“Calvin and ‘Hart’: Viewing Calvin’s Disobedience through a Jurisprudential Lens”: Sregurupriya Ayappan

We are delighted to host the following post from Sregurupriya Ayappan, who is a III year student of law at the National Law School of India University.


‘Calvin and Hobbes’ is a much loved comic strip written by Bill Watterson. It follows the daily adventures of a precocious six year old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, who becomes anthropomorphic when they are by themselves, as they often deliberate on issues of philosophy and public interest. One of the recurring themes in the strip is Calvin’s disgruntlement at being made to abide by what his parents, teachers, babysitter Rosalyn or even the bully Moe ask or instruct him to do or not do.

In this post, I shall look at Calvin’s behaviour from a jurisprudential lens to make the point that people need to accept and believe in the law to abide by it without coercion. For this, I will be using HLA Hart’s idea of obligation. Simply put, according to Hart, an observer who does not himself accept the rules is said to have an external point of view. He does not consider himself to be a member of the group and this renders the social pressure ineffective. Such an observer is content merely to record actions and reactions as regularities of observable behaviour which have predictive value. Hence, any deviation from the conformity with rules is generally followed by hostile reactions. Rules are a sign that, and not the reasonwhy, people will behave in a certain manner. The external point of view may also reproduce the way in which members of the group function according to the rules. Those who adopt an external viewpoint are less likely to use normative terminology to describe their behaviour in response to rules. They do not consider rules to be guides to their future conduct as well as standards of criticism. Finally, Hart says that there is a difference between the assertion that someone is obligedand that someone has an obligation. Someone who is solely externally motivated and views rules as mere signs of punishment only feels obliged.[i]

Now, I shall show, using various strips, that, Calvin assumes an external viewpoint and feels obliged to do what he is told. For ease, I shall break this down into four components: One, Calvin does not consider himself to be a member of the group and hence, is not subject to the social pressure. Two,he does not accept the rules. Three, he does not use the rules as standards for appraising his own behaviour. Four, he views rules merely as a sign of possible punishment.

Who is a member of these Zorkons? – Not Calvin!!

As seen in these strips below, Calvin’s fertile imagination creates multiple alter egos, which give an insight into his thought process. The common thread among most of them is that he views himself as differentfrom the rest of the people.


April 2, 1986 available athttps://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1986/04/02

In the above strip, he is Safari Al who is threatened by a fearsome gorilla, which is actually his mother instructing him to clean his room. In certain other strips, he dons the persona of Spaceman Spiff, where he views his teacher Miss Wormwoodand the Gym Instructoras aliens (‘zorkons’) who are placing him in a position of mortal peril, forcing him to abide by their instructions.

Whose rules? – Not Calvin’s!!


September 14, 1987available at https://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1987/09/14

There are several strips show that Calvin does not accept the rules which require him to go to bed early, clean his room, or eat lima beans. He feels these rules are an imposition and do not, by themselves, provide any reason for action. This is evident, as he brands his parents as ‘communists’ and accuses them of ‘totalitarianism’. He also questions the legitimacy of the imposition of rule by pointing out that he was never consulted, and that his acceptance was never sought. He is subject to these rules due to the compelling factor of being born to his parents.

Who thinks rules are a standard for conduct? – Not Calvin!!


January 17, 1989 available at https://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1989/01/17

In the above strip, it can be seen that Calvin exploits the opportunity to play hooky from school. In one other strip, he does not change his habit walking across the floor with his boots on. He does not appraise his conduct against the rule of taking them off either, and merely abides by them after violating it at the reminder, since it contains within itself the possibility of punishment. In yet another strip, he views his sudden power of invisibilityas a means of freedom to violate the rule of not taking cookies and is ecstatic that he can get away with anything. He clearly does not criticise or examine his actions against the established rules or view them as standards of conduct.

Why follow rules? – Meep! Punishment!


May 18, 1986 available athttps://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1986/05/18

As it is clearly seen in these strips, Calvin yields to the rules onlyat the prospect of potential punishment. In the above strip, he submits to Rosalyn merely because she threatens to call the emergency numbers provided, a scenario which Calvin wants to avoid. So, he retires to bed early. In some other strips, it is clearly seen that Calvin changes his mind when his parents raise their voiceat him. He does not see the merits of the rules or wishes of his parents and continues to stick to his stance until he fears their possible reactionswhen he realises they have lost their temper. Hence, for Calvin, rules are merely signs of punishment and only have predictive value.


Calvin does not consider himself to be a member of the social group whose rules unfortunately extend to him and hence, does not feel any social pressure to conform to the same. He neither accepts the rules, nor does he appraise his conduct against said rules. He complies, as a last resort after attempts to escape have failed, only in the face of punishment. Hence, it can be concluded that Calvin assumes an external viewpoint and feels obliged to do what is to

[i] H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 82-91 (2ndedn., 2007). See alsoScott Shapiro, What is the Internal Point of View?, 73(3) Fordham Law Review, 1157 (2006); John Ferejohn, Positive Theory and Internal View of Law, 10(2) Journal of Constitutional Law, 273 (2008).

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