Here is a paper in PLOS Biology re-considering the lessons of some classic psychology experiments invoked here often (via).
To me the crux of the paper comes from this statement in the abstract:
This suggests that individuals' willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.
Plus this detail from the Milgram experiment:
Ultimately, they tend to go along with the Experimenter if he justifies their actions in terms of the scientific benefits of the study (as he does with the prod “The experiment requires that you continue”) . But if he gives them a direct order (“You have no other choice, you must go on”) participants typically refuse. Once again, received wisdom proves questionable. The Milgram studies seem to be less about people blindly conforming to orders than about getting people to believe in the importance of what they are doing .