This is a partial transcript taken from an episode of the podcast Don’t Treat on Anyone, hosted by Keith Knight. You can watch the entire discussion here.
Keith Knight: I want to talk about your most recent work, a book called When All Else Fails: the Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice, what is the “moral parity thesis”?
Jason Brennan: The moral parity thesis is the claim that the conditions under which you are able to resist injustice conducted by a government official even when acting in the capacity of their office are exactly the same as the conditions under which you’re allowed to resist me. So basically there’s one set of rules of self-defense and one set of rules for when you’re allowed to use violence or subterfuge or deceit or other things to defend other people from injustice and that same set of rules applies to government agents as it does to defendants against civilians, they are one in the same. So the reverse of this thesis, or the thing I’m arguing against is what you might call the “special immunity thesis” which says that government agents either when they’re working within their office or not or maybe just democratic government agents but some government agents enjoy a kind of special immunity against resistance and actions to resist their injustice. So like if I were to try to kill you right now just for the hell of it because I’m having a bad day and I’m misbehaving everyone thinks that you’d be allowed to defend yourself against me and that other people will be allowed to intervene to defend you against me. But most people think that if a police officer has a bad day and starts beating the crap out of somebody that you just have to stop and let them do it. You can complain later, you can file, maybe there should be a formal investigation, but you’re not permitted to intervene violently. You’re not permitted to lie to the government, you’re not permitted to resist them except in really extreme circumstances. And so the book, the simple claim is just whatever you can do in self-defense or defense of others against anything that I, J. Brennan do, you can do against the U.S. president.
Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at the McDonough School of Business. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.