Wow. That was quite an episode! I am frankly not sure that this text of Wolfe's quite deserves it (many others definitely do, so this makes me all the more eager for future ones...), but it was a blast to hear you guys rocket through 2,000 years of philosophy. I particularly enjoyed the Christian theologians material, about which I personally know less, and which I know Wolfe is very engaged with.
I don't have a ton to contribute, honestly, but I'll throw out a few thoughts.
1) The idea that people have no duty to obey an unjust government is, by this point, so ubiquitous in our common culture, that I find it hard to imagine anyone, whatever their philosophical orientation or political view, arguing the contrary. (It strikes me as a very pre-modern idea, for some definition of "modern" (the modern: beginning in 1517? 1789? 1910? Depends what you mean...). Thus I, of course, agree with you both that John has no duty to obey this government. Which leads me to the thought that a far more interesting story, perhaps, would be from the Captain's point of view. Since that isn't what pretty much anyone thinks these days, it'd be fun to really try and get in the head of someone who did, sincerely & honestly, believe that.
2) You guys are really quite unfair to utilitarianism. I'm not a straight-up utilitarian myself, but it's a lot richer and more defensible than either of you gave it credit for. I certainly don't think that our current corrupt government (!) is in any way particularly utilitarian. I mean, sure, they claim to be doing the greatest good for the greatest number; but then, they claim to be Christians, too. You want them to represent that? — Nor do I think that utilitarianism rights off the rights of minorities, nor even, necessarily, the soul. Again, not the philosophy I would personally swear by, but you guys didn't do it justice.
3) It's... interesting to argue, in the midst of what is supposed to be a historical approach that Plato is the origin of social contract theory and utilitarianism. I mean, yes, all philosophy is (supposedly) footnotes to him, but really both of those are idea traditions that arose in a much, much later context. I haven't read the Crito in decades (I was a philosophy major back in the day, but the day was quite some time ago at this point, and my post-undergrad work has all been in American history), but I would guess that this is reading backwards, even if there is some line which, were it written by Pierre Menard, would clearly be a reference to social contract theory and/or utilitarianism. Not that it's a bad way to structure the episode, mind you — it allowed you to work in a lot of relevant theories — but I would suggest that it works better as a conceit than as a history.
4) One brief note from the recap episode: you spoke as if the "bankrupt the enemy" idea was alive and well at the time of Operation ARES's writing; as far as I recall, that's not correct: that's a Reagan-era idea (and, while he did throw it out here and there, it was far more a retroactive justification than one which was powerfully motivating at the time.
I think that's all I've got to say. I am finding Operation ARES... ok. I certainly wouldn't keep reading if you guys weren't covering it. But I am enjoying your coverage, so I will continue to read the text.
I wonder how much of that non-enjoyment is brought to the text? I honestly can't say. I know that, with other Wolfe works, I tend to assume there is something deeper going on until I go through a story enough times that I decide there maybe just isn't (as I think there isn't in some of his tales), and even then I am always willing to be convinced I just missed it. Here, I tend to assume there isn't much. Maybe I'm not being fair to it. I can't say. But certainly it's not at a level of craft anywhere near most of the stories you earlier covered.
But your episodes are great. I look forward to the next pair.