the participation of large numbers of people, in a reasonably transparent process. Americans obey the law, not because some Dear Leader says so, but because the Law says so. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, people obey God, not because God is a cosmic bully who will punish us if we don’t. We obey God because we believe He loves us and has our interests in mind.

Here is how obedi-phobia hampers our quest for wisdom.

The ancient Greeks called prudence “practical wisdom.” Prudence did not mean, doing whatever you can get away with, as it now means in political parlance. The Greeks considered prudence the virtue of doing the right thing at the right time in the right amount, even when this can’t be deduced from general principles. Prudence shows us the difference between courage, a good thing, and rashness, a foolish thing. Seen in this light, the Greeks regarded prudence as the queen of the virtues, that held all the others together.

Prudence requires experience with actual people in actual situations.

Experience shows us how to recognize the difference between a sincere complement and groveling flattery. Experience teaches us how to distinguish between joyful spontaneity and idiotic self-indulgence.

Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at

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