For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*
Is oppressive government more desirable than no government?
Can Neg Win?
I have decided to revisit this topic because there seems to be a lot of interest and I suspect many Lincoln-Douglas debaters are struggling with the Negative point of view. How is it possible for Neg to win? I think part of the problem in formulating a case lies in the perceptions brought forward by thinking "no government" equates to anarchy but is this necessarily true? I think that depends on the definition of "government" and the factors which make a government legitimate. Look to the headlines right now and think about what is going in Syria. As of the date of this posting, Syria is in upheaval. The current government is accused of "oppressing" the citizens and significant numbers of the citizenry are rebelling against the government. For them, the government is not legitimate and so one could reasonably argue those citizens, by no longer submitting to the authority of the central government have chosen to live with "no government" until a legitimate government can be put it place. This situation is a perfect illustration of the proposed LD resolution.
There is nothing in the resolution which implies the citizens must create a permanent condition of "no government". What one sees in the case of rebellion is desire to throw off the authority of the current government and in so doing, one chooses the alternative of living without a government at least for the time being. Usually, when a central government collapses, the people will very quickly organize and erect a new government which hopefully eliminates the problems inherent in the previous regime but this is not directly relevant to the resolution.
Definition of Government
I think very important keys for the Negative rest in the proper definition of "government", what it means in relation to the "state" and the principle of "legitimacy". The dictionary definition claims government is the "the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc." (src: dictionary.com) Given this definition we can see that many types of organizations or societies may have governments; i.e. churches, clubs, social organizations, etc. and I suppose one of these "governments" could be oppressive but seriously...this is NOT what this debate is about so the definition is too broad. Knowing the resolution is applied to the government of nations one needs to finds a definition which narrows to the topic of the debate.
Thomas Hobbes backed into a definition for government by positing that the lack of government was the "state of nature", a condition of "war of every man against every man". Thus he concluded that individual security is best obtained by empowering a central authority to protect the rights of individuals; "such a common power as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners and the injuries of one another". The key to this arrangement, in Hobbes' view was mutual consent. "as if every man should say to every man, I Authorize and give up my Right of Governing myself to this Man, or to this Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy Right to him, and Authorize all his Actions in like manner. This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a Commonwealth."
The State and Its Government
Let us work with Hobbes ideas and assume regardless of the conditions of the state of nature, individuals will eventually come to the conclusion that mutual cooperation is the more desirable condition. Under such a social organization, individuals move from the "state" of nature to the state of being governed. The organization we erect to guard our mutual interests is called the State; a social organization which according to Max Weber and other social philosophers holds the monopoly of power within the society and the government is the political entity which is given the authority to enforce that monopoly. So the government is the political body which exercises the authority of the State. In my opinion, while the State exists arising from the mutual consent of the people, the government may rise, fall, change, exist or not exist independently from the State because a "government" is that body which is recognized as legitimately representing the interests of the state. But what if that government does not actually exercise control of the state? In fact this is seen often in situations where a hostile or dominate force displaces a government which continues to exercise its authority in exile. It has no real power but is still recognized as legitimate both internally and externally by other States. While the State may have a monopoly of power the legitimate government may not.
So a legitimate government is one which is given its authority by the mutual consent of the governed and not necessarily by the control of State power. This consensual legitimacy is the main factor which determines whether or not a government exists. If the government which administers the interests of the State loses it legitimacy, the State no longer has a government yet it is possible for the State to endure, at least for a while. I will leave it to the debater, for now, to research and understand what constitutes government legitimacy.
The Ungoverned State
The purpose of the foregoing discussion is to get you thinking about the importance of the definition of government because I think it is vital for establishing the Negative side of the debate in this resolution. Look at Somalia. Here is a State in which the legitimate government has essentially collapsed and many competing entities are struggling for power. Even though there are tribes or warlords or chieftains or generals, ruling over a hierarchical structure of power, none of them exercises a monopoly on the power and none of them is mutually recognized as the legitimate authority so the State is ungoverned. How long it will remain that way is any one's guess. Returning to the previous discussion of Syria, we see a legitimate government that according to a significant part of the internal population and many outside observers was oppressive. One may say it abused the State's monopoly of power. Eventually the people arise, as we have seen, and declare the government illegitimate and indeed we now see it is not capable of exercising a full monopoly of power. One could conclude therefore, the situation in Syria is no different than Somalia and the once powerful and legitimate government of Syria is now just another faction trying to regain the monopoly of power and coerce its authority. In the present situation it appears the people of Syria have sided with the Negative view of the debate.
I hope this stimulates you to think and I hope you realize if you dig deeply you can make a very convincing case that no government may be more desirable than an oppressive government. Negative's best strategy may exist in creating a philosophical framework which reaches conclusions by narrowing the debate to a clean definition of "government" as intended by this resolution. While anarchy may be a state of no government it does not follow that a state of no government is only anarchy. Control the definitions, control the perception of the judges and you will control the debate.
A few random sources which may apply to some frameworks: