Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Exorcist Affirmative

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LD 2012 Domestic Violence 

I deliberately waited two weeks to update my postings to allow time to see how students would handle the new LD domestic violence resolution.  It has been very interesting.  Certainly various cases supporting the social contract are making their debut.  But one case I did not see in the last few weeks, is an idea I began evolving during the Christmas break.  I call it:

The Exorcist AFF
I remember years ago when the movie, The Exorcist played in theaters, it was the scariest movie ever made up until that time. The story and film techniques assaulted the audience with subliminal imagery and dark psychological themes, depicting a world so shocking, most people had never experienced it before.  In the film, a young girl, Regan McNeil, becomes possessed by a demon and her caregivers, desperate to deal with her increasingly bizarre behavior, resort to confining her to her bedroom while they consult with experts on how to release her from her torment.  I recall very vividly, the many scenes of running up the stairs and down the hall to her bedroom and the sense of fear the moment the door is opened because the viewer has no idea what manner of shock is about to be witnessed. And indeed, each time that door is opened the manifestations become increasingly shocking.  Outside of Regan's door, the world was normal and orderly, in spite of the frustration and fear of the caregivers, but inside her room, the world was a very different place where even the laws of physics were, at times suspended.

The door to Regan's room becomes a barrier which separates two worlds and each of these worlds operates under a different set of rules or laws.  When the door is closed, both worlds coexist, separately, but when the door is opened, the two worlds clash.  This concept, very much describes the door which separates society from domestic violence.  Outside the door, society is orderly and familiar, on the other side of the door it is brutal and unfamiliar, even abhorrent.  The outside world, is one we all experience in our daily lives, the inside world is probably one most of you have not experienced but even so, perhaps you can imagine it.  Walk through the door of a house with repeated domestic violence, close the door and enter a world where civil law no longer applies.

The "World" In Which We Live
In the United States and in many countries, the powers of the state are vastly restricted inside the domicile.  Behaviors and conditions which by necessity are restricted in public are unregulated in privacy.  In the U.S. we have purposely limited the powers of the state on our properties and at the front doors of our homes, because we want to check potential abuse by the state.  For example we require court orders to limit search and seizure actions by the state and apart from court orders there are very few justifiable reasons state agents can enter a home uninvited.  Now my purpose in pointing this out is not to invite a discussion of state's rights with respect to private property but merely to drive home the concept that we choose to live in society and abide by a so-called social contract because it serves our interests, but we prefer to live in a world where we can fully enjoy our natural-rights without restrictions and interference from society.  So we have established private domains within the public sphere and within the private domains we decide the universal rules which apply to the private realm.  So if the rules and law which govern our private lives are mostly self-determined, then what is universal and what is moral in the world which exists behind the closed door? Outside, we are under social constraints, inside, we are in our natural state. In short, we are in the state of nature.

The Door to Regan's Room
While we can agree based on natural law there is a door between public and private worlds we may not understand the extents of those worlds.  In the U.S. Constitution certain rights are guaranteed for the protection of privacy by the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) established a legal precedent.
"We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights -- older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred...The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men...Although the Constitution does not speak in so many words of the right of privacy in marriage, I cannot believe that it offers these fundamental rights no protection. The fact that no particular provision of the Constitution explicitly forbids the State from disrupting the traditional relation of the family -- a relation as old and as fundamental as our entire civilization -- surely does not show that the Government was meant to have the power to do so. Rather, as the Ninth Amendment expressly recognizes, there are fundamental personal rights such as this one, which are protected from abridgment by the Government, though not specifically mentioned in the Constitution."
So we see, the U.S. Court acknowledges the private realm is a place which predates the social contract and it is a world that should be left unhindered as much as possible by the government.  But we must also see, the world in which people lived prior to the establishment of government was the world John Locke called the state of nature and so the door to Regan's room can be seen as a metaphor for the separation of the state of nature and its natural laws from the social world and its restricted freedoms.

Morality in the State of Nature
In a essay entitled, "Locke on Punishment and the Death Penalty", (Philosophy, Vol 68, No. 264, Apr 1993) Brian Calvert observes:
"In Locke's  view, the  political  power  which gives the state the right to impose the death  penalty stems  from  the natural rights which  all people possess in  the  state  of  nature.  In  that  state  the  one  who transgresses against the  laws  of  nature  departs from  the  rule  of  reason  and  puts himself  into a state of war with  other members  of society.  Consequently those  other members  have a right  to protect themselves  as well  as others against the transgressor,  and  this right of self-protection includes  the right to  kill  the  transgressor.  In  political  society,  the right to  punish a criminal  is handed  over  to the  state,  and it now becomes  the purpose of the state to function  as the protector of the rights of its inhabitants.  The justifications  which  govern the  state's  punitive  activities  derive  from the  powers individuals  possess in the  natural condition,  and it is in the sections  devoted  to  a  description of  those  powers in  the  natural  state that  we get our  fullest  description  of  the  justifications  for imposing capital  punishment, ..."

The following comparative observations on the state of nature are taken from the Witherspoon Institute (see
Thomas Hobbes book Leviathan (1651) captures his main ideas around morality being the same as the law. In other words our actions are governed by the law and not our conscience. This very notion is depicted in his version of the ‘state of nature’ where no laws exist. Life in the ‘state of nature’ in Hobbes words is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ and also that man is in continual fear, and in danger of a violent death .” Once we begin to examine life without rules and regulations we can really begin to question and reflect on our own morality. It could be argued that even if we did want to take the moral high ground in the state of nature we could still be forced into a corner by others who are reckless, making you as selfish as the next man. This would suggest that Hobbes supports the egoist theory, which adopts the view point that people are self motivated and only act for there own self interests. Both of these descriptions are how Hobbes describes people in the state of nature’.
Hobbes' description of the state of nature is one that is barbaric and undesirable but in reality it is the place where people live outside of the bounds imposed by the social contract.  The following from Kevin J. Browne: (
"Hobbes theory was challenged by John Locke who felt that our morality is not based on law and government, or the social contract. In fact Locke envisaged that the state of nature’ would be a much more inhabitable place. His reason for this is that we have natural laws which are also referred to as god-given laws. Locke recognises that there would still be the need for some sort of governing body, but in contrast to Hobbes theory, individuals are morally equal and would personally be able to enforce punishments for bad behaviour. One criticism here would be that individuals could have the tendency to be biased. Another obvious criticism is that Locke’s state of nature’ is dependent on a lot of religious connotations. However, you have to take in to consideration that it was written in a period when this would be a lot more relevant."

Private Life is Non-Political
FROM THE BOOK "Domestic Violence and the Politics of Privacy", Kristin Kelly, Cornell University Press, 2003:
In what was certainly a radical notion for his time, Locke indicates that as long as procreation and the rearing of children are secured, a man and a woman should be free to organize their association through contracts of their own making (II, 83). This echoes the position that he develops on the importance of individual autonomy in matters of conscience in A Third Letter for Toleration.  There he forcefully argues for the preservation of a realm where individuals are free to organize their affairs according to their own rational assessment of what is best for them:"
In private domestic affairs, in the management of estates, in the conservation of bodily health, every man may consider what suits his own conveniency, and follow what course he likes best...Let any man pull down, or build, or make whatsoever expense he please, nobody murmurs, nobody controles him; he has his liberty"Third, Locke's depiction of the domestic sphere as nonpolitical bolsters the separation between the individual and the state by providing men with a mechanism for transferring and exchanging their property that does not necessitate government intervention. Although Locke argues that men agreed to leave the state of nature so they could set up a central power, "for the Regulating and Preserving of Property" (II, 3), he nevertheless insists that this in no way implies governmental authority either to take a man's property or to tell him what to do with it. Such prerogatives would defeat the very end for which the government is formed: "For a man's property is not at secure, though there be good and equitable Laws to set the bounds of it, between him and his fellow subjects, if he commands those subjects have power to take from any private man, what part he pleases of his property, and use and dispose of it as he thinks good" (II, 139). The importance of the nonpolitcal domestic sphere to the preservation of the individuals right to "use and dispose" of his property "as he thinks good" arises primarily from the family's role in providing a natural mechanism for inheritance. In his discussion of paternal power, Locke states that as long as a father fulfills his familial obligations, he may dispose of his own Possessions as he pleases..." (II, 65).  The right of a man to dispose of his own property before and after his death ensures that he will not be subjected to a situation where the state controls that which by natural right is his (II, 138).

Who Decides Right and Wrong?
Kristin Kelly continues:
"Locke and Domestic Violence
Locke's discussion of the state of nature draws a picture of human relations that is paradoxically both peaceful and conflictual. As we have seen, his recognition of the inevitability of conflict between individuals led him (pg. 24) to suggest that despite "all the privileges of the state of nature" (II, 127), humans would rationally seek to relinquish their God-given powers to interpret the laws of nature to a government that would then be empowered through their concern to resolve disputes between individuals. As a result, Locke states:"The community comes to be Umpire, by settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties; and by men having authority from the community, for the execution of those rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any members of that society, concerning any matter of right, and punishes those offences, which any member hath committed against the society, with such penalties as the Law has established. (II, 87)"
However, it is important to note that Locke limits the government's role as "umpire" to resolving disputes between individuals who are in "Political Society together." As discussed previously, Locke went to great lengths to demonstrate that domestic relations are not political in nature. Furthermore, as we have seen, Locke's efforts to preserve a space where individuals pursue their own interests free of government control depend heavily on the preservation of the family as nonpolitical, and therefore private realm.

Regan's Room is The State of Nature
So I submit that every person and family unit that maintains a private life, resides in the state of nature.  Normally it is not one that is "nasty and brutal" but is a place where natural law dominates behaviors apart from the restrictive freedoms in the outside, socio-political world. But for some, it is a nasty and shocking place, very similar to the imagery painted by Hobbes.  It is this world in which the victims of domestic violence live, and it is the laws of nature which frame their morality.


  1. I REALLY like the "Regan's door" metaphor. Totally going to use that in normal conversation, just so you know :)

    I agree with your general premise that we (at least in the US) have restricted the rights of the State to intervene in private affairs; however, I don't think that means that life inside the home is akin to the state of nature. Technically there are two social contracts present within the home.

    First, the private domicile is still a social contract of sorts. In fact, Rousseau comments on this (

    "THE most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed to the father, and the father, released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention.

    "This common liberty results from the nature of man. His first law is to provide for his own preservation, his first cares are those which he owes to himself; and, as soon as he reaches years of discretion, he is the sole judge of the proper means of preserving himself, and consequently becomes his own master.

    "The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only for their own advantage. The whole difference is that, in the family, the love of the father for his children repays him for the care he takes of them, while, in the State, the pleasure of commanding takes the place of the love which the chief cannot have for the peoples under him."

    Thus, any gathering of individuals has A social contract where each member is expected to fulfill certain duties in exchange for some benefit. (The only instance of private life that doesn't have a social contract is one in which an individual lives alone.) It could be as simple as one person cooks the meal and the other cleans. Thus the family unit is merely a miniature form of society with a central figure (in Rousseau's view, the father). There could even be a division of power within the family much like our own government where two or more people share power equally. Bearing this in mind, I agree in general with your (Locke's) assertion that private life is non-political, but I disagree that private life is non-contractarian (i.e. state of nature).

    Furthermore, the family is still within the territory of the society, and an individual who breaks the law can still be punished accordingly (more on this below). So though an individual may have a right to kill the transgressor, as Locke proposes, that doesn't mean that within the home an individual is necessarily within the state of nature; it just means that the person violating the social contract ought no longer be protected by it. Additionally, the social contract of society has been proven to extend into private life with the regulation of things (e.g. marriage--I mention marriage specifically because your opening citation mentions it--and drugs, among others). So regardless of what the Supreme Court has said about a "right to privacy", reality shows that the State can intervene in personal affairs.

    I believe Confucius also discusses the role of the family in relation to society. I don't have a specific source for it, but I believe he talked about family life helped mold individuals for societal life. While the term "social contract" hadn't been coined at this point, he talked about roles of individuals, the family, and the emperor. This being the case, I suppose he could be a direct counter to the non-political private life.

  2. Thus, it seems as though Regan's door isn't a barrier at all. In fact, any time something happens behind Regan's door, the State still has jurisdiction to intervene and punish wrongdoing, even in matters of personal discretion. There are many examples of this, but speaking of The Exorcist brings to mind the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose (, based on the true story of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel ( The priest and family were technically found guilty of negligent homicide, despite the fact that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs. The US has similar protections of personal religious beliefs, which should fall under the domain of the non-political life. Since the State has proven the ability to extend it's judicial powers beyond Regan's door, the familial social contract is only a small factor in determining the morality of deadly force.

    So behind Regan's door, there are a few issues at hand: if we assume that the door really is a barrier of sorts to at least limit state intervention and take Rousseau and Confucius as evidence that a social contract exists among family members, then the morality of deadly force is contingent upon the familial social contract. (Granted, most people don't determine upon choosing to live together whether deadly force in response to repeated domestic violence is morally permissible, but basic (natural) rights such as a right to life are still assumed in this social contract, to the point that it is assumed by the individual that he/she has a right to defend himself/herself if life is at stake.) If the social contract is broken, then perhaps a quasi-state of nature may exist since there is no arbitrator to settle disputes and reinforce the "rule of law"; however, as stated above, the State still maintains a certain degree of latitude with respect to extending its judicial powers beyond Regan's door, and the line between the non-political life and political life is blurred.

    PS You state, "every person and family unit that maintains a private life, resides in the state of nature". A fun criticism to run is the idea that no individual can maintain a private life due to the extraterritorial reach of State powers and the state of exception--e.g. the PATRIOT Act (see Agamben and other postmodernists), meaning it's impossible for a state of nature to exist. Assuming the judge buys this, the impacts link much more easily since it's now apparent that societal constraints most certainly flow through the cracks of Regan's door.

    1. Hi Chris,
      Excellent comments. I appreciate your point of view because you express the view a typical judge may hold if this AFF would be developed and run. Clearly the AFF debater would have to be very clear about the semantics and would need to overcome the classical definition of "state of nature" as the nasty, brutal place described by Hobbes. Even if one were to observe animal behavior in its rawest form, one sees it is not necessarily the dismal picture Hobbes paints. Regardless, if one calls it the "state of nature" or something else, it is the condition of people outside the jurisdiction of the political state and this is the key point. Human beings have always lived in family groups so if there really is a state of nature (which I contend is the pre-State condition), the family social structure operated within it. If one allows the family social contract (again word choice induces preconception) is somehow an upgrade from the state of nature, one could still argue the family contract operates under a moral code which supercedes the traditional social contract which operates outside of Regan's door. Finally, even if we allow the State still exercises varying degrees of control on both sides of the door, the AFF debater can make a very convincing case that both the perpetrator and victim of domestic violence are functioning in an alternate reality of sorts. Perhaps one much more real than the constrained liberties granted by the State whose offer of security somehow fails to impress the victim.


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