Monday, May 13, 2013

LD 2013 NFL Nationals - Oppressive Govt - Aff

Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government

For part 1 of this analysis, click here.


For the purposes of the this blog and the work I have been doing for the last 20 months, I think it is important to provide the debate community with some analysis of this particular topic, over and above the previous analysis I have contributed recently and last summer.  But I confess some reluctance to take it too deep mainly because I will be in Alabama in June, judging this very debate.  This topic in particular is complex in my estimation and I do not feel the need to assist novice debaters this late in the season.

For the Affirmative position, I want to give you some ideas and at the same time project some of the issues which I think contribute the complexity of this topic.  While I may not load you down with quotations, sources and evidence, I am hopeful you will find these posts useful to your research.


Institutional Oppression is the systematic mistreatment of people within a social identity group, supported and enforced by the society and its institutions, solely based on the person’s membership in the social identity group.
Institutional Oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups. If oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or practices, the institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive intentions.
Institutional Oppression creates a system of invisible barriers limiting people based on their membership in unfavored social identity groups. The barriers are only invisible to those “seemingly” unaffected by it.
The practice of institutionalized oppression is based on the belief in inherent superiority or inferiority. Institutionalized oppression is a matter of result regardless of intent.


The Social Work Dictionary, ed. Robert L. Barker defines oppression as: "The social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, group or institution. Typically, a government or political organization that is in power places these restrictions formally or covertly on oppressed groups so that they may be exploited and less able to compete with other social groups. The oppressed individual or group is devalued, exploited and deprived of privileges by the individual or group which has more power." (Barker, 2003)

Oppression (Deutsch 2006: 10): “Oppression is the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice. It need not be extreme and involve the legal system (as in slavery, apartheid, or the
lack of a right to vote) nor violent (as in tyrannical societies). Harvey (1999) has used the term “civilized oppression” to characterize the everyday processes of oppression in normal life. Civilized oppression “is embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutions and rules, and the collective consequences of following those rules. It refers to the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions that are supported by the media and cultural stereotypes as well as by the structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms” (Young, 1990, p. 41). We cannot eliminate this structural oppression by getting rid of the rulers or by making some new laws, because oppressions are systematically reproduced in the major economic, political, and cultural institutions. While specific privileged groups are the beneficiaries of the oppression of other groups, and thus have an interest in the continuation of the status quo, they do not typically understand themselves to be agents of oppression.” (Deutsch, 2006)


The Magnitude and Limits of Oppression

Getting a handle on oppression is not easy.  There are many kinds of oppression and no practical way to measure the level of coercion which constitutes, ordinary or necessary coercion from excessive or oppressive coercion.  We may be able to understand that government oppression (as specified by the resolution) is a form of institutional oppression which may only effect certain groups within the society.  Certainly, anarchists within the society may see any kind of governmental coercion or control, such as by law enforcement, as oppressive.  I think, however, we cannot define the kind of structural oppression defined by Deutsch (see above) as relevant to the resolution.  If the oppression cannot be eliminated by changing the leaders and the government, then it would likely continue even with no government.  Nevertheless, it is not easy to identify political oppression which can simply disappear by a regime change except perhaps in cases where despots and dictators are instituting oppressive policies in order to strengthen and entrench the control and rule of the one or few.  At this point, the ruling government is no longer expressing the common will which defines a government in the worldview of philosophers such as Locke and certainly Rousseau.  In effect there is no government so on some levels, a universally oppressive government is an oxymoron, whereas, a government which is oppressive to segments of society may still be expressing the common will.
For the purpose of this debate we must reach some kind of understanding of the scope, magnitude and limits of oppression.  Otherwise, we may be able to just blow it off and assume the judge knows what an oppressive government means but I don't think your opponent will allow it.

Berlin 1958:
"The criterion of oppression is the part that I believe to be played by other human beings, directly or indirectly, with or without the intention of doing so, in frustrating my wishes. By being free in this sense I mean not being interfered with by others. The wider the area of noninterference the wider my freedom. This is what the classical English political philosophers meant when they used this word. They disagreed about how wide the area could or should be. They supposed that it could not, as things were, be unlimited, because if it were, it would entail a state in which all men could boundlessly interfere with all other men; and this kind of ‘natural’ freedom would lead to social chaos in which men’s minimum needs would not be satisfied; or else the liberties of the weak would be suppressed by the strong. Because they perceived that human purposes and activities do not automatically harmonize with one another; and, because (whatever their official doctrines) they put high value on other goals, such as justice, or happiness, or culture, or security, or varying degrees of equality, they were prepared to curtail freedom in the interests of other values and, indeed, of freedom itself. For, without this, it was impossible to create the kind of association that they thought desirable. Consequently, it is assumed by these thinkers that the area of men’s free action must be limited by law. But equally it is assumed, especially by such libertarians as Locke and Mill in England, and Constant and Tocqueville in France, that there ought to exist a certain minimum area of personal freedom which must on no account be violated; for if it is overstepped, the individual will find himself in an area too narrow for even that minimum development of his natural faculties which alone makes it possible to pursue, and even to conceive, the various ends which men hold good or right or sacred. It follows that a frontier must be drawn between the area of private life and that of public authority. Where it is to be drawn is a matter of argument, indeed of haggling."

Many philosophers, such as John Stuart Mill believed a government must reserve some minimum level of freedom in order for civilization to flourish and while this thinking seems intuitive, it is contradicted by the historical fact that even within extremely repressive societies, genius, innovation, ideas, and ingenuity continue to flourish as an irrepressible by-product of simply being human.

One should also realize the limits of freedom will vary by culture and the type of government. In fact, one of the principle issues of government is who to include.  I admit, this is something I only realized after research but it makes sense. The government seeks to limit its constituent membership to those who adhere to the common will.  Additionally, the limits of freedom will vary widely depending on the structure of the government.

Song 2012:
"Even on more minimal accounts of democracy, there is a basic set of rights that are taken to be constitutive conditions of democracy. These rights are, in Dahl’s words, ‘integral to the democratic process, sysubstantive rights, goods, and interests that are often mistakenly thought to be threatened by it’ (1989, 175). By ‘integral’ Dahl means something that is ‘an essential part of the very conception of the democratic process itself’ (1989, 167). On Dahl’s aggregative conception of democracy, the rights integral to the democratic process are the ‘liberties of the ancients’ – political rights such as the right to vote, freedom of political speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press (2006, 8–15). These political rights are constitutive of the democratic process."

It seems reasonable to me, a general limit for oppression arises at the boundary of private freedom tolerated by the common will and when that is infringed, the government is declared oppressive and this provides a good working definition for us which allows all manner of governments; democratic, monarchy, autocratic, etc. to exert oppressive coercion while continuing as a functional and effective entity in the terms of its international presence.  One can establish some legal criteria for the boundary of personal freedom, such as the US constitution or the International Declaration of Human Rights and somewhere between the infringement of those freedoms, and final dissolution of the common will where the government ceases to exist in the classic sense, we establish grounds for the Aff side of this debate.

The Necessity of the State

The entire concept of the natural and necessary formulation of government as an antidote to the state of nature is conceptually simple to grasp and well accepted in the category of Lincoln-Douglas debate.  It thus seems, even if individuals are capable of functioning within the state of nature for a time, they will eventually move toward government as the natural state for rational and intellectual beings.  Certainly, many political and moral philosophers recognize a "necessity of the state" as the only way to achieve justice.  Mere agreement to cooperate or consent to allow authority is not enough until that authority if given coercive power.

Christiano 2002:
"The trouble with consent theory as a theory of political authority is that it fails to come to terms with the moral necessity of the state. It seems to allow for too many forms of unwillingness to obey as bases of defeating authority and obligation. It seems to permit someone who just does not want to do what he knows to be right to opt out of the arrangements that may be necessary to ensure the right thing. The main purpose of the state is to establish justice among persons within a limited jurisdiction. And justice is something we owe to one another on a constant basis."

Philosophers from Hobbes, to Kant to Rawls see the state and its legal institutions as the mechanism for maintaining and distributing justice.  This justice spans the routine principle of giving each her due to the egalitarian concepts of Rawls' distributive justice as espoused in the difference principle.

Nagel 2005:
"The issue of justice and sovereignty was memorably formulated by Hobbes. He argued that although we can discover true principles of justice by moral reasoning alone, actual justice cannot be achieved except within a sovereign state. Justice as a property of the relations among human beings (and also injustice, for the most part) requires government as an enabling condition. Hobbes drew the obvious consequence for the international arena, where he saw separate sovereigns inevitably facing each other in a state of war, from which both justice and injustice are absent.

The issue of justice and equality is posed with particular clarity by one of the controversies between Rawls and his critics. Rawls argued that the liberal requirements of justice include a strong component of equality among citizens, but that this is a specifically political demand, which applies to the basic structure of a unified nation-state. It does not apply to the personal (nonpolitical) choices of individuals living in such a society, nor does it apply to the relations between one society and another, or between the members of different societies. Egalitarian justice is a requirement on the internal political, economic, and social structure of nation-states and cannot be extrapolated to different contexts, which require different standards.

...Hobbes construed the principles of justice, and more broadly the moral law, as a set of rules and practices that would serve everyone's interest if everyone conformed to them. This collective self-interest cannot be realized by the independent motivation of self-interested individuals unless each of them has the assurance that others will conform if he does. That assurance requires the external incentive provided by the sovereign, who sees to it that individual and collective self-interest coincide. At least among sizable populations, it cannot be provided by voluntary conventions supported solely by the mutual recognition of a common interest."

The Affirmative Position

At this point, by establishing a good working understanding of oppression and recognizing how an oppressive government may continue as a viable government one establishes the premise necessary for understanding how it is possible an oppressive government may be more desirable than no government.  This is even before we consider such basic ideas of protection from outside enemies and other such global dealings which ultimately affect the lives of citizens.  In addition, we can make the reasonable argument that statehood is the natural culmination of the desire of people to band together against the dangers of the state of nature.  Also, there is plenty of philosophical support for the necessity of the nation-state as the means for upholding justice.

Certainly, the Negative side will show successful, non-state, non-governed societies which have flourished in history and still exist on the fringes of our so-called modern society.  No doubt, for example, the case of Somalia will be presented as a sort of model for society without a central government (It is important to see that today a central government is arising in Somalia) but a very strong and compelling case can be made for the advantages of government, even oppressive governments depending on the boundaries one choose for definition.

Click here for Neg ideas.


Two Concepts of Freedom
Isaiah Berlin, 1958

On Global Justice, Chap 1, The Grounds of Justice
Mathias Risse, Harvard University, 2011

The boundary problem in democratic theory: why the demos should be bounded by the state
International Theory (2012), 4:1, 39–68 & Cambridge University Press, 2012
SARAH SONG, Department of Political Science, U.C. Berkeley School of Law, Berkeley, CA, USA

The Authority of Democracy
The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 11, Number 2, 2003
Thomas Christiano, Philosophy, University of Arizona

The Problem of Global Justice, Philosophy & Public Affairs (Spring, 2005)
THOMAS NAGEL @2005 by Blackwell Publishing, Inc. Philosophy & Public Affairs 33, no. 2

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to leave comments relevant to the topics and activity of competitive high school debate. However, this is not a sounding board for your personal ideologies, abusive or racist commentary or excessive inappropriate language. Everyday Debate blog reserves the right to delete any comments it deems inappropriate.