Is it wrong for the state to induce its citizens to commit crime? Legal and political philosophers tend to agree that entrapment is morally problematic, yet we lack a convincing explanation as to why. This article furnishes a new explanation of entrapment’s wrongness and traces its wider implications for contemporary political theory.
Entrapment, alongside ordinary incitement, is a species of a general category of injustice I will call subversion. To subvert an agent is to interfere with the agent’s practical reasoning in ways that increase the likelihood she will culpably choose to act wrongly. Such activity is incompatible with respect for agents’ moral capacities and the attitude of support for those capacities that respect enjoins. Moreover, while the most discussed versions of entrapment are intentional, the most pernicious forms are negligent.
What I call structural entrapment transpires when the state negligently sets up its own citizens to fail morally as a foreseeable consequence of the contexts its policies create. This can happen, for example, if policies create contexts in which it is rational for citizens to join violent criminal drug gangs in the pursuit of certain basic goods, such as income, security, and self-respect.