When May We Kill Government Agents?: In Defense of Moral Parity

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.