Free Minds & Free Markets

Uncivil Disobedience: New at Reason

Jason Brennan argues that there is no moral distinction between civilians and agents of the state, even in the right to resist injustice.

|||Sergey Drozdov/ Sergey Drozdov/

Consider this counterfactual.

At around 9 p.m. on July 6, 2016, Officer Jeronimo Yanez shoots Philando Castile five times at point-blank range during a traffic stop after Castile calmly and voluntarily informs the cop that he has a gun. Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend in the passenger seat, knows Castile has done nothing wrong. In fear for her life and the life of her four-year-old daughter in the backseat, she grabs the gun from Castile's pocket and shoots Yanez. Yanez's partner, positioned beside Reynolds at the passenger side window, goes for his gun. She shoots him, too.

This hypothetical alternative ending to the Castile tragedy raises an important question: Did Diamond Reynolds have the right that summer night in Minnesota to use deadly force to defend herself, her bullet-riddled boyfriend, and her daughter from Officer Yanez and his partner?

In a provocative and entertaining book, When All Else Fails, the Georgetown philosopher Jason Brennan says yes. People confronted with state agents behaving unjustly have the right to engage in self-defense, from lying to killing the agents, depending on the circumstances. "Government agents," Brennan states plainly, "are due no greater moral defense when they act unjustly than private agents are due," writes Matthew Harwood in his latest piece for Reason.

Photo Credit: Sergey Drozdov/


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