May 1, 2007

on balance, violent revolution is a just response to political oppression: the NFL national LD topic for 2007

Resolved: On balance, violent revolution is a just response to political oppression.

In the coming days, I'll start posting detailed thoughts, making this the go-to resource for the topic like it's been in the past.

Initially, as always, definitions matter greatly. How violent the revolution? What is the meaning of "just?" What constitutes "political" oppression, as opposed to other kinds?

Stay tuned. Should be interesting.

Added: Obviously social contract theory comes into play, and will be quite popular on either side. (Hobbes vs. Locke, with Rousseau shouting from the sidelines.) Curiously, this is where leftist and conservative ideologies can point in similar directions. Jeffersonian contractism justified the American revolution; Marxist historicism justified the Russian revolution.

Some other philosophers or thinkers to consider: Thoreau. Gandhi. Camus (who quarreled with Sartre over the necessity of violence). Kant.

Update 5/2: Speaking of Kant, I outline one way the Neg might use Kant to burden the Aff.

Update 5/3: William T. Vollman is the new Rousseau. I show how this makes for a potential Aff case structure.

Update 5/8: Blogging neighbor Josh has all the answers when it comes to Hobbes. Well, not all the answers, but some. And they're good answers. (Josh and I go back and forth on Hobbes here, too.)

Update 5/17: I offer some preliminary thoughts on the definition of "political oppression."


okie debater said...

Would using the American Revolution as an example of violent revolution appeal to judges?

Jim Anderson said...

It's certainly one of the more salient examples. However, it illustrates the very heart of the question: does excessive taxation (along with the other list of abuses) merit bloodshed? Was life really so bad under British rule that thousands had to die? The Canadian counterexample--slow, but bloodless--sits on the Neg side. The aff has to show that violence is just, not only that it is feasible or effective.

okie debater said...

Do you think that the Aff really has to prove it is feasible, or can they just argue the morality/justice of the revolution? (charge of the light brigade type idea here)

Jim Anderson said...

Let me clarify. What I mean is that cases that claim "violent revolution will lead to democracy" or "it's possible that violent revolution will lead to democracy" aren't going far enough. Merely getting the result doesn't make the means just. (Unless, of course, you're running purely consequential form of political ethics.)

In other words, I don't think the Aff should spend very much time talking about feasibility or effectiveness, except on defense.

Hope that's clearer.

Engima said...

Then of course you also have to justify the ends ;) Us libertarians don't appreciate the idea of democracy being some great thing.

That said, I really like this topic. The most mainstream cases will probably run something along the lines of:

Aff: Political oppression merits some sort of response. Proportional violence is thus the only means of reform.

Neg: Alternative means of reform. Violent reform has higher costs than the slower, nonviolent reform.

I think there's a lot of difficulty on the affirmative side in terms of proving that violence is always just. Then again, does the "On balance" clause of the resolution warrant that affirmative claim by presupposing that the "violent revolution" is proportional?

Jim Anderson said...

Engima, you're right; I was just using "democracy" as a throw-in value for example's sake.

I believe the "on balance" clause means that, weighing costs and benefits, in the majority of cases, violent revolution is justified. (Such language is included in the revised NFL ballot. Debaters don't have to prove that in every single case the resolution is true, but rather that it's true as a "general principle.")

I'm not 100% positive, though. If I'm right in my interpretation, it would be a bit redundant.

Engima said...

Sorry if I seemed upset or anything, didn't mean it that way.

Anyways, your proposal is sensible. Bryce Pashler's topic analysis (availible on the NFL's partner website, has some suggestions, including: "in proportion to the political oppression", "the only alternative to the political oppression". However, he then states "...- but this approach threatens to beg the question of the resolution."

It may just come down to the consensus between the debaters - but it it seems difficult to justify any definition.

If they didn't mean "in proportion" - wouldn't the clause be prepended to the November/December topic? Maybe looking at other resolutions will help?

For example: "Resolved: On balance, in its trade agreements the United States ought to value
the welfare of workers in developing countries over its economic gains."

Jim Anderson said...

(No offense taken, engima. I got the wink.)

There are three listed "on balance" resolutions from years past: [pdf]

On balance, institutional censorship of academic material is harmful to the educational development of students.

On balance, individuals ought to have a greater obligation to themselves than to their community.

On balance, violent revolution is a just response to oppression.

Only the second has an explicit comparison, between valuing self and community. Otherwise, "On balance" seems to merely clarify the generality of the resolution. Your point about the difficulty of agreeing on definitions is well made.

I also notice the change from 2001's "oppression" to 2007's "political oppression," which narrows the topic to a more manageable size.

Engima said...

Well considering then that the "general principal" clause is fairly recent, and the current topic is recycled from '01, I think it's a safe bet to assume it means the same thing.

I'll scout for some old topic briefs and Nationals videos and see what I find. Thanks.

jk159 said...

i'm struggling with this resolution. i'm excited about it - but i'm having a difficult time grasping it.

may are talking about the importance of definitions - but none are being coughed up!

what is a "violent revolution"? is it one person, a million? Is it guns or what?

what is "political oppression"? is it marshall law? or cuba?

I don't think "just" can even be brought into the picture until these terms are clearly defined and at least somewhat agreed upon. and i don't know how to define them...

jk159 said...

"I believe the "on balance" clause means that, weighing costs and benefits, in the majority of cases, violent revolution is justified"

I don't really get this. Are you saying that the "majority of cases" should determine principle?

if an exception comes up...

(lets say black listing is the extent of the poltical oppression - which while bad does not warrant - in my opinion - full on violent revolution)

...this may not destroy its use in the "majority of cases" but it could destroy the justness of violent revolution as a principle.

if "on balance" means strictly the majority of cases (allowing 49% exceptions) - this seems somewhat abusive...

if "on balance" means as a principle - can't the neg provide exceptions in violation of treating equal things equally (aristotle) and be done with it?

I am apparently struggling greatly with all aspects of this resolution...

what degree of "absolute" does "on balance" imply?

Jim Anderson said...

jk159, good questions that deserve a lengthier reply than comments can afford. I will say that the "majority of cases" language is merely one interpretation of the NFL language in the guidebook, which states, "No debater can realistically be expected to prove complete validity or invalidity of the resolution." Whether one counterexample suffices to destroy a general principle is a matter of the structure of the principle, and whether it allows for exceptions.

Jim Anderson said...

I'll also add that "violent revolution" involves at least the taking up of arms, rather than demonstrations or protests, if not outright bloodshed. If you want to stay away from empirical examples entirely, take up a more deontological stance and look to Kant; at that point, the scope and ferocity of the violence isn't as important as the nature of the intent.

jk159 said...

thank you...a few more questions or possibilities (?)

I don't really like every using empirical examples, there's always another example that goes the other way...and we should be discussing this philosophically which means the general should determine the actions in specifics...specefics should not determine the general (square/rectangle). Simply because violent revolution may be justified in a few isolated examples - doesn't necessarily make it a just principle (this would be neg).

could you argue that setting one blanket solution to all varying types of political oppression is treating unequal things equally?...hmm....I'd rather argue against the principle itself - but this seems a more feasible way of attack. - does saying that violent revolution may be justifiable in some circumstances cede too much ground to the affirmative?

Jim Anderson said...

On the neg, I don't think you have to cede anything to the Aff. Your principle of justice might never allow for violence in the face of political oppression. Key here is your definition of the term: if it means keeping people from voting, or forcing them to vote for a particular candidate, or prohibiting certain political parties, or other political means of oppression--are these worth risking death and destruction through the force of arms? Not all forms of oppression are created equal, either.

Anonymous said...

Debators have to really careful with this topic. Extreme acts like mass killings (Pulpot, Hitler, Stalin) arent being debated because of the topic wording "on balance". The "on balance" basically means that were not talking extremes, we are talking when violent revolution is justified. The social contract is great because if the government in question isnt upholding their side of the contract, the people may revolt and replace (aff). But the Kantian and Kung side gets at that violence is never just so the negative must propose another course of action and uphold that.

Im having trouble with the negative more than the affirmative.

Maybe a utilitarian twist by saying peaceful protest is the great good?

anonymous2 said...

why exactly does "on balance" exclude extreme examples?

Anonymous said...

This is anonymous 1 speaking.

On balance means taking vast majorities of cases with revolution, peaceful or violent. Theres no arguing that a abusive, oppresive, and violent government should stay in power. The debators must make the line between when violent and peaceful revolution is nesecary clear to the judges.

If you mention extreme acts at nationals the opponent will just say "extreme acts dont negate a moral dictum." We arent debating the obvious, we are debating the ambiguous.

I hope that makes more sense, i had troubling grasping it at first but I think im getting there.

jk159 said...

"Circumstances where poltiical oppression is substantial enough to engender discussion of violent revolution are (hopefully) EXTREME and rare. Attempts to bring the debate to the "middle" might strip the discussion of any real meaning - after all, it is unclear what would be "moderate" or "fair" examples of political oppression of violent revolution."

I agree with Bryce Pashler - and I think that excluding those mass murders and other extreme examples is not true to the resolution. If moral principles don't apply in extreme circumstances - what does that say of value?

- Pashler discusses the qualifier "on balance" very thoroughly and provides a number of different options and such - look it up - I don't have the link anymore - sorry.

Anonymous said...

extreme cases have obvious answers. If the answer is obvious the debate is pointless. We make the line clear and exclude egregious cases because you cant argue in the name of the mass killings. If extreme cases were to be warranted then on balance wouldnt be in the topic wording. If you bring up extreme cases or line your arguements with them, they may likely be shot down quickly.

Im not saying ingore them, just be careful of them/

Engima said...

I am not sure extremism is completely invalid. From what I know about when this topic was debated in NFL Nationals 2001, George W.F. Hegel was popular for his thesis, antithesis, synthesis model on the affirmative that was used to centralize extreme debate.

I am not sure you should employ Utilitarianism "anonymous" - but then again, that is my own personal view point. I do not think it is too difficult to refute J.S. Mill or Bentham's basic assertions.

I personally believe the affirmative is a bit more difficult than the negative. Some negatives may conclude that violence within itself is an extreme. The affirmative has to justify using fire against fire.

Just my 2 cents for now.