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  • Jason Brennan (a1)

This essay argues for what may be called the parity thesis: Whenever it would be morally permissible to kill a civilian in self-defense or in defense of others against that civilian's unjust acts, it would also be permissible to kill government officials, including police officers, prison officers, generals, lawmakers, and even chief executives. I argue that in realistic circumstances, violent resistance to state injustice is permissible, even and perhaps especially in reasonably just democratic regimes. When civilians see officials about to commit certain severe injustices — such as police officers engaging in excessive violence — they may sometimes act unilaterally and kill the offending officials. I consider and rebut a wide range of objections, including objections against vigilantism, objections based on state legitimacy, and objections that violence can produce bad fallout.

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Andrew Altman and Christopher Heath Wellman , “From Humanitarian Intervention to Assassination: Human Rights and Political Violence,” Ethics 118 (2008): 228–57, at 253.

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in Hugo Bedau , ed., Civil Disobedience in Focus (London: Routledge, 1991).

Jeff McMahan , Killing in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), vii.

J. Kellenberger , “A Defense of Pacifism,” Faith and Philosophy 4 (1987): 129–48;

Richard Routley , “On the Alleged Inconsistency, Moral Insensitivity, and Fanaticism of Pacifism,” Inquiry 27 (1984): 117–36;

Carlo Filice , “Pacifism: A Reply to Narveson,” Journal of Philosophical Research 17 (1992): 493–95.

Daniel Silvermint , “Resistance and Well–Being,” Journal of Political Philosophy 21 (2013): 405–25.

Thomas S. Schrock , “The Right to Punish and the Right to Resist Punishment in Hobbes’s Leviathan,” Western Political Quarterly 44 (1991): 853–90;

Peter J. Steinberger , “Hobbesian Resistance,” American Journal of Political Science 46 (2002): 856–65.

Arthur Isak Applbaum , “Legitimacy without the Duty to Obey,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 38 (2010): 216–39.

David Estlund , “On Following Orders in an Unjust War,” Journal of Political Philosophy 15 (2007): 213–34.

Larry Alexander , “Other People’s Errors,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 16 (2013): 1049–59.

Zaryab Iqbal and Christopher Zorn , “The Political Consequences of Assassination,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 52 (2008): 385400;

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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