Feb 22, 2009

does vigilantism require a law degree?

Peter Wall's first post on the vigilantism resolution attempted to define its scope. His second is now available. In it, Wall draws on the work of H.L.A. Hart, using an example of a vigilante, A, who has to coerce B into obeying the law, to cast light on a difficult epistemic problem for the affirmative.
How do we know that A, by stepping into coercive shoes, is accurately enforcing the will of the government? This raises the problem of interpretation. What if A is enforcing his own preferred interpretation of the obligations apparently imposed on B, and not the actual obligation imposed on B?

Obviously, there are both easy cases and hard cases. But even then, the person with the inferior position in an apparently easy case will often argue that the situation actually presents a hard case, where the result should be the counterintuitive one--i.e., the person with the apparently inferior position should win. Whether that argument does or should work will depend on your legal philosophy. The next level of abstraction, if you’re interested, would be to express skepticism that A can ever have the expertise or the authority to decide whether he is experiencing a hard or an easy case.
To slightly rephrase the question: what degree of legal certainty or expertise must the vigilante obtain in order to enforce the law?

A way to approach this, from a legal standpoint, might be to look into the precise circumstances where "citizen's arrest" is legally justifiable, and, on the obverse, to consider the citizen's duty to report crimes. Both situations presuppose some baseline familiarity with the law's latitude, and both may require the sort of fine-grained judgment that, in the absence of government enforcement, might justify vigilantism.

There's more over at Mr. Wall's blog. Leave your comments there. (I, for one, hope he continues mining this vein.)


Jenny said...

Jim, how do I argue the fact that the KKK was a vigilante group as an AFF (if it's brought up by neg) if I'm arguing that vigilantism isn't always lawless and violent.

Jim Anderson said...

Good question. I cover that here.

Comakid said...

I think this Blog has encountered a major problem: National Qualifications. No one is posting because it is very dangerous to post right now.

Since I already qualified (see you in Alabama, baby), I have nothing to worry about.

Now, before I impart some conventional tactics used at the tournament, let me state my bias: I am a West Coast debater with a Policy background.

Moving on... I'll just put a framework of my winning case on here.

V: Justice
Not just any type of justice; in the case, I define it as restorative AND retributive justice. That's right, I technically have two values, but nobody caught me. And, technically, the negative can't get to either. It would be helpful to show how the two values work together; they're not really that different.

VC: Governmental Legitimacy
I find it rather helpful to circumvent the negative position EARLY on. In this case, I use Locke's ideas; to summarize, a government gets authority from its ability to protect the people. So, it really doesn't matter WHO punishes crime; as long as crime is stopped, then the government is legit. If the government LOSES legitimacy, there are NO laws. And, with no laws comes no justice and a state of nature.

On to contentions.

Contention ONE: Solving Structural Inequities
The government can't do everything. Also, if you saw a rape happen, but the evidence was thrown out on a technicality, you're entirely justified in vigilantism aimed at that person. I used O.J. Simpson as an example... except for that one African-American judge.

Contention TWO: Spurs Governmental Reform
I stole this contention right off the site, so...

But! I also added the concept of corruption. Let's look at Mexico. The Mexican Government is corrupt. The cops are corrupt. And, certainly, the gangs which have killed over 5000 Mexicans and 150 Americans are corrupt. Whose going to save innocent people? That's right: no one. No one will save the innocent without vigilantism. And, at that point, the government slips into a state of nature and loses all legitimacy. Need an example? Did you even read what I just wrote? Another possible example (if you're really good at this) could be the IRA. Or, if you feel good, the Rodney King riots. Finally, look at Russia. There's some interesting stuff going on over there... (and it solves for due process arguments, if you find the correct article.)

Contention THREE: Savior Argument
Let's imagine a government about to completely collapse. The only thing that could possibly save it, possibly uphold its laws, is vigilantism, because no one else will.

So, in a nutshell, that's it for the aff. I'll come back for neg arguments later. Sorry if I was rather scattered.

Finally, Jim: hope to see you in Birmingham.

Jim Anderson said...

comakid, well, for this particular post, I *did* as folks to comment over at Mr. Wall's blog, since I was trying to direct them over there, but I agree that people are doing a lot more reading and a lot less commenting right now.

When you post your neg thoughts, would you mind if I republished them fresh as a "guest blogger" post? They're too good and too extensive for mere comments.

ldn00b said...

Comakid: That was great I may steal C2 also.

Mr Anderson (or anyone): Can someone explain to me how the KKK was a vigilante group? Weren't they breaking more laws then they were enforcing? In fact, were they really enforcing any laws?

Jim Anderson said...

ldn00b, I think the KKK is arguably nonresolutional (for reasons cited here), although the Neg might argue that such groups tend to flourish when people condone vigilantism in general. (The obvious counterargument being that "of course they do, since the government has failed to enforce the law.")

Comakid said...

Jim: Sure. Thanks!

Jim and ldn00b: Thanks for helping me win the tournament; people relied so much on the thoughts about the KKK presented on this website, that it became one of my favorite negative arguments.

First, the KKK enforced Jim Crow laws, Prohibition, and the Mann Act, if you really don't want to do any research.

If you DO want to do research, then check the Wiki article on the KKK and look at why the 2nd Klan was created. In fact, I'm so awesome, I'll put the important part here: "Another event that influenced the Klan was sensational coverage of the trial, conviction and lynching of a Jewish factory manager from Atlanta named Leo Frank. In lurid newspaper accounts, Frank was accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, a girl employed at his factory.

After a trial in Georgia in which a mob daily surrounded the courtroom, Frank was convicted. Because of the presence of the armed mob, the judge asked Frank and his counsel to stay away when the verdict was announced. Frank's appeals failed. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes dissented from other justices and condemned the mob's intimidation of the jury as the court's failing to provide due process to the defendant. After the governor commuted Frank's sentence to life imprisonment, a mob calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan kidnapped Frank from prison and lynched him." ~Wiki Article on KKK

Oooooohhh... the KKK WERE vigilantes, weren't they? And, their logic seems to fall squarely under the resolutional bounds... just hope no affirmative figures out a response. Oh, and just because it wasn't called the KKK yet, doesn't mean it wasn't them.

I'd cover more, but I promised I would leave the rest for the guest blog. ^^

Jim Anderson said...

comakid raises the best argument to consider the KKK resolutional. Some caveats, though:

1. "The KKK" is a misnomer, historically speaking, since the group underwent many incarnations and at many points was only loosely affiliated and ad hoc in organization. (The "Knights of Mary Phagan" cited in the example began a second wave within the movement.)

2. To what degree vigilantism as a means of law enforcement was the raison d'etre for the KKK is a matter of debate. (As I've argued all along, the Neg can still claim that the reason doesn't matter; the risk of spreading racial violence exists in any society that justifies vigilantism.)

3. Still, when raising the KKK argument, the Neg has the problem of uniqueness. Hate groups exist on either side of the resolution; furthermore, racism is itself one reason the government may fail to enforce the law.

Eutopia1994 said...

what is really the difference between a citizen's arrest and vigilantism? Isn't vigilantism an action that would be by itself an illegal action (i.e., assault, manslaughter...) while citizen's arrest is something more like restraint?