Law-Abiding Citizens Would Surely Never Commit Atrocities

Are some cultures crueller than others? What is so good about law-abiding?

Marti Purull
3 min readApr 14, 2022


Image by Gerd Altmann

Yale professor and social psychologist Stanley Milgram is known for the experiments on obedience he conducted in the 1960s. In one such experiment, he determined to prove that German people were more susceptible to authoritarianism than Americans. The idea was that law-abiding citizens would not tolerate, or at least participate in atrocities.

Hold On

I stopped reading the article at that point. I made a note that would turn into this thought before continuing reading. It must have been my experience having lived under ostensibly corrupt government structures, but that logic did not hold for me: how does law-abiding negate atrocity-committing? You would have to trust the justice system to deliver justice rather than just uphold the law. Moreover, you would also have to believe that such a justice system is error-free, or at least think it to self-correct when unfairness passes a set threshold.

Lethal Electric Shocks For The Masses

Milgram’s experiment proved that 60% of humans, regardless of culture or nationality, age or gender, will follow the orders an authority figure gives them despite their cruelty. Today, we would consider the experiment unethical: after all, experimenters believed they were administering lethal electric shocks. Yet, it disproved the idea that some cultures may be more evil than others, something that, shockingly, many assumed at the time. However, I struggle to understand the premise that law-abiding thinking would have stopped the catastrophe the Holocaust was.

Law-Abiding Dictators

It must be that we are proficient at dehumanising the enemy, particularly one we have already defeated. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much reading to discover that Nazis took power lawfully. It wasn’t by accident, either, but by design: they knew the conservative citizens whose support they were after would have a hard time embracing a power-usurping government. Take up arms and seize power? That sounded far too similar to something the communists would do. No, Hitler came to power legally, democratically, and he used that power to deprive democracy…



Marti Purull

I’m a musician, but I think every day. So I write every day. Thoughts. Reflections. Life.