Resolved: A just social order ought to place the principle of equality above that of liberty.
I am offering the following analysis free of charge to high school Lincoln-Douglas debaters. However, as specified under implied copyright laws, no debate brief developer or publisher may use this analysis without my permission. Also, if you use this info in your cases, please e-mail me a copy of them. Don't worry, I'm not going to pirate them, but I just feel that if I give you free information, you should return the favor.
A fitting resolution to wring in the new year. At first, I thought this resolution was unique. However, I then realized that I had debated two other resolutions last year that were similar, one to a greater extent than the other. Last year's September/October resolution, although superficially different, carries the same philsophical implications as this one. That's one: but what's the other one? Give up? Texas debaters should remember last year's UIL resolution (Resolved: Gender equity is essential to legitimate democracy.) The legitimate democracy would be the just social order, and gender equity would be the principle of equality.
This is THE LD resolution. In fact, most other topics have this conflict at their hearts. Note: this resolution is not about conflicting claims. The absence of the word conflict coupled with that term's recent use leads me to feel fairly confident in this assertion.
The following definitions are not from any dictionary, as they are simply meant to highlight the differences between the Aff and Neg perspective. For your cases, consult a real dictionary.
- A just social order... Obviously very important. Whether a just social order should value liberty or equality depends entirely on what a just social order is. However, do not, I repeat do not define a just social order according to the resolutionally implicit values!!! Affirmatives should NOT define it as a society promoting equality, and negatives should NOT define it as a society promoting liberty. Why not? Because it is circular and abusive. You could get trapped very easily in CX, and if someone pulls this definitional scam on you, ask them the following: If the judge accepts your definition of a just social order, how can I ever possibly win the debate? A sharp judge will notice the abusive nature of the situation (hell, even a dull judge would) and mark your opponent down for it.
Rather than taking that mine-laden path, I would use a value of a Just Social Order and define it as a society that promotes (Insert your criteria here). Your arguments would show how your criteria is the best one for determining the justice inherent in a social order, and that your criteria can only be achieved by affirming/negating the resolution. See below for examples.
- ...ought to place... Signifies that there is an obligation to show that one claim (equality or liberty) is morally superior to the other.
- ...principle of equality.... Ouch. Divisive. The immediate problem affirmatives have to deal with is whether to advocate equality of opportunity to equality of condition (results). Another major question is whether or not the resolution is talking about political or socio-economic equality. Remember, the various theories of equality are often at odds with each other. Treating diffferent people the same will lead to different, unequal outcomes. However, treating different people differently for the purpose of securing equal outcomes is nothing less than discrimination. Lest this seem an unrealistic worry, consider the current, very real debate over affirmative action. So what is an aspiring affirmative to do? In comes Ronald Dworkin, your winged saviour. See below under Affirmative case positions for more details. A further, in-depth discussion of equality is beyond the scope of this page (Translated: I don't feel like it. Forgive me. It's late.)
- ...(principle) of liberty. The freedom to do what one wants. Whether or not liberty is absolute or restricted by the bounds of laws is up to you. However, negatives should think about this: if you define liberty as being restricted by laws, you are opening yourself up to a scathing definitional attack. As affirmative, one of my observations states that we are evaluating the resolution with respect to the laws and policies of a just social order. If those laws can restrict liberty, then liberty is not being valued very highly. Furthermore, laws that restrict liberty almost always do so for the sake of equality (i.e. affirmative action, heavy taxes on the rich, etc.) Therefore, we can still affirm the resolution and value equality in our laws, and then gain all the benefits of the negative stance by giving people liberty within the equal laws. (Thanks to Justin Humphries of for contributing this argument.)
Here are some Affirmative possibilities and their related arguments (they are in no particular order). Rather than use these as values, as them as criteria to the value of a just social order.
- Egalitarianism Essentially Rawslian distributive justice with a cooler name. Read up on Rawls if you want to use him, and prepare for attacks. I would not recommend him unless you are VERY prepared and ready for a bloodbath (figuratively speaking.) Egalitarians value social, economic, and political equality for all. In order to employ the veil of ignorance (if you don't know what it is, don't ask and don't run Rawls), one must logically support equality. But it will be philosophically problematic, not to mention damn hard, to show that the veil of ignorance is of greater value than the individual liberties it distributes. Confused yet? Too bad, because there's more. The first of Rawl's primary goods is liberty, which makes it tough for affirmatives to dispute negative claims of duality. And to top it all off, Rawls does little more than assert that the veil of ignorance is the best way to distribute liberties within a society. He offers nothing for proof. Mike West (webmaster of Mike's Abode) disputes this, but I still don't see the proof as very compelling. If you want to hear his take on it, e-mail him.
- Legitimate Democracy In order to be legitimate, a democracy must give all citizens the right to vote. Although this may not actually produce equality, it nevertheless has the principle of equality at its heart. Simple, straightforward, easy. I highly recommend it.
- Rousseau's Social Contract Individuals entering the social contract must subjugate their personal will (liberty) to the General Will. The general will takes into account all voices (hence, it must value all equally). The general will is impossible to implement without equality, thus the resolution should be affirmed. I think this one will be tough to pull off, because it philosophically indicts liberty, and to many judges, attacking liberty is like attacking apple pie.
- Dworkin's Theory of Equal Concern More complex (or more accurately just deeper) than the above arguments, but still pretty simple, this avenue seemingly unites both derivative theories of equality (treatment and outcomes). Dworkin argues that people have a right to equal treatment as human begins. This equal concern might, and in fact probably will, lead to unequal treatment, but all actions must nevertheless be compatible with the inherent worth of all individuals. This theory of equality is based on dignity. All individuals deserve treatment as equals, if not necessarily the same treatment. It seems to me that you can find the principle of equality in this theory with relative ease.
Here are some Negative criteria possibilities (once again, no particiular order.)
- Individualism or Self-Actualization, Autonomy, Self-Fulfillment or any one of its myriad synonyms. The argument goes something like this: individuals must have room to grow and develop. Enforcing equality denies them this ability, as does infringing on their liberty. This is sort of a reheated idea from the last topic, so pull your old stuff out and reapply it to this resolution's particular phraseology if you're interested.
- Progress A fundamental aspect of a just social order is its ability to adapt and change for the better. All individuals must have the right to participate in the so-called marketplace of ideas. This idea has liberty rather than equality at its heart.
- Locke's Social Contract Locke argues from the perspective of property rights. He believes that they are among the inalienable rights granted by God (or Jehovah or Buddha or Nostrodamus, pick your favorite deity), as evidenced by his oft-quoted "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." If you defined equality the right way, it could mean taking away rich people's property to give it to the poor. Locke would argue this was unjust, because you were sacrificing liberty for equality.
- Nozick's Minimalist State A personal favorite of mine, its not compatible with many resolutions. This one is an exception. In the same vein as Locke but a little more extreme, Nozick advocates absolute property rights and wrote chiefly in opposition to Rawls. He argues that society cannot redistribute property and resources (read: liberty) to achieve any desired outcomes (equality). From a deontological standpoint, the argument is morally flawless. By limiting one person to help another person become equal we are using immoral means because we are undermining the former individual's autonomy. Great for clashing with the egalitarians, Nozick's theories also go by the name of Libertarianism. Ayn Rand has a viewpoint with minor differences, but one that still work for the negative, called Objectivism.
- Utilitarianism Ahhhh. The ever-popular utilitarianism. I believe it was Andrew Rothschild who called it the "most laughably ridiculous philosophy ever to be embarassingly spewed forth onto paper," among other things. (Andrew, if you are reading this, I hope you are laughing). I share his sentiments. Utilitarianism is pretty tough to pull off; many judges will vote against you just for mentioning the "U" word. Nevertheless, if you are hell-bent on Mill, you can use it. Mill's utility principle is based on liberty, so at least the links won't be tough...
See ya' later....
Comments? Questions? E-mail me!
Back to Main Debate Page.