Black Lives Matter and The Exception and the Rule

The Exception and the Rule is one of Bertolt Brecht’s “teaching plays” written around 1930. These short political plays were performed in schools and factories in order to educate people about the contradictions and conflicts in capitalist societies.

The play tells the story of a rich merchant who must journey across the desert in order to complete an oil deal. The merchant is accompanied on his trip by a porter (the “coolie”) and a guide. The merchant is increasingly brutal with the “coolie,” and also frightened without the police nearby to protect him. When he fires the guide, the merchant and the “coolie” get lost in the desert and their water supplies run low. The “coolie” comes to the merchant at night to share his remaining water, but the merchant misinterprets his action, and shoots and kills the “coolie.”

In court evidence of the murder is presented. The judge concludes that the merchant had every right to fear the “coolie,” and that he was justified in shooting in self-defense regardless of whether there was an actual threat, or whether the merchant merely felt threatened. The merchant was acquitted.

The “coolie” is a victim of the rule of capitalism. The merchant is a proven murderer, but walks away free—the exception and the rule.


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