Tuesday, May 14, 2013

LD 2013 NFL Nationals - Oppressive Govt - Neg ideas


Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

For part 1 - click here


The case of no government stirs images of chaos and disorder.  In fact anarchy, the condition of no government is often depicted as an unruly, lawless existence and the common perception of anarchists as counter-cultural hooligans, prone to destruction and violence is perpetuated in the media.  However, as I pointed out in previous analysis on this site, there is no reason to assume the anarchical state is not orderly or particularly dangerous.  Hobbes and other philosophers speak of the state of nature where life is brutish, nasty and short and surmises the formation of government as a means to avoid the brutal conditions.  However, this is not entirely consistent with the empirical evidence seen in history of societies which exist sans government.  Human beings are, after all, intellectual and capable of reasoning.  The philosophers are no doubt correct, humankind will tend to seek strategies which maximize their survival, and formation of societies offers advantages.  However, the formation of a government is another stage of societal development which is not necessarily the inevitable end-point of civilization.

Hasnas 2008:
"I am presenting an argument for anarchy in the true sense of the term; that is, a society without government, not a society without governance. There is no such thing as a society without governance. A society with no mechanism for bringing order to human existence is oxymoronic; it is not “society” at all.
One way to bring order to society is to invest some people with the exclusive power to create and coercively enforce rules which all members of society must follow; that is, to create a government. Another way to bring order to society is to allow people to follow rules that spontaneously evolve through human interaction with no guiding intelligence and may be enforced by diverse agencies. This chapter presents an argument for the latter approach; that is, for a spontaneously ordered rather than a centrally planned society."

For the purpose of this debate, there is no need to argue for the desirability of anarchical society as an alternative to a well-ordered, properly limited government which carries out its duties without significant infringement on the private freedoms of the constituents.  For this debate it is not necessary to present an anarchical existence as an ideal existence free from problems or coercion.  The Neg must only show that no government is at least as desirable as life under an oppressive government and perhaps even significantly more desirable under certain conditions.

Order in Anarchy

It is appropriate to begin this analysis with a look at an essay on the subject of statelessness, by David Friedman the self-described "anarchist-anachronist-economist" scholar who is currently Professor of Law at Santa Clara University.  Friedman provides some useful definitions:

Friedman (undated):
"An anarchy is a society without a government, so a discussion of anarchy requires a definition of government. Government cannot be defined by what it does, because all functions of government, including making and enforcing laws, have been, and most are, performed at some times and places by organizations that almost nobody would call governments.[1] This is a point I will discuss in more detail in parts II and III of this essay. So it makes sense to define government not by what functions it provides but by how it provides them. Weber famously described the state as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” If we omit the word “legitimate,” no states exist, since no state succeeds in eliminating all use of physical force by others, whether muggers in Chicago or the Mafia in Sicily. But including “legitimate” raises difficult problems. If we “legitimate” with “legal” the definition is circular, since until we know what organization counts as the state we do not know what rules count as laws. Further, there are societies in which law is not viewed as the creation of the state at all–including all traditional Islamic societies–hence where some use of physical force by the state is seen as illegal and some use by non-state actors as legal. Defining “legitimate” in normative terms raises another set of problems. My preferred solution is to define rights in terms of the set of mutually recognized commitment strategies by which individuals constrain how other individuals act towards them, and to then define a government as an institution with regard to which those strategies do not apply, an institution which can violate what individuals view as their rights with regard to other individuals without setting off the responses by which such rights are normally defended."

While the balance of Friedman's essay is not necessarily useful for this particular debate it does provide some interesting insight into the theoretical issues and challenges facing an anarchical state.  This debate, however, is not arguing for an anarchical state as a desired alternative to say, a normal democratically governed state.  It needs to focus on the desirability of no government as an alternative to oppressive government.

The Value of Merchant Rule

Economic studies conducted by Delon and Shleifer of Harvard University, support the contention that oppressive governments of the kind typically associated with despots and autocrats suffer with respect to economies which operate under properly constrained government authority or oversight by a merchant ruling class.

Delong and Shliefer 1993:
"One of the oldest themes in economics is the incompatibility of depotism and development.  Economies in which security of property is lacking - because of either the possibility of arrest, ruin, or execution at the command of the ruling prince or the possibility of ruinous taxation - should experience relative stagnation. By contrast, economies in which property is secure - either because of strong constitutional restrictions on the prince or because the ruling elite is made up of merchants rather than princes - should prosper and grow."

Their research strongly suggests that oppressive governments tend to stifle their economies.  This is contrasted with the unoppressive governments and societies whose economies are managed, not by governments, but by a powerful merchant class; the kind of economy which can emerge in a society which lacks government. Libertarians have seized this research to illustrate the importance of market economies unfettered by intrusive governments and have turned it into an argument for less government with respect to the economy.  Despite its potential for politicization, the research very clearly describes a reason why no government may be more desirable that an oppressive one.

The Case of Somalia

Somalia lends itself as a of model of the development of an anarchical society.  While the recent history of Somalia is marked with war and suffering which has been more than visible in the news media, researchers have taken an interest in how the economy of Somalia evolved during the period.  Following the collapse of the central government in the late 1980's until recently, no single faction has held a monopoly on violence in Somalia.  Essentially, the Somali society has been ruled by rival warlords, and other factions and though conditions for the citizens have very difficult due to poverty, disease, droughts, etc. some researchers have gained insight into how a society can survive without a ruling central government.

Leeson 2007:
"The data depict a country with severe problems, but one which is clearly doing better under statelessness than it was under government. Of the 18 development indicators, 14 show unambiguous improvement under anarchy. Life expectancy is higher today than was in the last years of government’s existence; infant mortality has improved 24 percent; maternal mortality has fallen over 30 percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than 15 percentage points; access to health facilities has increased more than 25 percentage points; access to sanitation has risen eight percentage points; extreme poverty has plummeted nearly 20 percentage points; one year olds fully immunized for TB has grown nearly 20 percentage points, and for measles has increased ten; fatalities due to measles have dropped 30 percent; and the prevalence of TVs, radios, and telephones has jumped between 3 and 25 times."

The Neg Position

Finding real-world support for the Neg position is not that easy.  There are few if any practical, real-world examples and no examples of long term survival in the modern era.  The threat of take-over by other nations is great in situations where the formerly oppressive nation is resource rich.  The example of Somalia is the closest we have to a modern, real-world somewhat long-term (20 years) example and Somalia is not particularly resource-rich or strategic.  Most modern-day oppressive regimes which collapse are quickly replaced by other forms of government or regimes which meet the definition of governments.  For the Neg, the debate will be mainly theoretical and philosophical.  This should not be viewed as a weakness, however.  In fact, it allows the Neg debater to make claims which are not necessarily empirically denied.

For a practical point of view, I think of the nation of Syria.  Here was an allegedly oppressive regime, which was rejected by enough of the populous the central government lost its grip on the monopoly of violence.  At this point, we find a nation which I would argue, is already without an effective government thus the nation is in anarchy as factions vie for control.  The people could stop their revolt at any time and reestablish the former regime to power, but they have chosen to live with no government rather than an oppressive government and so it will continue until a new government is established, if ever.

This resolution does not imply that the anarchical state must permanently replace the oppressive one.  Neg must show it is better to live with no government than an oppressive one and implies it better to live without a government at least until we can replace it with a better one.

Princes and Merchants: European City Growth Before the Industrial Revolution
Journal of Law and Economics, vol XXXVI (October 1993)
J. Bradford DeLong and Andrei Shleifer, Harvard University

John Hasnas. "The Obviousness of Anarchy." Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?. Ed. Roderick Long & Tibor Machan. : Ashgate Press, 2008: 111-131

Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse
Association for Comparative Economic Studies, 2007
Peter T. Leeson, George Mason University

Order Without the State: Theory, Evidence, and the Possible Future Of
David Friedman, Professor of Law, Santa Clara University


  1. You have a nice blog and nice information.

    1. Thanks. Getting ready to get busy again for the upcoming debate season.


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.