The Allure of Submission


This is the title of a good piece by McManus in Quillette (4.9.19). The perspective of McManus comes from Social Psychology and the Frankfurt School. The risk and safety world ought to be concerned about the allure of submission because compliance and submission are not always healthy for organisations and workplaces. The seduction of full submission is a continuing myth of the risk and safety sector.

The Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) is particularly well suited to a consideration of the allure of submission given its emergence out of the Frankfurt School of thought. The evolution of the Social Psychology of Risk is mapped in the following graphic showing its emergence from the Frankfurt School:


The evolution of SPoR is also documented in the latest publication (The Social Psychology of Risk Handbook) in the series on risk (

We can see from the graphic that the foundation of SPoR emerges from the Frankfurt School of ideas, especially the work of Erich Fromm ( ), Adorno, Marcuse and Horkheimer who feature in this article by McManus. The Frankfurt School of ideas came out of Post World War II Germany in response to a decade of hate, fear, war, propaganda, dehumanization and the fruits of eugenics. The founder of the Frankfurt School is Erich Fromm and his associates ( ). Fromm in particular lays much of the visionary force of the Frankfurt School in publications such as:

The Art of Loving

Escape from Freedom

The Sane Society

The Revolution of Hope

Click to access 2144-erich-fromms-revolutionary-hope.pdf

On Being Human

To Have or To Be

Fromm’s visionary work for a world of hope and love is certainly worth reading. Having witnessed the dehumanization of Nazi Germany Fromm set about articulating a vision for the future built on hope and love. His work is both highly critical of authoritarian structures but also hopeful in his vision for the humanization of human community. Having stood in the grounds of Mauthausen (  ) I was overcome but just how much the systematic drive for submission leads to the despotic desires of Empire. I documented this experience in the book Fallibility and Risk that is available for free download (

McManus in this article through a discussion of Fromm, shows how people long for security through submission even when being terrorized by an oppressor. The attraction to submission ought to be of interest to people in safety because not all submission is either healthy or helpful.

As much as safety people think they would like full obedience to regulation such must also be balanced with the need for: imagination, challenge, independent thinking, discovery, learning and resistance.

Submission to regulation is only helpful in stasis, but in times of turbulence and change risk and safety are much better managed by critical thinking, questioning, collective reflection and diversity. Compliance in and of itself is not always good. In safety the allure of submission fosters dehumanizing authoritarianism so eagerly fostered by zero and BBS. How easy it is to punish disobedience in the name of good when the regulation serves as the bible for full submission.

One of the delusions of ‘regulatory capture’ (, is the idea that regulation is neutral and objective. Often the most brutal aspects behind the Nazi Regime were justified legally.

Cultures founded on absolutes like zero and BBS hide behind the subjectivities of the WHS Act and Regulation only to brutalise people in the name of good. How satisfying to be smug about cruelty to others when one can hide behind submission to the law. How critical is an ethic of risk needed in this sector that cannot see the despotic rule of zero. Any denial of fallibility, mortality and human vulnerability can only lead to a lust for full submission.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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