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

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

Sunday, May 12, 2013

PF 2013 NFL Nationals - Drones - Legitimacy

Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.

For part 1 - definitions, click here.


Before diving into Pro and Con positions, I want to touch on the justification for drone use in relation to targeted killings.  The issue is very complex and an examination of the benefits or harms must be predicated on a general assumption that use of drones is neither illegal or immoral.  Otherwise, the Pro case becomes very difficult.  The legal issues are certainly easier to face when we exclude the idea of using drone strikes on US soil against US citizens.  I hope, the legality or morality of drone strikes is not an issue for you.  I think there is plenty of room to debate this topic without side-tracking into a complex discussion of the legitimacy of the action and as long as you understand the issues of legitimacy, you will be better equipped to deal with it if your opponent attempts to walk that path.  It is not my intention in this post, the go deeply into the topic of legitimacy.  Instead, I will leave you a few sources and a brief discussion and if you feel inclined it should be enough for you to research it more deeply on your own.

Just War

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to kill terrorists has been debated by high-school Lincoln Douglas and Public Forum Debaters for a number of years now.  While it may or may not be relevant to the debate over this resolution, I believe it is imperative for teams to gain at least a working background on the ethical, moral and legal justifications for and against the kind of killing, drones are being used for and a very detailed analysis can be found here.  In particular, you can gain a better understanding of the moral framework by reading the two articles which begin here.

Statman 2004:
"I mentioned at the outset two general models for dealing with threats to vital interests: the war model and the non-war (i.e., criminal law and individual self-defense) model. In war, goes the common wisdom, soldiers of all sides are permitted to kill any soldier of the adversary, unless the latter surrenders or in limited exceptional circumstances. This permission to kill is not contingent on establishing that the soldier being killed poses any significant threat to the other side or, even assuming that he does pose such a threat, that he is morally responsible for doing so....Things are, of course, totally different, both morally and legally, in the context of the relations between individuals under criminal law and accepted rules of self-defense. To kill in self-defense, one is required to verify that the perceived attacker poses a clear and imminent danger to one’s vital interests and that the attacker bears responsibility for this danger. And, of course, with respect to punishment, it can be imposed only after establishing beyond reasonable doubt that the accused did commit the alleged crime"

Statman 2004:
"The moral legitimacy of targeted killing becomes even clearer when compared to the alternative means of fighting terror — that is, the massive invasion of the community that shelters and supports the terrorists in an attempt to catch or kill the terrorists and destroy their infrastructure....invading a civilian area inevitably leads to the deaths and injury of far more people, mostly innocent people, than careful use of targeted killing. Second, such actions bring death, misery, and destruction to people who are only minimally involved (if at all) in, or responsible for, terror or military attacks, whereas with targeted killing, collateral damage is significantly reduced (though not prevented altogether). Hence, targeted killing is the preferable method not only because, on a utilitarian calculation, it saves lives—a very weighty moral consideration—but also because it is more commensurate with a fundamental condition of justified self-defense, namely, that those killed are responsible for the threat posed."

The Moral Justification

Claiming benefits for the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles - UAVs) is moot if there is no moral justification to use them.  We must assume for the purposes of this debate, the intended objective, for example the objective to kill terrorists, is a just act in the first place.  To be sure, the moral justification for killing terrorists, which finds its basis in "just war theory" (jus in bello) is not the issue.  Instead we are debating whether or not use of drones to carry out that objective has benefits which outweigh the harms.  However, we must concede that the imperative to kill terrorists is morally justified.  If one uses an immoral means to carry out a moral and just act then it is pretty difficult to argue the ends justifies the means since the means is immoral.  For example, it may be justifiable to launch a war against another country which has attacked your interests, killed your people and continues to express a desire to inflict harm upon you.  The act of war may even be deemed morally justified under the principles of the right to self-defense.  However, if your forces resort to tactics such as indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, mass rape, use of chemical weapons, etc.  The means you employ are unjust which renders your actions immoral even though the objective was initially justified.

Therefore, in the context of American drone strikes, we must consider the act of war against terrorists is justifiable and morally permissible in the first place and so we evaluate whether the means we employ, i.e. drones strikes, is moral.  To be sure, if we did not use drones, we would use other means to carry out the objective to kill terrorists.

Bradley Strawser builds a case for moral justification based on simple principles of obligatory expediency, risk reduction and economy.

Strawser 2010:
"The justification of remotely controlled weapons in war here assumes that their employment is done as part of a fully justified war effort meeting both jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria. Thus, if the military in question is justified in a particular military strike in the first place, they should protect the just warrior carrying out the action to the greatest extent as is possible up until protecting the warrior impedes his/her ability to behave justly in combat, as will be argued below. Granted, if a given military action is unjustified, then it is unjustified whether it is done by a pilot flying an aircraft remotely or otherwise."

Strawser's general principle is clear. The justification for UAVs rests in the idea we are morally obligated to reduce the risk to our warriors when its feasible and expedient to do so as long as it does not compromise the warriors ability to behave justly.

Strawser 2010:
"The burden of proof, then, is on those who argue that we should not employ UAVs or similar remote technology. Such a position needs to justify why we should have pilots take on such risk."

Legal Justification

When looking to the broad legal issues surrounding the issue of targeting and killing terrorists in other countries, the justification or lack thereof rests in how one views the so-called war on terror and whether or not, there is a parallel between killing enemy combatants in a declared war between two states, and killing active members of terrorist groups in "war" that has been declared between a non-aligned paramilitary group and a nation.  The question over which ethicists struggle is, are trans-national terrorists enemy combatants or organized criminals.  The rules of engagement are very much dependent on how one answers that question and even then, it seems the terrorist resides in a murky realm between combatant and non-combatant, between just and unjust and efforts to justify their targeted killing remains controversial under existing theories.  However, many moral and legal theorists are suggesting a kind of hybrid definition.

Gross 2006:
"Perhaps it is more reasonable to think that some combatants are unjust, and that those espousing an unjust cause and/or fighting by unjust means merit a response more severe than do those combatants who are just. Rather than ignore the moral responsibility of terrorists and their supporters, their moral non-innocence justifies stronger and harsher measures than one would normally inflict on an adversary. Perhaps targeted killings are an appropriate response to terrorism precisely because terrorists deserve to suffer harm in a way that just combatants do not. Jeff McMahan, who does not discuss targeted killings, sets the stage for this argument as he discusses the limits of permissible harm that one may cause when facing a threat. ... An acceptable response is necessary, cost-effective and one that avoids excessive non-combatant casualties; it does not vary relative to an adversary’s moral responsibility. Echoing Statman and Meisels’ concern for the ‘special responsibility’ or ‘culpability’ that terrorists bear, McMahan suggests, however, that we carefully weigh a belligerent’s moral responsibility and respond more harshly to those combatants who are unjust."


Bradley Jay Strawser (2010): Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ
Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles, Journal of Military Ethics, 9:4, 342-368

The Ethics of Killing in War
Jeff McMahan, 114 Ethics 693, 2004

Assassination and Targeted Killing: Law Enforcement, Execution or Self-Defence?
Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol 23, No 3
Michael L. Gross, 2006

Targeted Killing, 5 THEORETICAL INQUIRIES L. 179
Daniel Statman, 2004

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

Saturday, May 11, 2013

PF 2013 NFL Nationals - Drones - introduction

Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.


a. Something that promotes well being: advantage (superiority of position or condition)
b. Useful aid: help
An advantage or profit gained from something

There is probably no need to formally define this word.  It is used as an adjective thus characterizing "drone strikes" as something related to the United States.  Clearly in this context, the "drone strikes" are carried out by the United States.  I suggest American may be a poor choice of words, since I was once told by a Canadian person that Canadians also consider themselves American since America is more a region or continent than a single nation.  Hence, we are the United States OF America, not America. Okay, I digress.

Plain and simple a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle which is piloted by remote control.  There may be other kinds of drones, such as ground vehicles or underwater vehicles, but these are not the subject of controversy and not the topics of this debate.  The United States (America for the purpose of this debate) for a number of years has perfected the technology of remotely piloted aerial vehicles, initially using them as surveillance devices and eventually fixing various kinds of weapons to them, most commonly, missiles.  The pilot remotely flies the aircraft, identifies a target using its on board camera system (which may include optical and infrared imaging) and then remotely launches a missile attached to the airframe of the drone to the target.  The drone is then piloted back to its origin where it is recovered and used for future missions.  The missile attack, which is launched from the drone by the remote (American) pilot is referred to as a drone strike.

a: to aim and usually deliver a blow, stroke, or thrust (as with the hand, a weapon, or a tool)
b: to arrive with detrimental effect <disaster struck>
c: to attempt to undermine or harm something as if by a blow

foreign targets
This is important terminology in this debate.  Since the target is the objective of the strike, the person or thing which is intended to be struck, the resolution specifies foreign targets.  This is not foreign in the sense of "unknown" targets, rather foreign in the sense of non-"American".

1: situated outside a place or country; especially: situated outside one's own country
2: born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration
3: of, relating to, or proceeding from some other person or material thing than the one under consideration
4: alien in character : not connected or pertinent
5: related to or dealing with other nations

This distinction of targets as "foreign" is important considering recent news in which it is charged that current US policy supports the use of drones to attack US citizens within the boundaries of the United States, under certain conditions.  This, in fact, was the motivation behind Senator Rand Paul's famous filibuster on March 6, 2013.  while this debate will no doubt examine the current drone usage policies of the United States, there should be no need to expand the debate to include domestic drone strikes based on this wording.  However, it is not so clear when we look to US drone strikes which target US citizens which happen to be on foreign soil.  This, in fact has happened in the infamous case of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen by birth with alleged ties to al-Qaida.

outweigh the harms
This is classic debate in which sides are asked to provide a comparative analysis of benefits and harms, advantages and disadvantages, good and bad. While the dictionary definition of "harm" is physical or mental damage the Con side will need to look much deeper than the obvious immediate result of a drone strike.  The harms are not just dead or injured people and property damage, but rather a far-reaching negative blow-back resulting from the fact that innocent individuals are often caught in the mayhem of a drone strike.  In addition, there is the perceived injustice of an execution without adequate due process and perhaps in some cases, the violation of international borders and state sovereinty as drones clandestinely slip across borders to acquire their targets.

Why The Resolution?

I think most debaters who will be debating this resolution at the NFL National Tournament in Birmingham will have a good working understanding of the issues of drone surveillance, warfare and targeted killing.  These topics are in the news, argued in Congress and have been debated in the past in high-school debate tournaments.  Despite your personal opinions to the contrary perhaps, we must understand the US believes the use of drone strikes against foreign targets has real and profound benefits which justify the policies, and we must understand that the criticisms and outcries in opposition to the policies are equally legitimate.  The resolution is being debated because the evaluation of benefits versus harms is far from settled and so each side will have the opportunity to expose both sides of the issue as deeply as possible in the context of an eight minute constructive.

The topic is potentially huge and there are many ways for both sides to argue the use of drones but I think debaters must be careful to stick to the primary objective of this debate, which is to present the comparative analysis based on current policies.  This means, in my opinion, it is pointless to debate whether the policy should continue, be amended, changed, or revoked.  The debate is much simpler than that.  We have a policy. Does it yield more good than bad results?  Nothing more needs to be discussed.

Weighing the Debate

Key to this debate will be the weighing mechanism which strongly suggests the framework one chooses will be all important.  The problem, as I see it, is there may or may not be common ground on which to base a comparison.  For example, one way to evaluate the benefits versus harms may be based upon an economic cost.  Simply put, the cost of setting up and operating a drone mission to take out a suspected terrorist may be far less than alternatives which require deploying a military squad to find and eliminate a suspected terrorist.  Other comparisons may evaluate the potential costs in terms of human lives.  In each of these frameworks, it is fairly simple to establish criteria on both sides which lend themselves to the weighing mechanism (economic cost or death toll). Personally, though, I don't think such debates will, in and of themselves, win the tournament.  The evaluation may incorporate elements of economic cost and will certainly discuss the cost of human lives but the real impacts will be much broader and much more difficult to quantify such as the political cost or international standing, and may become even more abstract through a comparison of the moral or philosophical issues.

In my experience as a coach and judge for Public Forum debate, I tend to think abstract arguments are good for establishing an aura of credibility (ethos) but judges tend to focus on more practical arguments which have direct impact on the experience of the judge.  So while moralistic or philosophical issues will influence, they may not be the sole reason for decision and the debate will be won by the side which can weigh the issues in real-world terms such as less cost, fewer deaths, increased security, decreased terror threat, troop safety, etc. or conversely, loss of innocent lives, human rights violations, destruction of property, loss of international credibility, and so on.

An Examination of the Issues

Self Defense and Human Rights

Despite the issues surrounding the morality or legitimacy of just war theory, drone usage policy pushes the boundaries of widely accepted norms and international laws according to some sources.

Amnesty International 2012:
"...some details of the purported legal rationale for current policies and practices of the United States of America (USA) in the deliberate killing of terrorism suspects, including far from any recognized battlefield, and particularly through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (popularly known as drones). The picture slowly emerging gives grounds to conclude that US polices and practices are unlawful, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life.
While some of the killings in question, if conducted in the context of specific armed conflicts, for instance in Afghanistan or at some times in some parts of Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, may not violate international human rights or international humanitarian law, the policy appears also to permit extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law, virtually anywhere in the world."

The Amnesty paper, which gives useful details on the numbers and scope of the deaths resulting from US drone policy, explains some of the public rationale behind the current US policy as a legitimate act of self-defense from a faceless, non-aligned enemy which transcends borders.
"Speeches by the Legal Adviser to the Department of State,4 the General Counsel of the
Department of Defense,5 the US Attorney General,6 the CIA General Counsel,7 and the
Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism,8 have argued that
US policy and practices for deliberate and premeditated “targeted killing” of individuals
identified as terrorism suspects are lawful under international law on two grounds (the officials have, it must be noted, carefully avoided directly addressing the so-called ‘signature
strikes’ or ‘Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes’9):
  • That the USA is engaged in an armed conflict with “al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces” that is global in scope, allowing for US use of lethal force, virtually anywhere in the world, against anyone it believes to be sufficiently involved with these groups, and further permitting the killing of a “proportionate” number of civilians in the vicinity of that person, whether or not there is any real reason to believe that they themselves are involved in terrorism;
  • That the USA is entitled to use lethal force against terrorism suspects in a very wide range of situations on the basis of its right under international law to self-defence."

Shadow War

A key issue arises under the banner of executive privilege and the powers of the executive branch to shape international policy apart from the full consent of Congress.

Boyle 2012:
"...the president has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America's temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the "kill list" being resolved in secret on "Terror Tuesday" teleconferences with administration officials and intelligence officials.
The creation of this "kill list" – as well as the dramatic escalation in drone strikes, which have now killed at least 2,400 people in Pakistan alone, since 2004 – represents a betrayal of President Obama's promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution. As Charles Pierce has noted, there is nothing in the constitution that allows the president to wage a private war on individuals outside the authorization of Congress."

While Boyle nicely frames the US drone policy as an unprecedented and possibly illegal expansion of US executive power, his impact statements tend to underplay the true cost to the international credibility of the US as a beacon of international justice.

"Instead of restoring counterterrorism to its proper place among America's other foreign policy priorities, President Obama has been seduced by political expediency and the lure of new technology into adopting a policy that kills first and asks questions later. He may succeed in crippling al-Qaida and preventing some attacks today, but it is now harder than ever to believe that a young child in Pakistan hearing the whirring noises of drones above them will look up and see Obama's America as "the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny, and the light of hope to the world"."

Extrajudicial Killing and Innocent Deaths

One of the key issues for many opponents of US policy hinges around the lack of due process for the intended targets, which as already seen in the previous Amnesty International issue violates interpretations of the international right to not "arbitrarily deprive a human being of life".  The world was given a glimpse of the nature of the Obama administration's policies in May 2012, when Becker and Shane published their famous article in the New York Times revealing a "secret kill list".  While the article provides interesting insights in the commonalities and differences with the prior George W. Bush counter-terror policies, it also reveals the calculus which justifies the collateral damage widely criticised by human rights groups.

Becker & Shane 2012:
"...Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths."

Part 2 - Legitimacy

Amnesty International, 2012

Obama's drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder
Michael Boyle, The Guardian, 2012

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will
Jo Becker and Scott Shane, New York Times, 2012

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 NFL National Tournament Topics

This morning, the National Forensics League has announced the 2013 National Tournament debate topics.

For Public Forum:
Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.

For Lincoln-Douglas:
Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

I intend to post my analysis of the topics very soon.