The Instigator
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0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
10 Points

On Balance, authoritarianism cannot ever be justified

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/20/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,023 times Debate No: 59212
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (24)
Votes (2)




"On Balance, an Authoritarian State Cannot Ever Be Justified"


Authoritarianism-Total state control over all wakes of life

Debate Formate:

Rnd 1. Acceptance
Rnd 2. Arguments
Rnd 3,4-Rebuttals
Rnd 5. Counter Rebuttals, Conclusion End



I accept, and I will add to PRO's definition of authoritarianism:

1. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws : not allowing personal freedom; of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority
2. of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people

I want to note that authoritarianism is not unique to governments, but that it can occur in any number of circumstances. Authoritarianism exists in the military, in varying degrees in business and in all environments where a hierarchal chain of command is the existing power structure.

In that PRO has written the resolution as he has, in order to affirm the resolution, he must contend that in all possible circumstances where authoritarianism is present to any degree, it is always unjustified. Conversely, in order for me to negate the resolution, I must only prove that in at least one circumstance authoritarianism is to some degree justified.

With that, I look forward to an interesting and intellectually stimulating debate.
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank the opponent for accepting this debate. Firstly, I would like to further define some terms in the resolution.

The resolution is stated on balance. This implies that in many cases, not only one case. There are some cases, agreed by even libertarians like J.S Mill, that authoritarianism may be justified. However, these cases are specific cases.

Burden of proof is shared. Thus the opponent has to prove that an authoritarian state, on balance, can be justified. The opponent’s burden, unlike stated in his R1, is not to only provide one case, but to provide a justification for authoritarian state and its usage in most situations.


Authoritarian is defined as a form of government in which blind and absolute authority is given to the state. We can briefly say that an authoritarian government is illegitimate and the state is filled with corruption. We may also state at this point that an authoritarian democracy may not be used in this case; an authoritarian democratic government has complete legitimacy.

Justified is the action of something being defendable; able to be shown right. With my definitions justified, I would like to move onto my contentions.

Contention One: Liberty

For something to be moral, which I use interchangeably for right, it must be within the moral limits widely accepted by humanity. Whilst I do agree that morality is subjective, there is a vague measure for what is moral. Something that is moral will completely respect the rights, or at least the three essential liberties of every human being. We may turn this argument into an ethical argument, but this argument will be looking at this issue from a utilitarian manner, in the manner of great political philosopher J.S Mill.

J.S Mill outlined three essential liberties that a moral state must have.

1. Freedom of Speech

2. Freedom of Taste

3. Freedom of Unity

Authoritarian, by definition, violates all three of these essential liberties. This creates a dilemma; if a state is immoral, can it be justifiable in cases? This question is already hard. As defined, justified is the action of being proven right; but if right, in this case, is a synonym of morality, and it is already immoral to violate one of these rights (never mind the complete violation of all three), then how can such a state be justified? That is for the opponent to prove. As for me, my job here is to prove that an authoritarian state violates all three of these essential liberties.

In many authoritarian societies, all three of these essential liberties are absent. Before one looks at this dilemma from an empirical point of view, we must look at the situation rationally. An authoritarian state needs to hold its powers, but naturally, all systems are always criticized. Libertarianism has been criticized for being anarchistic; socialism has been criticized for being oppressive etc. etc. It is very highly unlikely that authoritarianism would not have any critics. In fact, authoritarian regimes are more likely to face criticism than other regimes, partly because of its oppressive nature and partly because its illegitimacy. These three essential liberties allow for people to defy authority, to defy the state and to critique it. In response to this, what does a normal authoritarian regime deals with these critics? The first authoritarian regime we look at is the Assad regime in Syria; after usurping control from the previous sectarian democratic government, the Assad regime took the essential liberties from the Syrian people.

Hafez Al-Assad, although he was religiously tolerant, did not approve political dissidence. Bashar Al-Assad also followed the same path; although he briefly allowed dissidence in 2001 during the Damascus Spring, after campaigns of civil disobedience these were dismantled. An authoritarian regime deals with critics of its regime as if it were they were a disobedient crowd in an obedient society; when one uses one’s liberty, this is called using one’s rights.

Al-Assad did not allow the second liberty to be exercised either; in regards to homosexuality, the Al-Assad regime took a Muslim approach and outlawed homosexuality. Homosexuality is the freedom of taste as it is one’s individual choice to choose the gender that one is attracted to. Does it harm society? What do two homosexuals having intercourse have to do with your society? Nothing; no harm is exercised. Then therefore, homosexuality is justifiable, via the second essential liberty, yet in Syria, it is outlawed.

The Al-Assad regime also violated the last essential liberty; the freedom to unite. The Damascus Spring is brought back as an example; liberty fighters united, but were then arrested by the Assad regime. These people had all the rights to stand for what they stood for; but it was the corrupt and immoral Assad government, whose aim was not to advance the people or the nation, but to increase and glorify one family.

It is disgusting how a family, a state, or any institution could violate our rights like this. For a man who “renounces liberty renounces being a man, surrenders the rights of humanity and its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible.” J.J Rousseau, Social Contract, Book One

Contention Two: Genocide

Authoritarian regimes are genocidal in nature. Empirically and theoretically, they commit more genocides than non-authoritarian regimes. The Assad Regime, previously used, has killed many people; Bashar Al-Assad indirectly led to the deaths of 100,000+, whilst Hafez Al-Assad has killed 30,000 Syrian citizens, but covering it up and saying that they were rebels.

This is the true face of authoritarianism; deaths after deaths of innocent civilians, often exercising their liberties. Can this be justified? Individually, each case has its defenders; the defenders of the Holocaust say that the Jewry was out to destroy the world, whilst the defenders of the Great Leap Forward say that the capitalist led to its downfall.

However, we are looking at this in an "on balance" perspective; if justified is being able to be shown right, or moral, then genocide under authoritarianism must be shown moral.

However, for something to be moral, this thing has to be right. However, the evil minds of authoritarian leaders naturally lead men who hold power to inflict genocide on the populace; evil is the word used here, because the death of one innocent person standing up for their liberty cannot ever be justified, much less millions.

It is estimated that 360,000,000 people are dead from the evil face of authoritarian control; this figure is not widely out of the park; in fact, it is quite realistic. The Maoist murders in China resulted in the deaths of 46 million people, 45 million from famine and 1 million from the Cultural Revolution that followed. Hitler’s Holocaust killed 6 million people; Stalin’s Gulagist policies killed 32 million people. Apart from this, World War II, which is normally attributed to the aggression of the Axis Authoritarian Dictatorships, led to the deaths of 60 million people. The Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of 3 million people. In the last century alone, we are given a figure of 118 million deaths already!

Authoritarianism, on a balance, cannot be ever justified; being justified requires the majority of the state within that description to be moral. But the majority of these states have killed thousands. The death of thousands are immoral.

Contention Three: Freedom and Pursuit of Happiness

Firstly, one comes to a need to justify why freedom is not liberty; the two are highly interrelated, but liberty leads to freedom, whilst freedom is not only liberty. Freedom is a will of the mind; it is the “need to be free from outside interferences” Freedom is a means to work towards utopia, and freedom is necessary for the common human being.

Then one needs to know what freedom is. What is freedom? Looking back into history, there are two fields of political theorists who have theorized in the concept of freedom; one is led by Hegel and followed by Marx and Engels, first theorized by Plato. This freedom is “liberation from ignorance” The other field of freedom was led by Rousseau, and was followed by Mill and Locke. This freedom is “freedom from outside interferences” We adopt the second school of thought, in which we call “Law-Restricted Freedom”

In the school of “Law-Restricted Freedom” the government is an entity/institution to protect humans from the violation of their rights; most notably, the rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and property. An authoritarian government, as stated before, violates two of these four rights; the right to liberty is destroyed by the need to instill fear into the populace, whilst the right to life is destroyed in the need to keep order within the populace.

The pursuit of happiness is the subject of this contention. At this point, I would like to say that the only natural rights that the authoritarian state accepts are the rights to property. But again, if one of these rights is violated, then the state is immediately immoral.

Pursuit of happiness is freedom to pursue whatever occupation one may need; whether as a journalist, a musician, a monk or a politician. The pursuit of happiness is, however, violated in an authoritarian state; as stated before, an authoritarian state is when the state exercises complete and utter control over every sector of life. This means they control the arts too; abstract art was denounced in the Soviet Union for being too capitalistic, even though it was a right of the painters to paint whatever art they needed. Arnold Schoenburg’s music was degenerated, according to Nazi authorities, and his music was banned, even though the genre of each musician is no state issue.

We can see that many authoritarian states have intefered with this right, and the other rights. Is the violation of rights ever justified? On balance, no.

The resolution is,therefore,negated.



PRO and I have agreed to limit this to authoritarianism as it relates to government, even though the actual resolution states it more broadly. As this is a normative resolution, the burden of proof is shared -which is to say that while my opponent has full responsibility to affirm the resolution, I have an equal responsibility to negate it. For PRO to win this debate, he must show that "On balance, authoritarianism is never justified." The logical negation of the resolution is what I have to argue in support of, such that to win this debate I must show that "On balance, authoritarianism is justified in at least some cases."

So, if I can show that in at least some cases authoritarianism is justified, then I have won this debate. I do not have to argue for the justification of an authoritarian state or its being used in most situations; that burden would be abusive and beyond the scope of the resolution's logical negation. It is thusly my contention that in at least some cases, authoritarianism is justified. In order to show that in at least some cases authoritarianism is justified, I want to talk about how and in what circumstances authoritarianism may be justifiably implemented. Principally, there are two that come to mind: in a state of war and in a state of natural disaster.

1. Authoritarianism in the form of martial law is justifiably implemented to facilitate reconstruction in war's aftermath.

War is a state of organized, ongoing military hostility which is carried out by and among states which is characterized by the use of violence in armed conflicts to achieve political objectives. Being in a state of war entails an absence of peace and the absence of security, which is to imply that ordinary civil and political order is no longer in effect.

When a people, state or nation finds itself at war, the ordinary laws and practices of due process which are are designed to promote, protect and uphold the rights and liberties enjoyed in a state of peace give way to, as John Locke wrote, a state of "enmity and destruction." (2) To be in a state of war is to be in a theater of belligerency such that civilian governments and their mechanisms for enforcing law cannot function.

If civilian governments governments and authorities can no longer enforce laws to uphold and protect the rights and liberties civilian law is instituted to protect, then martial law can be justifiably implemented on a temporal basis to facilitate reconstruction efforts in the wake of war's aftermath. Insofar as martial law entails at least the imposition of "curfews, the suspension of civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus, and the application or extension of military law or military justice to civilians" it is decidedly authoritarian in nature. At the end of the WWII in Germany and after the end of the American Civil War, martial law's implementation was absolutely necessary to facilitate reconstruction efforts by preventing decent into total chaos. (3)

2. Authoritarianism in the form of martial law is justifiably implemented if necessary to protect civilians and property from further damage after a natural or manmade disaster of catastrophic proportion.

In the aftermath of natural or manmade disasters of catastrophic proportion, it is possible that civilian governments may lose their capacity to enforce the rule of law which is designed to protect and uphold the rights and liberties enjoyed by citizens in states of peace. And if a civilian government loses its capacity to enforce the rule of law, then civilians and their property become subject to further damage from those who would seek to exploit catastrophe as a source of criminal opportunity. To prevent those who would exploit a natural or manmade disaster from causing further damage to individuals or their property, the implementation of martial law may be necessary.

To the extent and only to the extent that implementing martial law (which, again, is authoritarian in character) is necessary under those conditions, it is justifiable. One example of where martial law's implementation has been necessary to protect people and their properties from abuse in the absence of civilian government's being able to enforce the rule of law is found in the history of the Great Chicago Fire. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago's mayor declared a state of martial law though once the fire was extinguished, there were no longer any widespread disturbances and martial law was lifted within a few days. (4)

As is stipulated in the round's structure, I will reserve rebuttals until the next round. Many thanks to my opponent who initiated this debate, and to all judges who have taken the time to read it.


Debate Round No. 2


LibertarianJames forfeited this round.


It should be noted that as I write this round, my opponent has regretfully closed his account. I am terribly afraid that may be the case because he didn't think that a win was possible. Alas, in the event that he does return, I shall give him every opportunity to recoup lost ground -though I likewise compelled to rebut the arguments he's offered in the first round, and address some other matters.

My opponent has fundamentally misunderstood the impact of the phrase "on balance" for this resolution. While he claims that it requires many cases, or at least more than one case, in order for the negation to sustain its burden, he is mistaken due to the way he elected to word the resolution. For your convenience, I'll paste it below:

"On Balance, authoritarianism cannot ever be justified."

If PRO had said "On balance, authoritarianism is unjustified" or something to that general effect, then his interpretation of the resolution would hold. But, his interpretation of the resolution cannot hold because he didn't. Rather, he worded the resolution in absolute terms. Notice the wording: "cannot ever." That means that PRO must argue that in NO case is authoritarianism EVER justified. (Capitalization added only for emphasis.) Likewise, CON must ONLY argue that in SOME cases (at least one but fewer than all), authoritarianism IS justified in order to win. As such, in conceding that "There are some cases, agreed by even libertarians like J.S Mill, that authoritarianism may be justified" he has, regretfully, lost the debate. Even still, I regret that PRO is no longer with us. This could have been a salutary learning experience, but alas.

While I do not yield to my opponent's definitions, as both are insufficient, I want to observe that authoritarianism to its fullest extent implies the absence of individual freedom and the presence of individual freedom implies the absence of authoritarianism. However, insofar as they are mutually exclusive, both exist on a gradient scale -though I think it is fair to say that where individual freedom is greater than authoritarianism than the government in power could not be said to be authoritarian and alternatively where state power is greater than individual freedom, the government in power could be said to be at least 'more authoritarian than otherwise.' Notice the broadening effect this has on what authoritarianism means, conceptually, and the implied widening it renders to my opponent's burden.

Similarly, I am disinclined to agree that "defensibility" is a sufficient standard for that which is just, but if all that which is defensible is just than by any standard I've already won my debate. However, it is necessary to observe at this point that what which is "defensible" or "right" varies in time and according to context, such that while one course of action or state of affairs may be a justifiable response (where justifiable means "defensible" or "right") in one circumstance and not the other. Said another way, even if in some cases some courses of action or state of affairs is not justifiable some of the time, that does not mean that is always unjustifiable all of the time. So, while it may be that in a state of peace, we should be suspicious of state authoritarianism, after a state of war in the absence of a functioning civil society where the rule of law cannot be enforced by civilian police, certain authoritarian measures of the state may be justified because they protect individual safety and property rights even if freedom is constrained.

Regarding PRO's reference to John Stewart Mill's essential liberties, I am therefore compelled to remind him that it is not necessary for me, as CON, to argue that government which comes at the expense of individual liberty is 'always' justified. Rather, I must only argue, as I have, that the imposition of authoritarian rule is 'sometimes' justified in response to particular situations, such as in the aftermath of war or a disaster where civil society's guarantee of freedom is lost to the extent that civilian police officers cannot enforce and impose the rule of law. As such, where the rule of law is lost, as it could be in the aftermath of war or disaster, freedom that is guaranteed by law is lost because the law is unenforceable. That places humans in a state of nature, in the absence of a common authority to which individuals are subject, and thereby necessitates authoritarianism until civil society can be restored in defense of property rights and to protect the security of persons.

That being the case, though my opponent can compellingly argue that authoritarianism violated Mill's essential liberties (assuming that under normal circumstances people are entitled to them), that argument does not mean that authoritarianism is never justified. Rather, it means that if government is going to curtail individual freedom, it must have a very good reason; to employ PRO's standard, it must be "right" or "defensible." But, as the case in the aftermath of war or calamity, freedom may be "present," in that there is no restriction on human activity by any government in the absence of the rule of law's being enforced, there is likewise no government to prevent others from violating anyone else's freedom; said another way, the strong can do what they can, and the weak will have no choice to accept what they must. To prevent the strong from abusing the weak in this state of nature, government must impose order until the rule of law is restored. Authoritarianism, then, is freedom's midwife in the aftermath of calamity. But, that is not to say that once civil society has rebuilt and restored itself that the curtailment of freedom is in any way justified. This is because for a society to be just, it must protect and uphold individual rights that individuals may pursue happiness.

The resolution is, therefore, negated.

(It is with some amusement that I observe CON ended his only round of argumentation in the same way. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip, but perhaps not.)
Debate Round No. 3


LibertarianJames forfeited this round.


Well, James is no longer with us. That's unfortunate. I wish him the best.
Debate Round No. 4


LibertarianJames forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
24 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Ajabi 2 years ago
Oh YYW with that parapraxis. Sexy.
Posted by LibertarianJames 2 years ago
cmon dud, white choco-chip cookies and sushi. Irresistible offer.
Posted by YYW 2 years ago

That is an issue that you're free to raise in the round, but it's not really appropriate to discuss it here.
Posted by LibertarianJames 2 years ago
plz dud I have truffles, white chocolate chip cookies, and sushi
Posted by LibertarianJames 2 years ago
"On balance" is also significant dud. On balance is inferring that in 51 out of 100 cases, authoritarianism can never be justified.

If I were arguing your case, the reso should have been written "Authoritarianism cannot ever be justified"
Posted by YYW 2 years ago

"cannot ever" is what's significant here, dude. You should have worded the resolution differently than you did.
Posted by LibertarianJames 2 years ago
@YYW, dud its in "most situations" hence the on balance.
Posted by LibertarianJames 2 years ago
Keep in mind of the words "on balance"
Posted by LogicalLunatic 2 years ago
I agree...but CANNOT EVER is quite a claim.
Posted by YYW 2 years ago
It's not horrible, and you're not wasting my time at all. If I thought debating you would be a waste of my time, I wouldn't have accepted the debate lol
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by lannan13 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Forfeiture
Vote Placed by Legitdebater 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct to Con since Pro forfeited, and arguments to Con since Pro unfortunately could not refute Con's point about Martial Law sometimes being necessary after a War.