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Stoa recently announced this season’s spring LD resolution:

Resolved: National security concerns ought to be valued above individual rights.

This resolution will be very difficult for AFF to prove. In this short post, I’ll explain why. I’ll also suggest two strategies AFF can use to overcome this difficulty.

Both Stoa and the NCFCA have selected resolutions similar to this one in the past. But the scope of the individual rights at issue in those resolutions was always limited. For instance, in 2016 (my junior year of high school), the NCFCA resolution was, “Resolved: When in conflict, the individual right to privacy is more important than national security.” Since the AFF ground was limited to just one individual right, NEG was able to leverage the importance of protecting other individual rights – life, for example, or liberty – in defense of national security.

But that can’t be done under this resolution. Since the NEG’s ground subsumes all individual rights, AFF cannot appeal to the importance of protecting life, liberty, property, privacy, or any other individual right in defense of national security. This would amount to saying that national security is important only because individual rights are important. And if national security is important only because individual rights are important, then it can’t be more important than individual rights. (Compare: If I pointed to a safe and said, “I only value that safe because of what’s in it,” I couldn’t then say, “But I value that safe more than what’s in it.” That wouldn’t make any sense.)

What does this mean? It means that many values that seem, at first glance, to fit well with national security can’t be run on AFF. Human rights just are individual rights, so AFF can’t run a value of human rights. Neither can AFF run a value of life, liberty, or property, for obvious reasons. And there are other popular values that are too closely tied to individual rights, even if they are not themselves individual rights. Human dignity, for example, is so difficult to distinguish from individual rights that it likely isn’t a good option for AFF.

So, what should AFF do?

I have two suggestions. First, AFF could try to find a value that doesn’t reduce to, or isn’t directly connected with, individual rights. Perhaps quality of life, safety, justice, the general welfare, the social contract, or political stability would do the trick.

One advantage of this strategy is that NEG also can’t run a value too closely connected to individual rights without begging the question (that is, engaging in circular reasoning). If NEG runs a value like freedom, then AFF can point out that valuing freedom presupposes that individual rights are of the highest importance. This means that, if AFF runs a value that is disconnected from individual rights, NEG will have a hard time challenging it.

Second, AFF could try to limit the resolution to short-term conflicts between national security concerns and individual rights. Even if the aim of national security, in the long run, is to protect the rights of individuals, addressing national security concerns often requires the restriction or suspension of individual rights in the short run. AFF could argue that we should focus on cases where such restrictions are necessary – otherwise, there won’t be any conflict between national security and individual rights, because in the long run, they are mutually reinforcing. This gives AFF room to run values like life and liberty: they can argue that prioritizing national security in the short-term will best preserve life and liberty in the long-term.

I prefer the second strategy. It will, I think (and hope), result in the kinds of debate rounds that the resolution is actually intended to facilitate.

Noah McKay is an NCFCA alumnus and a PhD student in philosophy at Purdue University. He has been coaching Lincoln Douglas debate for six years.

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