According to an article I read recently (I could not find it though), the easiest way to take down a big authority is by cutting the head - meaning the uppermost level of control of that authority - and causing enough chaos to be able to claim that authority yourself.

What if whenever politicians became too shameless in their corruption schemes, someone hired a hitman that eliminates a few important figures, basically sending a message that most of the people are thinking: "We can see what you're doing and we won't just stay and do nothing"? In my very naive opinion, this will send a warning message to any future person occupying that role that they shouldn't fall into corruption schemes or at least not as much. I understand that in today's world the second part - claiming the authority - is complex or impossible, but it's not important. The goal of this is only sending the warning message.

I know that my point of view is very naive, but I'd like to read some ideas about why this won't work.

P.S.: I know this is a global community, so a little background might be helpful - this is coming from someone in Eastern Europe, where life standard is kind of low compared to Western Europe and politicians are more corrupt based on my biased opinion.

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    I understand that this is an academic question, but could you reword it to make it very clear that you're not in any way suggesting that this is a valid solution or good idea? There are too many people who would like to take out world leaders today, and they don't need encouragement.
    – bob
    Apr 2, 2019 at 15:50
  • 5
    Lots of comments deleted. Please don't answer the question in comments. For more information on what comments should and should not be used for, please review the help article about the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Apr 2, 2019 at 16:39
  • 1
    I have heard on multiple occasions about this idea and I think this is on-topic, since it is clearly related to how some perceive politics. Also the most voted answers explain very well why this is a terrible idea and they are useful for future readers (one of the goals of SE network),
    – Alexei
    Apr 4, 2019 at 6:26
  • 1
    Isn't this an ethical question rather than political? Almost any political system will have strong rules against harming the people who write the rules, for obvious reasons, but you seem to be interested in extra-legal solutions. Apr 4, 2019 at 15:00
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    Because the corrupt politicians will be the ones hiring hitmen to eliminate their opponents. This has been done, you know, in Nazi Germany and USSR.
    – Michael
    Jul 21, 2020 at 20:02

15 Answers 15


Basically because your idea (assassination of corrupt politician) undermines rather than reinforces the rule of law. Usually the definition of corruption includes some kind of illegal activity. Otherwise it's just stuff you don't like for personal moral reasons. And if everyone started to use assasination to solve their moral differences... the basis of the (modern) state as the sole authority for violence would cease to exist.

And given that it's apparently a fairly popular idea, in some movies at least, here's some similar commentary on the idea:

The violence could worsen the problem of corruption,” says Michael Johnston, a political scientist and professor at Colgate University. “It would legitimate violent action from the persecuted politicians, and encourage a hunt for the suspects. That is what will happen with Rodrigo Duterte’s tactics in the Philippines,” he explains, referring to the Philippine president who wishes to distribute 42 thousand weapons to ordinary citizens, especially community leaders, so they can go around the country killing people involved with any form of illicit activities, especially drug trafficking.

In such a scenario, a climate similar to that of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union would be implemented: any accusation, no matter how little justified by concrete evidence, would mean a death penalty or exile. And the dead corrupt politicians would quickly be replaced by other ones – as it already happens with members of the organized crime.

And since that part doesn't get developed with any examples there, South Africa is perhaps an example where the whistleblowers are the ones that usually end up assassinated, nowadays.

Political assassinations are rising sharply in South Africa, threatening the stability of hard-hit parts of the country and imperiling Mr. Mandela’s dream of a unified, democratic nation.

But unlike much of the political violence that upended the country in the 1990s, the recent killings are not being driven by vicious battles between rival political parties.

Quite the opposite: In most cases, A.N.C. officials are killing one another, hiring professional hit men to eliminate fellow party members in an all-or-nothing fight over money, turf and power, A.N.C. officials say. [...]

The recent assassinations cover a wide range of personal and political feuds. Some victims were A.N.C. officials who became targets after exposing or denouncing corruption within the party. Others fell in internal battles for lucrative posts.

Encouraging assassination as a legitimate political tool can easily lead to that since who has more money to pay hitmen?

And to reinforce this idea, going back to Duterte, here's a quote from him:

Rodrigo Duterte has warned journalists in the Philippines that they are legitimate targets for assassination if they do wrong, in the President-elect’s latest controversial comments ahead of being sworn into office later this month.

Duterte was asked during a press conference Tuesday how he would address the country’s high murder rate for journalists, reports Agence France-Presse. “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” he replied.

Interestingly, Duterte was apparently referring to (or perhaps reducing the problem to) the rather complex case of Jun Pala, who apparently himself was linked to a vigilante group that exposed and allegedly assassinated some [corrupt] politicians.

And since this came up several times in the comments, here's a definition(s) primer:

“Corruption” is a term whose meaning shifts with the speaker. It can describe the corruption of the young from watching violence on television or refer to political decisions that provide narrow benefits to one’s constituents in the form, say, of a new road through the district. In short, speakers use the term to cover a range of actions that they find undesirable. Because my topic includes both corruption and poor governance, I omit both morally corrupting activities, on the one hand, and run-of-the-mill constituency-based politics, on the other. I use the common definition of corruption as the “misuse of public power for private or political gain,” recognizing that “misuse” must be defined in terms of some standard. Many corrupt activities under this definition are illegal in most countries—for example, paying and receiving bribes, fraud, embezzlement, self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and providing a quid pro quo in return for campaign gifts. However, part of the policy debate turns on where to draw the legal line and how to control borderline phenomena, such as conflicts of interest, which many political systems fail to regulate. [...] one of the most important debates turns on the issue of “state capture” or the problem of creating open democratic/market societies in states where a narrow elite has a disproportionate influence on state policy. In those countries outright bribery may be low, but the system is riddled with special interest deals that favor the few over the many.

In some sense, plain-old tyranny (which several comments addressed) is an extreme form of state capture. (When there aren't even pretenses anymore.) State capture is of course somewhat different than "conventional" corruption because there's (usually widespread) institutional and legislative failure. Whether peaceful reform or violent revolution is the appropriate solution for such a state of affairs is a somewhat related but sufficiently different question, so I won't attempt to address that here.

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    Apart from the points of the answer, the whole setup of the idea is rather naive. The corrupt politicians stand in power because they have a power base that supports them, even if they are corrupt. The idea that the problems of a country are the fault of a single man is rather tempting as it provides an easy solution, but completely false and it is mostly wishful thinking and scapegoating.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 2, 2019 at 9:19
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    @owjburnham: overthrow doesn't necessarily mean killing. Apr 2, 2019 at 9:33
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    @AngelVenchev But who decides what's a "very extreme situation"? There are many political assassinations where the assassin had a motive most people would consider a very minor issue or even no issue at all. But the assassin obviously considered those reasons "extreme" enough to commit a murder they will very likely get caught for. There are a lot of political extremists who do not realize they are extremists.
    – Philipp
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:02
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    @FrankCedeno: If we're talking revolutions here, we're probably in a different ball game. As I understood this question it's about mundane corruption. You're welcome to add another answer. Ferdinand was probably not corrupt according to the laws of his time... Apr 2, 2019 at 12:17
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    @TKK When was this demonstrated?
    – DonFusili
    Apr 4, 2019 at 9:37

Interestingly, avoiding this is one of the reasons that the United States Constitution provides means for legal impeachment of the president.

Dr. Franklin was for retaining the clause [on impeachment], as favorable to the executive. History furnishes one example only of a first magistrate being formally brought to public justice. Every body cried out against this as unconstitutional. What was the practice before this, in cases where the chief magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why, recourse was had to assassination, in which he was not only deprived of his life, but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way, therefore, to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the executive, where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal, where he should be unjustly accused

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 20, 1787.—James Madison, Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, ed. Jonathan Elliot, vol. 5, pp. 340–41 (1845).

In addition to the practical and moral reasons which have been raised by other answers, assassination deprives the targeted politician of the chance to clear their name and it deprives the public of the chance to learn, in a fair and just manner, if the charges were justified or not.


The question is whether the politician is corrupt or the whole society is corrupt. Often most corrupt politicians belong to corrupt societies. Therefore, if you kill a corrupt politician, another one will take their place.

The same thing happens with drug traffickers: whenever a cartel falls, another one takes control of the vacuum left behind because the demand of drugs does not fall just because a cartel in power is gone.

Further, if people accept the death of corrupt politicians, it may discourage people from being politicians, but the ones who take that path would be more corrupt than ever, because they must accept the risk of being a politician. Hence, they need to profit faster to make the risk worthwhile.

What would happen with your hitman? If society accept that death, then your hitman would be hired to kill other people, because death by assassination would be nice for many.

  • This seems like a Perfect Solution Fallacy. It's certainly true that assassinating a single bad actor, whether a politician or a mafia boss, won't solve everything. However, it's also true that adding a significant risk of death makes corruption less appealing, and should discourage abuse to some extent. It's not obvious that such a situation would encourage more corruption, because raking in dirty cash quickly will generally be more obvious - and more likely to attract acute lead poisoning. Apr 4, 2019 at 15:09
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    @JonofAllTrades I think corruption would be in the same ballpark as other crimes in that it is not the severity of punishment that deters, but rather unavoidability. Note that as soon as you start assassination game, it won't matter of you are corrupt, just if your hitman is faster than the one who expects to be paid for you.
    – Gnudiff
    Apr 4, 2019 at 15:36

Suppose, as per the premise of the question, that the public is fond of sponsoring assassinations. A clever corrupt politician could use that to his own advantage, and the nation's detriment:

  • A politician could weaponize the state's propaganda system to mold public resentment toward prominent reformers, so that the gullible public could be wrongly persuaded to fund assassins to murder the reformers themselves.

  • Organized assassination markets would justify using emergency powers to create a temporary, or even permanent, police state, which could be used to crush such markets, and oppress and murder reformers.

  • Since it's an assassination market system, it would favor buyers with more money. So a wealthy criminal would have money to spend, whereas the honest poor would not. Therefore such a market would tend to best reward assassins employed by the ruthlessly wealthy to murder reformers.

Curiously it's also a common and perhaps characteristic superstition of large empires that the clearly unsustainable domestic policies above somehow become scalable and prudent if celebrated in entertainment, adapted to foreign policy, and formally denied.


Letting aside the ethics, who gets to decide who is corrupt?

Taking the USA's political state since 2015-2016, i.e. the last POTUS election we have:

  • a large proportion of US voters who believe Hillary Clinton is corrupt.
  • a large proportion of US voters who believe Donald Trump is corrupt.

It could be that they are both corrupt. Or that neither is corrupt. What would be an objective way to determine who is worthy or not? How would it fit with notions like rule of law or institutions?

What if the hit man's employer are not so much honest citizens as, say gangsters wanting to throttle an excessive anti-corruption drive? What if a prime minister/president, aware of the risks, launches very aggressive police actions, essentially to defend themselves? What if, after a successful assassination of a part-popular, but divisive, politician, his supporters riot?

Unless, of course, this decision is taken at a governmental level in which case democracies have all sorts of way to impeach or indicate a loss of confidence in a government and don't need this suggestion. Which smacks of vigilante justice.

Couple a legislated removal from office with fact-driven adversarial prosecutions of the supposed corruption afterwards and you have most of the advantages of your suggestion, in an entirely legal manner.

  • I'm not sure how bringing up gangsters is relevant in a discussion on well-intentioned morality or lack thereof of an act; gangsters have people bad for their business removed anyway, for selfish reasons, it's a red herring.
    – millimoose
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:50
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    It's not a red herring at all. It's exactly the same violence if I send my boys to rub you out, or I outspend you in court. Men with guns will show up to coerce you either way. Don't like that? Pay some men with guns to defend you. Problem is that during the evaluation process, the area is not really attractive for economic growth. Also, you cannot avoid "gangsters" in this scenario, uncertain times are how 'gangsters' become respected citizens. Al Capone's syphilis might be the difference between him and Joe Kennedy.
    – chiggsy
    Apr 4, 2019 at 3:59
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    @millimoose How is hitman unrelated to gangster again? Plus, some other posters made the same link to the most natural customers of hitmen are people in the crime scene. There have been a number of cases over time where inconvenient public figures, often journalists, but sometimes politicians, have been rubbed out by the mob, mostly in countries with immature democratic institutions. And, in a context of accepted political assassinations, would mob hits not be less obvious? So, what's your point, exactly? Apr 4, 2019 at 6:34
  • The question, as asked, mentions "someone" hiring an assassin, and the assassination is motivated by the politician being corrupt - I interpreted this as the assassination being well-intentioned from some sort of utilitarian perspective in which killing for the greater good is permissible. The mob rubbing out somebody going against their interests - which usually are more corruption, not less, are things you just made up that aren't evident from the question.
    – millimoose
    Apr 12, 2019 at 9:16
  • From such a consequentialist perspective, a mob hit done with the intent of personal gain is in fact different from a mob hit done with the intent of the politician no longer robbing his constituency. You have not only not considered this intent - which is present in the question as asked - but substituted it with a different motivation altogether. My point is the question is "why is murdering a politician for his corruption bad?", but you're answering the question "why is the mob murdering a politician for their ends bad?"
    – millimoose
    Apr 12, 2019 at 9:20

Apart from whether your approach would be conducive to justice or a better political system or even just any improvement whatsoever — it will not work.

  1. Do you think you are the first one who has the idea to kill the president or other politicians? They are quite well protected, and after the first few incidents the protection will be watertight.

  2. But the most important obstacle to your strategy is that a change in leadership in a democracy does not have a great impact.1 In fact, this is a simple and effective litmus test for a true democracy: Does a change in leadership trigger a systemic crisis? We don't know what will happen in North Korea when Kim Jong-un dies in office(s). By contrast we know quite exactly what will happen in the U.S. when Trump dies in office: There will be different furniture and tapestry in the White house, a steep decline in presidential twitter activity and a return to general decorum because the vice president will become president.2 Nothing much will happen, and certainly no systemic crisis.

    A system with properly working political institutions and true elections will simply replace the leader according to the lawful rules and procedures, and go on with business.

    If you want a quip: In a democracy, functions are filled with people. In a dictatorship, people are filled with functions.

  3. The politicians have been voted into office by free elections; they are in office because many people wanted them to be. What makes you think the next election will suddenly result in a fundamentally different leadership? To change the general make-up of the political class, you must change the outcomes of elections; to do that, you need to change public opinion.

1 Whether through violence or election. The latter has been a sometimes painful experience for members of either big political camp after their respective candidate had become president. A president is less important than some people, including the presidents themselves sometimes, tend to think. Cynics say that's because the real power lies elsewhere anyway; I'd argue that the balance of power and the legal framework limits what can be done by an activist president; and when one steps back one sees that the positions are not very extreme to begin with. That's not too surprising given that a large part of the population voted for them.

2 Thanks to nasch for the correction.

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    The 25th amendment states "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President." So the VP becomes not acting president, but president. And I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "a new president will be elected" but there is no special election held after the President's death. The next scheduled election happens as normal, and this could result in the re-election of the person who assumed the presidency.
    – nasch
    Apr 2, 2019 at 21:27
  • @nasch i.e. things proceed basically how they would have with the predecessor
    – Caleth
    Apr 2, 2019 at 23:06
  • Maybe, maybe not, it's entirely up to the new president.
    – nasch
    Apr 3, 2019 at 15:39
  • "they are in office because many people wanted them to be" No, because there are often only 2 choices both I would never vote for, but a decision has to be made. The people want an honest person, but are only give 2 choices neither of which has to be good, honest, or etc. Anyone else who runs doesn't stand a chance because they don't have the financial backing to get noticed so people vote for them.
    – cybernard
    Apr 3, 2019 at 18:59
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    I'm surprised that none of these answers have mentioned martyrdom. But it is likely, if a leading politician was assassinated, that it would strengthen support for his cause and for his allies, bringing out more voters who might otherwise stay home. As such, it might fail to clean out the corrupt politicians, as the assassin had hoped it would. Apr 10, 2019 at 6:05

First of all, what's the problem you're trying to solve?

You want better government?

Then consider that corruption may not be as big a problem as incompetence, ideology or partisanship, in some societies.

So you kill all the corrupt politicians, but leave the incompetent, ideologically-driven, hyper-partisan ones in place. You may not have solved the problem. In fact, you may have made it worse, because politicians are a mixed bag.

A politician may be corrupt and really good at constituent services. A politician may be corrupt and a staunch anti-Communist.

Also, what makes you think that a corrupt politician won't be replaced by another corrupt politician? What's the point in targeting the person if you're not targeting the conditions and incentives that enticed that person to corruption in the first place? Corruption in government is a systemic problem.

Also, what's the definition of corruption? Who sets the definition?

All big questions.

It may be worthwhile to focus on defining the problem before spending too much time on solutions. Read about the XY Problem.

To answer your question directly:

Why is it a bad idea to hire a hitman to eliminate most corrupt politicians?

People are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (at least in the United States).

What happens when you kill a politician you thought was corrupt, and it turns out he was innocent?

That's why we have a criminal justice system.

And why limit it to corrupt politicians? Why not engage in extrajudicial killings of alleged rapists, kidnappers, pedophiles, adulterers and car thiefs?

Keep in mind that in the United States there are many people on death row who have gone through extensive police investigations and court reviews. Their appeals are exhausted and they are simply awaiting execution. Sometimes, after many years, new evidence surfaces, witnesses recant or something else happens proving innocence. The inmate wins his freedom. Other times its too late.

Imagine what would happen with fewer layers of review, less oversight and faster sentencing.

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    Not only that, but "purging corrupt officials" is often used as an excuse to get rid of political opponents (as in the Philippines). Apr 2, 2019 at 22:30

The question is titled:

Why is it a bad idea to hire a hitman [to kill corrupt] politicians?

Well, from a moral standpoint, it's wrong. It depends on your yardstick for corruption, but let's say as you imply it's some run of the mill embezzling/defruading the state.

You've implied a benchmark of:

whenever politicians became too shameless in their corruption schemes,

..implying financial misconduct.

That's an abuse of power and generally considering to be "wrong" (in the ethical sense). However, if we look at this on the basis of first principles: If I steal ten dollars from you, and you then come and kill me (hiring someone is more or the less ethically the same thing), who's committed the greater wrong, me or you?

I think you'd be hard pressed to find someonewho argues that stealing money is ethically worse than killing someone - it's disproportionate. The key attribute of retributive jsutice is that it is proportionate. To quote Wikipedia:

Retributive justice is a theory of justice that holds that the best response to a crime is a punishment proportional to the offense, inflicted because the offender deserves the punishment. Prevention of future crimes (deterrence) or rehabilitation of the offender are not considered in determining such punishments. The theory holds that when an offender breaks the law, justice requires that he or she suffer in return. Retribution is different from revenge because retributive justice is directed only at wrongs, has inherent limits, is not personal and involves no pleasure at the suffering of others[1] and employs procedural standards.[2][3] Classical texts advocating the retributive view include De Legibus (1st century BC), Kant's Science of Right[4] (1790), and Hegel's Philosophy of Right[5] (1821).

From an ethical standpoint, it seems evident that hiring a hitman to kill a corrupt politician is both unjust and unethical - to a certain degree. There's also an inherent problem with your criterion:

too shameless in their corruption schemes

Your benchmark here is how visible this corruption is, or more precisely, how corrupt the individual is perceived to be. This is problematic. Let's discuss the ethical reasons first, then move on to why pragmatically this is even worse.

So the next question is: How shameless is "too shameless" ? What amount of money or kind of corruption schemes are objectively worth "sending a message over"? If, as I think you will agree, stealing ten dollars from the government not worth hiring a hitman over, what figure is ? Ten thousand dollars, one hundred thousand? What price do you put on a human life? Who gets to deem that the politician is too shameless?

The problem with this unilateral approach is that a lot of people might not agree with your methods, or your reasoning. Look at Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth or Mark David Chapman: Complete nutters the lot of them. How do you verify when you embark on this course of action that you yourself aren't just, yourself, a complete nutter? Unlike a functioning judicial process, there's no due process or checks and balances. Looking at today's political climate, there are probably a lot of people who would feel justified in taking that action into their own hands, even though, their criterion for action might not meet the same standards as yours.

Whilst I am no Trump fan, I certainly don't believe he should be assassinated. There are plenty of people in the U.S who do and I am certainly not comfortable with their ethical standards because if those same principles were applied, they would feel justified in killing a lot of people I would consider innocent, or at least not worthy of summary extrajudicial execution.

Can you imagine what it would be like if every SJW, right wing blogger and Youtube commenter felt they were justified in taking the lives of people who had transgressed their imaginary rulebook?

We need to also ask whilst on the topic of personal culpability, what is a politician? At the most abstract, I submit it's somebody who influences or attempts to influence the body politic. So by killing someone you perceive to be corrupt, or a lizard person, or whatever, you are in fact attempting to influence the political process. So if you hire a hitman to kill whoever, isn't somebody else justified in viewing you as corrupt and hiring a hitman to take you out?

These are just some quick moral arguments against it off the top off my head. There's a far greater problem with this notion. It doesn't really work.

First of all, let's examine your proposition:

someone hired a hitman that eliminates a few important figures, basically sending a message that most of the people are thinking: "We can see what you're doing and we won't just stay and do nothing"? In my very naive opinion, this will send a warning message to any future person occupying that role that they shouldn't fall into corruption schemes or at least not as much.

Well, for starters, I don't think the politician in question will be falling into any corruption schemes anymore, assuming that the hitman is successful. So what message are you really sending? And to whom? The guy's dead.

So how are you getting your message across? No doubt if the politician is visibly corrupt enough, people might suspect it had something to do with it but there's no clear cut guarantee. Declaring some manifesto alongside it only increases your risk of getting caught.

Aside from your hitman probably having something to say about that; what guarantee do you have that either this corrupt cabal or the general populace is going to take you seriously? It's a nice daydream, but I don't think it really works out that way in practice.

There's another fatal flaw with your plan: Darwinism.

You see, by your stated criterion, you're only targeting the most visibly corrupt politicians. Let's assume you have a lot of money and a really good hitman. What happens in the long run? You don't kill all the corrupt politicians, you just kill the visible, and, by extension, the inept ones. That just ends up leaving the ones who excel at being corrupt. This leaves you worse off than where you started. This happens a lot in nature.

For example, we've possessed the genetic weaponry necessary to wipe out the malarial mosquito for sometime. The reason why we haven't done it, is that even though malaria kills a lot of people is that we don't know exactly what else it kills and what effects might result.

We might inadvertantly lift the lid on another disease that's even worse. One of these politicians might be corrupt but be keeping someone even worse from rising up the food-chain.

You see, for politicians to become so shameless unaccountable to their electorate, it doesn't just imply that they themselves have taken advantage of the government. What it usually means is that the institutions of government - the complex systems and ecosystems of government and governance have themselves broken down. It's quite easy for people to point to a divisive figure like say, Donald Trump, and say "It's all his fault" but the reality is that these people are the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.

The United States has had real trouble just functioning for a long time, and its democratic institutions are in many ways fundamentally broken. The causes of this are legion, but can basically be summed up with their culture and history has directly determined the outcome they have right now. Likewise, the failure of institutions and democracy in Hungary or Poland or Bulgaria (or wherever you are) aren't the result of just one person but a systemic failure. You can't cure this with a bullet - people have tried.

This leads to my last point: Unintended consequences.

We don't know what forces might be unleashed by a single assassination. Look at Archduke Ferdinand. He was killed because he was a symbol of the Austro-Hungarian domination of the Balkans. Princip believed that by assassinating him he was furthering the course of Serbian freedom. Ironically Ferdinand was a reformer, and they had a better chance under Ferdinand.

What happened instead is that the vast machinery of Europe, having almost stepped back from the brink of war, was thrown into four years of wanton and unnecessary bloodshed. The Serbian state was nearly utterly destroyed. It set the preconditions of the Second World War which was the most destructive war in history. The consequences of that single action set of a chain of events that led to the deaths of up to 100 million people.

Now maybe assassinating Viktor Orban or Justin Trudeau or whoever wouldn't set off such a conflagration, but here's the thing: you just don't know. If you paid someone to pull the trigger, all that blood is essentially on your hands.

I could go on to list all the times this hasn't worked or how internal power struggles in crumbling democracies often fail to deliver an improvement in living conditions and civil rights for the people.

The Arab Spring is a rather depressing reminder of how even well intentioned grassroots attempts at overthrowing tyranny can lead to both its entrenchment and expansion - look at Eygypt, Syria and Libya.

I think you'll also find that decapitating the leadership might effectively, most systems are somewhat resilient to it. We can look the Taliban, Al-Qaeda for examples on how despite numerous attacks/assassinations of leaders, they remain just as capable of carrying on fighting as long as their support networks are in place.

So going back to incentives. I mentioned before that in the event you described wasn't worth killing someone over. So when is it?

Let's consider briefly the Trolley Dilemma.

You see a runaway trolley moving toward five tied-up (or otherwise incapacitated) people lying on the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track, and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two options:

Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.

Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the more ethical option?

Another commenter brought up the example of how members of the German military tried to assassinate Hitler (I believe they tried a couple of times) and instigate a coup.

Intriguingly, someone else brought up Duterte.

There's only an ethical and pragmatic case to kill a politician where there is a clear threat to the lives of people under the rule of that person - where you can make a clear case that intervening would stop this person killing or enacting policies that would directly and explicitly result in killing innocent people. Killing Hitler might have shortened the Second World War and prevented part of the Holocaust.

In the case of Duterte, who has openly advocated and directly enabled the extrajudicial killings of tens of thousands of people, there is in fact an ethical, and perhaps, pragmatic case to intervene. This is clear and distinct from policies by national leaders who have decided to go to war in what they perceive to be the national interest, such as Russia or the United States.

These aren't ideal either, but quite distinct from using murder as an instrument of social policy. I submit that hiring a hitman to kill a single person differs only in magnitude to these crimes however, not only is it inethical in the scenario you are talking about, but from a practical standpoint, it's likely to be ineffective - and therefore even more unforgivable.

The best way to fight corruption is to build strong and empower strong democratic institutions with respect for the rule of law. This is probably cold comfort to someone living in Eastern Europe where corruption and illiberalism has been the norm for a very long time.

N.B. Please forgive what is a rather rough draft as I am procrastinating from programming at 4am. That said, probably a bad idea to kill politicians.

  • This is a thoughtful answer, but it seems to needlessly assume that a hypothetically corrupt politician's crimes would fall short of murder; to the contrary, corrupt politicians can also be murderers and employ assassins as well.
    – agc
    Apr 6, 2019 at 12:22
  • I'd came here and immediately searched for "Hitler", because obviously someone had to point to that example. Godwin's law had to strike… Anyway, BTW, it's not sure whether killing Hitler would have helped. Maybe someone else would just have followed into his position or so…
    – rugk
    May 29, 2019 at 20:00

This would only work if you had some sort of infallible, morally pure, by everyone's standards (the disqualifying factor, right there), arbiter of right or wrong, that everyone else would defer to regarding who lives and who dies.

Otherwise, each and every political viewpoint would have their own image of who is good and who is evil, and motivated individuals would take it upon themselves to act. Conservative? Hillary deserves to die for the child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria.... that was in a building that didn't have a basement.

Wikipedia: Pizzagate conspiracy theory

Complete conspiracy nut? Bush and Cheney must die for their 9/11 hoax where they used chemtrails and nano-bots to blow up the World Trade Centers.

Screaming liberal? Trump must die for ordering Russians to throw the election to him.

All of the above scenarios are either out and out nonsense, or probably do not have the level of "Dr Evil" scheming or control as many claim.

Basically, you'd have a free for all of executions by anyone and everyone thinking they are morally upright and those that disagree with them are not. In the United States, with our insanely tribal and polarized atmosphere and a heavily armed populace, you're talking drug-cartel level violence as public policy.

This entire premise would only work if there was a way to administer the lethal justice in a fair and impartial manner, and if there was a way to administer justice like that, then those means would exist for non-lethal sanctions, as well, making the lethal answer unnecessary. It relies on an impossible or unrealistic set of conditions in order to be administered in any kind of workable manner.

  • Was about to add an answer of my own but instead upvoted this one which pretty much covers it. The only thing I would add is that, leaving aside ethics/morals, the flaw in OP's logic comes in the statement that assassination is 'basically sending a message that most of the people are thinking: "We can see what you're doing and we won't just stay and do nothing"'—whereas in reality all it does is send the message that at least one person (with the means to hire an assassin) thinks that.
    – jez
    Apr 3, 2019 at 23:28
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    "infallible, morally pure, by everyone's standards (the disqualifying factor, right there), arbiter of right or wrong..." and this is why superhero movies are so popular these days. Many people would love to have Batman take care of those no-good so-and-sos - and in the movies they never go after the wrong guy. Apr 4, 2019 at 15:19
  • 1
    @JonofAllTrades and in the movies everyone knows they go after the right guy. In reality, even if you go after the right, i.e. criminal, guy, there will be some people who like him and will hardly be convinced that you went for the right guy - it's hard enough when you have public investigations and court cases and he doesn't have to die, even more so when some shadowy person decides it and just gets rid of them. Apr 18, 2019 at 16:09
  • @JonofAllTrades which btw. would have made a really great topic for Batman vs. Superman to explore... but nooo it was more important to show nice fight scenes and make everything visually dark and broody. Apr 18, 2019 at 16:11

Surprised I don't see this point made clear anywhere yet:

In the United States (a simple example, but many others have similar divides), a sizable portion of the population thinks that most democrats are corrupt and a sizable portion of the population thinks that most republicans are corrupt.

Let's say your proposal becomes reality: everyone kills everyone else, and practically no politicians remain.

You are left without a functioning state government, not with a state government devoid of corrupt politicians, and you have anarchy - which some people (not myself) would embrace.


There are two obvious problems beyond the ethical ones.

1) The practical problem of cost. Nobody has enough money to get them all, even if there were enough competent hit-persons to do the job.

2) Are "corrupt" politicians really the problem, or is it the honest but incompetent and/or driven by ideology ones? After all, the corrupt politician wants to do a good enough job so that s/he can stay in office and keep on collecting money.


Just to add to the discussion, killing a corrupt leader is a bad idea from the stand point of stable and sustainable governments to follow. Not only assassination, which is in my opinion a plan with a consensus of limited number of people & ideology and power comes from consensus of large number of people, but also killing the leader in general is a bad idea as it creates a political vacuum which needs to be filled by a legitimate claim, generally missing after assassinations and killings. We have seen a few examples of this in history.

The French revolution comes to mind first. Robespierre's head cutting spree ended with his head on the guillotine and a very bad constitution. Gadaffi's killing also threw Libya in a state of anarchy, even though in both cases there was a general consensus that leaders were corrupt and needed replacement.

When killing a leader is accepted in a society, there is no room for rule of law and society would fragment. Assassinations would lead to disagreements being settled by violence and no leader to be chosen as disagreements will always remain, society would be headless, and anarchy would prevail.

  • This answer generalizes too selectively, but fails to consider societies that aren't ruined after killing a leader.
    – agc
    Apr 6, 2019 at 12:28
  • @agc As far as I know when RSI was felled by partisans they had the support of the Allies, giving them legitmacy and this becomes an exceptional case where externalities(war) stabilized a volatile situation. Basically Italy declared it's surrender by removing Mussolini and stability was the result- the terms implicitly dictated by the winner. In short the political vacuum which causes instability was filled by a legitimate power much bigger than the nation itself- winner of war Apr 6, 2019 at 13:19
  • So if someone killed Hitler that would have been worse in your books? /S Also how is allied support a "legitimacy"? Like support by an external power could still result in decades of partisan warfare to drive out the occupier.
    – haxor789
    Apr 12 at 12:04

The entire idea behind presidential impeachment is to reduce the likelihood of assassination. Furthermore, the right to bear arms was intended to ensure that the government would fear the people, and not the people fear the government.

As revolutionaries, the people behind the American and French revolutions actually did consider that assassination was a logical form of resistance.

  • French war for independence? Louis XVI's France was independent. Do you mean the Revolutionary Wars? Apr 5, 2019 at 2:55
  • That sounds like having it backwards. Like it's not that assassinations are ever a good option, it's rather that if there is no legal way to remove a leader they are the ONLY option left. So by having an act of impeachment you make a "revolution" a lot less bloody and chaotic. Also the right to bear arms concerned the construction of a militia, no government would be stupid enough to encourage an armed insurrection...
    – haxor789
    Apr 12 at 11:41
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    Also contrary to popular believe the king of France wasn't actually executed during the turmoil of the revolution, but rather because royals subsequently tried to flee the country and organize a war against revolutionary France. So it's rather a sentencing for treason, while previously they just thought about having a constitutional monarchy. After that they went straight for republic.
    – haxor789
    Apr 12 at 11:44

According to an article I read recently (I could not find it though), the easiest way to take down a big authority is by cutting the head

How is that easy? Like I'm not going to put myself on watch lists by googling how much you pay for a contract killer, but using one or two brain cells it's not hard to image that it's probably quite expensive to ask for a crime which will put the perpetrator in prison for decades when failed. Not to mention that it's the kind of high profile crime that actually gets an investigation and it being a high profile target which DEFINITELY gets a VERY THOROUGH investigation. So your killer is either a complete moron, in which case there's a higher probability that there is a trace back to you than that your killer is being successful or they are so professional that you either can't afford that without robbing Fort Knox (or getting monitored moving hundreds of thousands of dollars and upwards of that) or they actually are some foreign or domestic government agency that either put up a honey pot to catch the most stupid terrorists imaginable or that would have done that anyway but could now use you as a straw man...

And if you plan on these:


a) those people in that list are still alive, b) if it worked you'd basically have an unchecked murder institution, so fuck politicians the people who run that system would be your new state and they'd be much more dangerous than any politician before...

Which gets us to the next big problem: That's not how power works.

Like despite it happening quite often that organizations and institutions up to entire states are getting identified with one person, the reality is most often more complex.

Like seriously from the highest to the lowest ranking person in a chain of command, every single one of them is a sentient and intelligent individual who needs to be bribed, coerced or won over. And if your organization is any relevant it likely builds on lots of people doing stuff, meaning you already needs a whole caste of people doing the bribing coercion and winning over. And if you think, "hold on isn't it sufficient if the leader is rich enough to buy people? Why would he need other people to bribe on his behalf". Well first of all the closer you are to the king the more likely you increase your salary because you see what little effort they put into it and what high efforts your put into that and so you ask for substantially more money and that principle goes all the way down, so you actually do need straw people in the middle dispensing that money rather than people negotiating directly with you.

Also if you hold all the money than your money is worth shit, you need that currency to be in wide circulation for it to have value and for you to be powerful for having above average amounts of that value. So you could think of capital as "power vouchers", though in order for your fantasy currency to have any value you need people to believe in it, from the highest to the lowest.

I mean for all the folklore of "monarchies" (rule of one), these "monarchs" usually were constraints by a constitution at least to the next lower aristocrats, which again only had power because their feudal lords actually kept their promises (or rather had to be bribed with lands titles and whatnot) and so on. So the center of gravity is not actually at the head. In fact the larger the organization the less like that is the case because the management effort would exceed the humanly possible.

Still it might make sense to present someone as a figurehead/genius to scare the simple minded and the enemy into thinking your society is one monolithic powerhouse and not a wild mix of thousands of different people with their own set of interests, as well as for the upper classes to have a lightning rod for public anger. "Oh no the KING has gone mad. We need to replace him in a glorious revolution...", rather than admitting that they had likely served in the kings advisory board that their plans have failed and that the king has the shortest straw in terms of who's to take the blame for that.

So unless the power actually rests at the head, in which case getting defunct is just a matter of time anyway. Cutting off the head isn't going to do much difference, they likely served little to no purpose anyway.

Another problem is with even the goal of creating a descent into chaos. Like whatever mode of capital (power to coerce other people) your "monarch" might have used, by killing them and destroying the trust in that currency, you basically draw the anger of all the people who had amassed that currency, which could even go below the middle class. Including your killer, who's reward might now be useless as the economy is dwindling and their money having lost it's value. And if you used foreign or crypto currency you've drawn even more and likely powerful entities into that, so yeah good chances for war and even more chaos.

meaning the uppermost level of control of that authority - and causing enough chaos to be able to claim that authority yourself.

Apart from the fact that you admit to want to be a tyrant? Like seriously what you spell out here is that you want to rule... by force... so despotism in the making. Also what kind of capital would you have? Like why would anybody give a shit about your claim to authority? Do you have have weapons, people, resources, companies, money, influence, a plan?

If yes, why would you want to go through the hassle of creating chaos, you're likely going to be able to assert influence much easier and often legally without that. And if no, you really haven't thought that through, do you?

Seriously if there is enough of a discontent of the people against their leaders, harness that and start a revolution, removing figureheads without any real power (as that is usually with the people at the bottom anyway, the top just gives order to use it and if they suck there's not much of a loss anyway). While if there is enough believe in the system, then taking out a leader isn't going to shatter that and if it is, you're not going to be see as a hero, but rather as a villain and terrorist.

And last but not least a point that ancaps regularly miss. Power is not just state level authority, but the ability to command other people, whether that's bribery, coercion, cult building, etc, different names same game. So you should always ask yourself whether you'd actually improve things or whether you'd make things much worse because you shift the power to an even less accountable entity. Because using violence in order to "send a message" is literally mob rule and I don't mean the founding fathers talking about democracy "mob rule", but rule of mobsters, might makes right, rule by intimidation you know TERRORISM. Likely tyrannic, but even if they establish a rule of law idk "respect is everything" still not really the kind of system that anyone would be comfortable in.

Like this makes the naive assumption that it's only used against "the bad guys" but what if doing that makes YOU the bad guy or that you're actually enabling people that are way worse?


I believe as an outsider to power, one is not qualified to make such a decision to change the balance of power. You are not privy to secret information, or classified information. e.g. The bomb attempt on Hitler was carried out by those within a close circle of power.

Extrajudicial killings may need to be made with information that only a small group of those in power know as well as understand.

Certainly, those at the top of a hierarchy may decide that a certain member needs to be removed, but why choose such a method, when courts, shame, and infamy are just as effective. Why get one's hands bloody?


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