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I was recently asked to critique an LD debate case. This was my first foray into the LD resolution this semester so I really got to examine it with fairly fresh eyes. Here are a few thoughts I have on things I have noticed at this early point in the season.

First off, the term “when in conflict” is extremely important. This means you must identify the conflict in your case. For instance, both pragmatists and idealists would prefer that Iran not have a nuclear bomb. However, the conflict comes from their basic worldviews. Idealists in political theory believe in the value of diplomacy and incentives to accomplish a policy objective. Pragmatists would accomplish the same policy objectives through sanctions and maybe military embargos. You see, there is a definite conflict in worldview and a great argument on which is better. In many cases, both the pragmatist and idealist worldviews will not be in conflict. For instance, justice is a goal of both sides, but they both utilize the same basic means to achieve that goal (juries, jails, etc.). Now, you might get a worldview conflict within justice if you debated punishment vs. rehabilitation of criminals. Or another example is our education system – one side (idealists) says that we need to abolish the public education system and start over. The other side (pragmatists) says we need to reform it brick by brick. Both sides have the same goal, education for children but the policy approaches are completely different. This should help you start identifying the “when in conflict” part of the resolution when you look at situations. 

A second problem I see is that many students essentially think of idealists as “good” and pragmatists as “bad.” Think of the idealist who believes abortion should be stopped because killing is wrong and yet that idealist bombs an abortion center. Or think of a terrorist who believes that others should convert to his religion and if they don’t, they are already “dead.” These terrorists are certainly upholding an idealist worldview. That terrorist sees no problem with suicide bombings. The pragmatist looks at both of those issues and doesn’t understand. There are better ways to stop abortion using practical steps. There are better ways to deal with people than suicide bombings. Neither side understands the other’s viewpoint.  

The third problem I see with basic understanding of this resolution is the “ends/ideas” vs “means/actions” type of thoughts. This is a red herring. Don’t fall into this trap. An idealist does try to accomplish his goals. He does take steps to do so. These steps may even be practical but that doesn’t make his worldview pragmatic. A pragmatist also tries to accomplish his goals and may even use moral means to do so, this doesn’t make him an idealist in outlook. We are discussing something complicated – how different people, different cultures, different political persuasions – view the world. You must keep that in the top of your thoughts. 

And finally, let’s discuss a balanced negative. I do not recommend a balanced negative approach for several reasons. The first reason is education. It is important to try to understand and place yourself in another’s worldview. I can’t begin to emphasize how important this is. You need to be able to recognize the basic, underlying worldviews involved in this conflict. This is highly educational. It might mean you lose a few rounds you shouldn’t, but you will be a better, more educated person. Winning isn’t everything. Secondly, a balanced negative is a copout. It is a lazy way to win that doesn’t require as much work or thought. And thirdly, a balanced negative is a weak position to have against a strong team. A good team will have very well reasoned arguments for idealism. In a balanced negative, you still have to defend pragmatism but you are also basically agreeing with their case. A good affirmative can absolutely turn this against you.

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