When All Else Fails for Christmas
By Bryan Caplan
Don’t know what to give the nerd in your life for Christmas? Then I highly recommend Jason Brennan’s brand-new When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice. The book is fun, timely, and timeless. A few highlights:
Or suppose Bane has captured Gotham City. Now suppose Batman has a plan for defeating Bane – one that has a good chance of success, while the government’s plan is far worse. In that case, rather than saying that Batman should defer to the government, the government should defer to Batman. What could the government’s argument be otherwise? “Hey, Batman, we know that you are more likely to save Gotham than we are, but we care far more about being in charge than we do about actually seeing lives saved and justice be done. We demand you step aside.”
So it seems that citizens have no obligation to defer to government when government cannot solve the problem as well as they can or when it simply will not solve the problem.
Won’t this theory be abused? Unlikely:
The worry here is supposed to be an epistemic problem: that people will misapply the theory, mistakenly resisting government agents even when they should not. On the contrary, it seems more plausible that citizens are more likely to engage in wrongful obedience than they are to engage in wrongful resistance. The typical person is a conformist, deferential to authority, and fearful for their own safety. When they watch cops beating a person to death, they don’t intervene; they film it and put it on YouTube. When their governments order them to kill foreigners in an unjust war, they do.
Consider the Milgram experiment…
Advanced defensive lying:
Suppose (correctly) that the majority of voters are misinformed, and hence support dangerous, harmful, and unjust policies… while a minority are well informed and support good policies. If a politician lies in order to get elected and then imposes good policies, she will have lied not only to bad voters who have it coming but to the good voters as well. At least she will not have harmed the good voters, however… She can say to the good voters, “I’m sorry I had to deceive you, but if I’d told the truth, the bad voters would have gotten their way, and we all would have suffered.”
The rule of law is overrated:
The question of what’s the correct way to identify the content of the law, however, is distinct from the question of what you ought to do, morally speaking, if someone asks you what the law is…
Yet it’s quite plausible to think that [Dred Scott v. Sanford] was “correctly” decided in the sense that the judges interpreted the case the way prior case law and the Constitution required… Nevertheless, it was permissible for the judges to either refuse to enforce the Constitution on the grounds that it is evil, or lie and say the Constitution in fact favored Scott.
Reading When All Else Fails, you will probably often think, “People who radically disagree with my political philosophy could use Brennan to justify horrible things.” That’s right – and I’m confident Jason would agree. And that’s part of what’s so great about this book. Though it spends many pages analyzing the ethics of deception, every page is scrupulously honest. Buy it!