Sunday, May 12, 2013

LD 2013 NFL Nationals - Oppressive Government - part 1

Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

Prior Reviews

I initially reviewed this as a potential topic in June, 2012. (the initial review is here)   I and others, suspected this topic would be debated at some point during the 2012-2013 season.  Because of its philosophical nature, I thought it would be an excellent first of the year or last of the year topic and decided in July of 2012 (during the summer break) to delve a little deeper into the topic (that analysis is here)

Defining Government

Perhaps it is me, but I am plagued by the difficulty of defining "government" which may or may not be essential in establishing the premise of a case. The government may loosely be defined as the political organization or institution responsible for implementing the duties of the state.  The purpose of the government is to govern which means to carry out the policies or affairs of the state.  The policies and affairs of the state are those which serve the interests of the constituents while at the same time serving the interests of the government itself.  The interests of the government must be protected in order to maintain the grip on power and control which also serves the interests of those being governed. 

The government receives it power through the consent of the governed who give up a measure of their freedoms and rights and hand them over to the state and implicitly "agree" to be subject to the authority of the government.

When the government, which must maintain a monopoly on power in order to meet its objective of guarding the interests of the people and itself through coercion, begins to overstep its implicit limits, it may be deemed oppressive.  In the dictionary, "to oppress" may be defined as an unjust exercise of authority.  It carries a vague sense of excessive and unreasonable heavy-handiness in its dealings resulting in the non-consential loss of rights and freedoms of the constituents.

This is Lincoln Douglas debate, and the individuals that will be competing in the 2013 NFL National Tournament in Birmingham, will be very much familiar with the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke, the concept of the state of nature, the necessity of government and the implicit nature of the social contract.  After all, it is the philosophical basis of the US constitution, some may claim.  It seems, according to popular interpretation of the theories, people give up certain liberties in order to enjoy the protection and benefits of the state.  And yet...and here is the source of much of the difficulty I have in wrestling with definitions...there is a problem.  It seems the provisions of the US constitution, as a reprentative example, are in place to protect us from the very institution we created to protect us from one another.  Thus, we can begin to conceptually understand how life under an oppressive government may be worse than the state of nature, depending on one's view of life without government.

The Philosophy of Government

Nevertheless, a government must be coercive to be legitimate. Russell Hardin of the University of Chicago explains how consenting to a coercive state system benefits the individual:

"I am currently under legal pledge to repay a mortgage on my family's home.  I am glad there is a coercive legal system that makes such mortgaging possible.  I fully consent to the threat that now hangs over me.  I would not like it in the moment when it might be invoked because I had defaulted in my contractual obligation.  But even then I would be able to intellectually and probably even morally to acknowledge the general benefit of having such a system. Indeed, modern society seems to me inconceivable without a system of coercive backing of contractual relations."

Thomas Hobbes
Considering that Hobbes and Locke will no doubt play significant parts in many cases for this resolution, I think it important to understand some of their thinking in order to draw conclusions about how they felt about the desirability of government, even perhaps oppressive government, with respect to no government.  What we see in Hobbes is this concept of a state of nature as a brutal and nasty place in which human beings live in fear of their lives.

For Hobbes, the idea of the state of nature being a state of war, arises not so much from the fact that people are always fighting but rather from the fact there is no hope of any other existence without a "common power to keep them in awe". In Hobbes' world, man is obliged to preserve his life meaning he can take all liberties in the state of nature to do so.  At the same time, man is (divinely, I presume) commanded to seek peace and so there is a kind of predisposition or willingness to give up absolute liberties to achieve some mutual benefit of peace and he describes the transfer or exchange of right a contract which may be expressed or implied.  And so eventually as Hobbes takes us through his interpretation of natural law in his treatise, Leviathan, he explains:

"The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgements to his judgement. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise 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 authorise all his actions in like manner."

John Locke

Locke on the other hand, takes a slightly different view of the state of nature but because of its undesirability, men rationalize a contractarian government by mutual consent.  Thus we find in the philosophy of both Hobbes and Locke, that a government is to be desired over no government even though there is no way of predicting what kind of government the contractarian government will be. 

I suppose, Locke recognizes this shortcoming in the theory by acknowledging that a government which ceases to serve the will of the majority should be replaced.

Charles de Montesquieu

Interestingly, a lessor known philosopher, Charles de Montesquieu, sees the formation of societal interaction as the basis for the conflicts which give rise to war and so one may find life more desirous in the state of nature except the fear of the uncertainty of natural life tends to drive individuals together.

"Such a man would feel nothing in himself at first but impotency and weakness; his fears and apprehensions would be excessive; as appears from instances (were there any necessity of proving it) of savages found in forests,2 trembling at the motion of a leaf, and flying from every shadow.
In this state every man, instead of being sensible of his equality, would fancy himself inferior. There would therefore be no danger of their attacking one another; peace would be the first law of nature... As soon as man enters into a state of society he loses the sense of his weakness; equality ceases, and then commences the state of war. Each particular society begins to feel its strength, whence arises a state of war between different nations. The individuals likewise of each society become sensible of their force; hence the principal advantages of this society they endeavour to convert to their own emolument, which constitutes a state of war between individuals."

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau's view of the state of nature arises from the first principle that man is motivated by self-preservation.  It seems in Rousseau's view, there is no war between individuals but nature itself is hostile to existence.  Men are therefore inclined to enter into contracts for preservation.  However, this new condition induces a profound beneficial change which is more desirous than the liberties of nature.

"The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, ... he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man."

Rousseau's claim is man gives up the advantages of nature in deference to the common, general will which for him is the inalienable, indivisible sovereign. Nevertheless, Rousseau is not so bold as to suggest that general will is infallible. However, in the same vein as Locke, Rousseau does not see oppression as possible in the true expression of the common will so any government which somehow violates the public trust has become an illegitimate government.

"...the government exists only through the sovereign. Thus the dominant will of the prince is not and should not be anything other than the general will or the law. His force is merely the public force concentrated in him. As soon as he wants to derive from himself some absolute and independent act, the bond that links everything together begins to come loose. If it should finally happen that the prince had a private will more active than that of the sovereign, and that he had made use of some of the public force that is available to him in order to obey this private will, so that there would be, so to speak, two sovereigns--one de jure and the other de facto, at that moment the social union would vanish and the body politic would be dissolved."

Click here for part 2 - some ideas for Aff


The Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes, 1660

The Second Treatise of Civil Government
John Locke, 1690

Rationally Justifying Political coercion
Journal of Philosophical Research vol. XV
Russell Hardin, University of Chicago, 1989

The Spirit of Laws
Charles de Montesquieu, 1748

The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right
Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762

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.