Guest Post: Conflict in the 2013-2014 NCFCA Resolution

Isaac Sommers, now a Dominate author, contributed this guest post on conflict in the NCFCA resolution, Resolved: National security ought to be valued above freedom of the press. 


“What is the duty of government?” is a question that LDers seem to not be able to get away from. For the past several years, NCFCA’s LD resolutions have targeted governmental actions, and this year is no different. The basic question of the resolution lies in understanding the different philosophies on the purpose and role of government: should the goal of protection outweigh the goal of allowing freedom and staying out of people’s lives, and if the two ever conflict, which should win out? While the resolution doesn’t say the word “government,” it is implicit in the concepts of national security (a governmental principle of protecting a nation from threats) and freedom of the press (a phrase that would not even make sense if government did not exist).

This question creates a unique perspective on the resolution: does one have to argue conflict between national security and freedom of the press? I think the answer is yes, because of the clarity that interpreting the resolution in terms of conflict provides.

Conflict is important because it helps to establish a clear bright-line differentiation between the arguments of the debaters. If both the Affirmative and the Negative advocate a position of “national security and freedom of the press never conflict, but my side is better for reasons X, Y, and Z,” it becomes very difficult for the judge to determine why one side ought be valued above the other. Arguments would sound very much like this:

Aff: “National security is superior because it protects life better. Freedom of the press never threatens life, but it just doesn’t work as well as national security.”

Neg: “Freedom of the press is the highest value because it is an extension of our liberty. National security doesn’t take away liberty, but it isn’t an extension of our natural right to liberty like freedom of the press is.”

The first half of each argument sounds great, but as soon as the listener hears the expression of the concept of “no conflict,” they are immediately left wondering why there is even a need to choose one value over the other, if both of them are so great. Conflict, therefore, provides not only the foundation for building up your argument–it also sets up the groundwork for refuting the other side of the resolution.

Some may say, “well, the resolution doesn’t say conflict, and besides, just look at the United States: we have national security and freedom of the press coexisting all the time.” These are valid points, but they still don’t justify ignoring conflict in this resolution.

Just because the resolution doesn’t say the words “when in conflict” doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look exclusively at conflict scenarios. Even a situation of total isolation of either national security or freedom of the press could constitute a conflict scenario (the definition of “conflict” from the New American Oxford dictionary is “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests”), as that would demonstrate “incompatibility.” For example, consider these two extreme hypotheticals: the fictional country of Creysity has 100% national security and no freedom of the press, while the fictional country Trebily has 100% freedom of the press and no national security. Creysity would have a strong fence around its entire border, numerous air and naval defenses, a well-trained police force, very strict crime laws, and an near zero crime rate. The people would be free to live their lives as they pleased, speaking and saying what they please (without killing or stealing, of course), with one exception: there are no newspapers. In fact, while there is internet access, all the news sites are blocked. Of course, there is also no reason to read the news because Creysity is so secure, nothing harmful ever happens to any of the citizens.  Trebily, on the other hand, has an opposite set of laws. The country has no border security, standing army, or naval defenses. In fact, Trebily doesn’t even have a police force. But it does have thousands upon thousands of media companies, all vying for the Trebily citizens’ purchase. Of course, without any real laws to prevent crime, these companies are often hiring mercenaries to sabotage the competition’s machinery or even kill competing news reporters, but at least everyone is well informed. There isn’t an hour that goes by without a news update being pushed to subscribers phones, or a newspaper getting updated with the latest news about a media attack or a terrorist threat at the border.

While these countries with very original names are obviously fictitious (although some governments have come pretty close), they provide you with very clear comparisons of extremism on both sides of the resolution, and it makes you seriously consider which country you would rather live in. The point is, you can take situations where there doesn’t seem to be visible “conflict” and find that the current state of affairs is because of previous conflict–perhaps Creysity used to have freedom of the press, but numerous terrorist attacks changed the government’s outlook. Remember that conflict can come in various forms: it doesn’t have to be restrained to only very obvious situations of conflict, like some of the Supreme Court cases dealing with national security vs freedom of the press.

Another way conflict can be analyzed is by judging the restrictions of one value upon the other, and analyzing the effects. When the press was limited during World War 2, how did that affect our national security? When the press wasn’t limited during Vietnam how did that affect our national security? Consider the various states of limitations that exist, but be careful to avoid consequentialist thinking: just because the results turned out poorly in one instance doesn’t make the value bad as a whole (after all, we lost many battles during WW2–that doesn’t mean we should have stopped fighting after the first defeat). Rather, consider both the practical and the moral implications of that action: was it morally right for the government to keep information from the citizens during WW2 or Vietnam, and why? How were the situations different? Learning to pick apart common examples like this will help you avoid debating on the surface with only examples, and instead will enable you to understand the logical and philosophical principles behind the arguments.

Overall, conflict is a crucial element to debating this year’s resolution, and understanding the different forms that conflict can come in will add an advanced level of argumentation to your debates. Keep the focus on the real-world application of the ideas, and you will find that your judge can follow your arguments with much more ease than if you were attempting to be very abstract about the topic.