Feb 18, 2009

scraping for vigilantism in the political theory jar

Regarding the vigilantism March/April LD resolution, if political theory is a jar of peanut butter, then finding analysis of vigilantism in that jar is like scraping out the last bits at the bottom.

In "Vigilantism and Political Theory," found in Vigilante Politics, Edward Stettner grabs a spatula and digs in. He turns first to the classic social contractarians, more specifically Locke, since Locke has a unique view of the state of nature. Stettner quotes from the Second Treatise, in which Locke claims that, in the state of nature, individuals have the right to pursue justice, having equivalent "executive power" to punish crimes against the laws of nature. However, Locke concedes to the objection that
it is unreasonable for Men to be Judges in their own Cases, that Self-love will make men partial to themselves and to their Friends. And on the other side, that Ill Nature, Passion and Revenge will carry them too far in punishing others. And hence nothing but Confusion and Disorder will follow.
Thus a civil government--some kind of representative scheme with checks on sovereign power--is necessary to enforce the law. Not much room for vigilantism in Locke's view, Stettner argues.

Later on, Stettner attempts to divine a Marxist take on vigilantism. One such position: it's pointless.
Normatively... any attempt to preserve the status quo is of no ethical value, as well as futile. History, for the Marxist, inevitably witnesses the destruction of all established classes until the proletariat is finally triumphant. Any vigilante activity is simply a failure... to accept the inevitable pattern of change...
Combining this with Rosenbaum and Sederberg's observation that vigilantism in inherently conservative, and the Neg can make a Marxist case against its justification.

Last, Stettner offers a broadside critique of vigilantism from the perspective of general political theory.
Much of political theory is ethically inspired.... [Political theorists] tend to discuss attractive goals such as justice, freedom, equality, which can be shown to have a positive ethical content. Other questions important to the theorist, for example discussions of proper political institutions and arguments why government should or should not be obeyed, are related to the means of achieving those ends. Vigilantism does not posit ends which are attractive. It is hard to argue ethically for self-interest, or for order qua order. Moreover, the means of achieving those ends, secret violence, is not morally attractive either. Vigilantism is clearly a sickness in the view of traditional theory, a perversion of both the means and the ends of politics as it should be.
So we've scraped the jar clean, and come up with salmonella. Good for the Negative, I guess.

3 comments:

ldn00b said...

The problem with a lot of the neg arguments is that thier offence is typically non-unique; they show how vigilanteism leads to loss of rights and disorder, but the same occurs in the negative world since these things occur without the law. Is there any way to get compelling offence that doesn't just turn into a weighing contest based on who causes more anarchy?

Jim Anderson said...

I think the Neg has to do more to highlight the vagaries of the phrase "has failed to enforce the law." Since the situation potentially ranges from very trivial matters (has failed to catch jaywalkers!) to major concerns (has failed to prevent mass murder!), the Neg simply can't let the Aff talk only about the latter. Since there is a government in existence, we cannot presume Aff claims of total anarchy in the Negative world.

Middle School Debater said...

Hi Mr. Jim,
I am fascinated by your accuracy in pinpointing arguments, however, on one of your earlier posts you explained about will to power. I did not get a clear understanding of how this concept connected to the resolution.
Will to power as I understand is the struggle for supremacy of you and your values. Since the vigilante "supposedly" wants justice it is better to fight than to not. Correct me if I'm wrong, please?