Resolved: Government has a Moral Obligation to Assist Nations in Need?
Debate Rounds (3)
I would like to begin this round by thanking my opponent for their willingness to compete in this debate. I would also like to extend thanks towards those individuals who take time to read and vote on it. Now, without any further ado let's jump right it. Resolved: Governments do not have moral obligations to assist nations in need
Government: a political entity acknowledged by the majority of the citizenry as the governing body.
Moral Obligation~ A duty to act based off one's beliefs
Assist~ Active contribution towards the fulfillment of a need
Need~ A situation in which something is required
I present the VALUE or highest goal of this round as National Sovereignty defined as “The power of a state to be free from external control". If a country cannot have sovereignty, it shall not have independence. If a foreign power can tell America "what we shall do, and what we shall not do," George Washington once wrote to Alexander Hamilton, "we have Independence yet to seek, and have contended hitherto for very little”
Argument #1: Government is an Amoral Entity
Government, while being run by people, is not a person itself. Thus, the entity of government is a tool which cannot be held accountable for its actions. To better explain this concept let’s take the example of a car accident involving a drunk driver. Suppose after consuming one too many at his friend's party, Tommy gets into his car to drive home. On the way, he looses control and his Car hits a pedestrian. The individual dies and an investigation ensues. In the end, who will be held accountable for this needless death? Tommy or the Car? Even though the Car was the actual means by which the individual died it was the actions and conscious choices of Tommy that brought about the accident. Therefore Tommy is the guilty one. In a similar way, the entire entity of government cannot be indicted for an action However, the leaders and those in power of a government can. During the Watergate Scandal, did we impeach our government for immoral actions? No, we impeached the perpetrator of those actions, President Nixon. Therefore, while government may have obligations, they are not based on any particular form of moral system.
Argument #2: Preserving National Sovereignty IS Government's Obligation Government exists as a lubricant to operate society in an organized and efficient manner, to protect the citizens from dangers without, through the use of a military, and also to provide protection from dangers within, (police, etc…). By very nature, government is only obligated to exercise power only within its own borders, attempts to do otherwise have historically resulted in war, genocide, revolution, and international turmoil. This does not mean that governments do not engage in diplomacy but rather that the diplomacy is conducted solely for the good of the country, and that an obligation to assist outside of the diplomatic realm does not exist.
Argument #3 Mandating Foreign Aid Violates National Sovereignty “An Atlas, whose back is bowed and whose hands are busy holding up the world, has no arms to lift to deal with his own defense. Increase his burdens and you will crush him…This is our present posture” ~ U.S. political theorist, Murray Rothbard
Government’s sole focus ought to be within its own borders and we cannot violate this “National Sovereignty” by obligating a government to assist every time a separate nation has a need. By forcing a government to provide aid to EVERY SINGLE needy nation this resolution infringes upon state’s ability to decide where their foreign aid would go and how it could best benefit their allies or national interests. Not only does this defy the bounds of the national sovereignty of nations assisting but also damages the sovereignty of the nation being assisted as, under this resolution, aid could be forcibly given even where it is not desired. At best, the affirmation of this resolution will compromise the stability, economic security, and welfare of the citizens under the assisting government. At worst it has the potential consequence of social disruption and violent unrest in the nation receiving the aid. An example of this actually taking place would be the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. After World War 1, the League of Nations placed Rwanda under the control of the European country of Belgium. They felt that this would be the best policy to help the Rwandans overcome their perpetual civil violence stemming from tribe rivalry between the dominate Hutu and the historical underdog the Tutsi’s. According to BBC NEWS~ "The Belgians considered the Tutsi to be intellectually superior to the Hutu's and put them in leadership positions over the Hutu's. Not surprisingly, the Tutsi welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbors. The Hutu's of course responded in violence and discontentment. This disruption of the original social structure is a plausible reason for why these feelings of resentment eventually boiled over." In 1994, the Rwandan Genocide caused the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people. The violation of national sovereignty is truly devastating!
In Conclusion then, we have seen that not only is government an amoral entity, but also that its sovereignty cannot be threatened by mandating foreign aid as an obligation. Thank you and I eagerly await your comments!
I thank my opponent for giving me the opportunity to debate this interesting subject.
Government as a moral entity
"A nation, as a society, forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society."
--Thomas Jefferson to G. Hammond, 1792.
It is a mistake to think that just because government is not a person that government does not have moral obligations. Government is both an entity and a collective. A collective has collective moral responsibility. Even so, it is judicious to consider even the entity as having moral obligations. An amoral government has amoral policies.
In the words of the American Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. The government is "just", morally aware, having ethical obligations.
In the US constitution preamble is the phrase "establish Justice". Justice is impossible without morality. One also finds the phrase, "promote the general welfare" - what forms promotion of the general welfare shall take is decided with moral guidance. For example, a government could promote the general welfare by facilitating the spraying of Soma, the pacifying drug from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, whenever there was a public fracas. Certainly it would make the citizens happy. An amoral government might take just this course of action. Only a moral government could consider the ethical reasons why it might not be done.
Human rights legislation and capital punishment laws are other important areas of government action that cannot be separated from moral concerns.
Supporting states is protecting one's own state
My opponent says
"By very nature, government is only obligated to exercise power only within its own borders"
yet she also says a function of government is
"to protect the citizens from dangers without."
Of course it is so. Hence we have embassies in foreign fields. Every government must have operatives abroad.It is a moral obligation to protect one's own citizens from dangers without. It is this moral obligation which motivates the state to monitor and attempt to influence other states. It is the same moral obligation that motivates the state to try to keep the international community stable, and as part of this obligation, supply foreign aid where necessary.
Good standing in the international community
It is prudent to give aid in times of relative prosperity. For good standing in the international community will go some way to determining the assistance, whatever form that takes, that the state receives as it needs it. To be prudent is to pursue the state's moral obligations to its citizens.
Preserving national sovereignty is a government obligation
From the two arguments above, it is evident I agree with my opponent that preserving national sovereignty is goverment's obligation, or at least an obligation. Plainly, however, preserving sovereignty does not take the limited form my opponent proposes.
Being a charitable nation is good for the welfare of citizens
Seeing one's own country as a charitable nation, a helpful player on the world stage, encourages feelings of national pride. This aids in a sense of purpose and belonging. In this way the state pursues its moral obligations to the welfare of its citizens.
My opponent expresses concerns that
"aid could be forcibly given even where it is not desired."
"At worst it has the potential consequence of social disruption and violent unrest in the nation receiving the aid."
If giving aid were to bring about a worse situation than not giving aid, then the nation could not be said to be in immediate NEED of the aid.
Besides, giving aid does not preclude making insightful decisions about how that aid is to be distributed, or helping make other changes that also need to take place in that country.
The Belgian colonists arrived in 1916.
"The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours. "
That would take us up to 1936. The Rwandan genocide happened in 1994. The Belgians left and Rwanda gained independence in 1962. The Hutus took over as the ruling group.
Suffice to say I see no evidence that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 had anything to do with Belgian aid 1916-36.
First of all let me begin my addressing by opponent's opening quote by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a staunch non-interventionist and believed that although we should promote healthy relationships with all nations.. we should have entangling alliances with none. Therefore any evidence relating to works of this Founding Father belong to the negative.
Moving on to my opponents first point relating to the fact that if government is amoral then it also must have amoral policies. This statement is absolutely correct. Allow me to explain. The definition of morality as accepted by my opponent is " a duty to act based on one's beliefs" to allow government to have "personal beliefs" is to threaten the justice of which my opponent so highly speaks. Consider the Spanish Inquisition. During this time period the government took on the morality of the Catholic church, and as such felt that it was the GOVERNMENT's OBLIGATION to promote this religious morality. The end result was unlimited government which was permitted to torture, burn, drown, and destroy those who opposed this morality. We cannot put a moral face on government without jeopardizing human rights and justice.
Speaking of justice... my opponent upholds that Justice and morality are basically one and the same. However I disagree. Once established, government becomes a monopoly regarding coercive force. There’s nothing optional about government. Government is the arbiter of justice, and justice is based on laws, police, prosecutors, courts, jail and other penalties. Justice might possibly claim to be ‘informed’ by morality, but for the reasons already stated, justice is not morality. Only institutions composed of one or more people who have made the free will decisions to associate can arbitrate morality, because according to the accepted definition of morality only individuals can make personal decisions relating to their duty. This is why government is an institution of laws not of morals.
Under this point, my opponent affirmed that "Human rights legislation and capital punishment laws are other important areas of government action that cannot be separated from moral concerns." However as was seen earlier in my example of the Spanish Inquisition, if we base our human rights legislation off what particular individuals believe to be moral it may actually violate human rights. For example, the Islamic form of government is based of the Koran, which is the Islamic code of morality, however as can be seen in recent events, this religion violates human rights.
The majority of my opponent's response deals with the issue that aid to foreign nations, actually does protect national sovereignty. This is precisely the point that I explained in my 2nd Contention. Government has an obligation to protect from dangers without. If that means supplying assistance to our allies then it definitely falls under the protection of national sovereignty and of the citizens. However, when government is obligated to provide aid to EVERY country which is in need it forces government to look outside the needs of its own people and obligates it to provide aid to every nation, even those who may be our enemy and will use this aid for our destruction.
If individuals seek to provide aid to those suffering in other countries.. indeed let them do so. Charity belongs to the individual not to the institution of government.
Finally, I will respond to my opponents rebuttal of my Rwanda Example. The impacts of a serious string of actions violating national sovereignty has lasting impacts. Violence had been taking place before the actual genocide, however the outburst of feelings and resentment finally boiled over in 1994. So although the storm was several decades in coming, the actions of Belgium in the disruption of Rwanda's social structure was a key contributing factor to the Genocide. Therefore, my example still stands.
I will conclude with a quote by President George Washington from his Farewell Address
"Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification"
Government as a moral entity
My opponent has not countered the point that "a collective has collective moral responsibility." She concedes that a government without morality has amoral policies. In order to establish that a government must be moral, I need only demonstrate that policy making requires morality.
My opponent did not counter my example of spraying Soma to pacify the populace, which can only be objected to on moral grounds.
My opponent holds that Jefferson was a non interventionist therefore any evidence relating to works of his belongs in the negative. This is of course nonsense. My purpose in quoting Jefferson was in support of the proposition that governmment is a moral entity. That and only that.
"Only institutions composed of one or more people who have made the free will decisions to associate can arbitrate morality"
Fortunate then that government is composed of one or more people who have made the free will decision to associate.
The Spanish Inquisition
With her example of the Spanish Inquisition (and also that of Islamic states), my opponent has presented an excellent argument as to why religious organizations should not be allowed to dictate in matters of morality or government. Indeed it was an "unlimited" government. All the better we are for the checks and balances of democracy.
That there are or have been governments we might consider immoral is not an argument that governments should be amoral!
'" to allow government to have "personal beliefs" is to threaten the justice of which my opponent so highly speaks.'
There is nothing in the accepted definition that beliefs should be personal. Moral beliefs held by government should reflect the diverse beliefs of the people. That is why on moral issues a democratic government seeks the advice of diverse "moral experts" as well as a cross section of the ordinary populace. Often the law is then one of compromise, but it is no worse for that.
Policy making requires morality
To repeat what I said in round 1, justice is impossible without morality.
Wikipedia: "Justice is a concept of moral rightness"
In the words of John Rawls, who wrote the classic A Theory of Justice, justice is “the first virtue of social institutions” (1971, p. 3).
"my opponent upholds that Justice and morality are basically one and the same."
Patent nonsense. I never said any such thing.
"Justice might possibly claim to be ‘informed’ by morality, but for the reasons already stated, justice is not morality."
Indeed, justice is informed by morality. To negate the resolution, my opponent needs to show how policies concerning justice, human rights, civil rights, capital punishment etc can possibly be put together without consideration of morality.
Why a moral entity should help others
I shall make the consequentialist argument that there is no fundamental reason to distinguish between action and inaction. Whether one is causing suffering or failing to prevent it, the outcome is the same: suffering occurs, and that suffering could have been prevented. An entity is morally obligated to prevent suffering to precisely the same degree that he,she,or it is obligated not to cause suffering. Therefore, that the government is a moral entity is sufficient to establish the moral obligation to help alleviate the suffering in other states.
I have gone further and given additional reasons why it is moral to assist nations in need, including reasons on my opponent's own terms (e.g protecting national sovereignty). However, even if you did not accept a single one of those arguments, I put forward that simple moral reasoning is sufficient to establish the obligation.
"Government has an obligation to protect from dangers without. If that means supplying assistance to our allies then it definitely falls under the protection of national sovereignty and of the citizens."
I note my opponent concedes this point.
"However, when government is obligated to provide aid to EVERY country which is in need it forces government to look outside the needs of its own people and obligates it to provide aid to every nation, even those who may be our enemy and will use this aid for our destruction."
If I were advocating funding a war effort, this point may have some force. It is not a moral act to let people starve because we do not agree with the regime they are under. Aid can be structured in such a way as not to directly aid government, especially when we are talking about food or, say, emergency flood relief.
"Charity belongs to the individual not to the institution of government."
This is a bald assertion, and the very assertion I have countered with argument.
Our world is very different from the world of George Washington. In a global economy, there is no such thing as "no real common interest."
"betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter"
Obviously we are talking about aid and not participation in wars. I leave it to my opponent to establish that giving aid leads to participation in wars.
"So although the storm was several decades in coming, the actions of Belgium in the disruption of Rwanda's social structure was a key contributing factor to the Genocide."
Bald assertion. There is no evidence that actions between 1916-1936 were a key contributing factor in the genocide of 1994. The favouritism shown by the Belgians to the Tutsis up to 1936 was negated by independence of 1962 and the Hutsus taking power. A completely different social structure was in place for at least 32 years before the genocide.
Furthermore, this is not even an example of government aid to foreign states! You are talking about favouritism by individuals in the ruling government.
Since I have countered every substantial point made by my opponent, and she has not refuted mine, I submit that the resolution is affirmed. Vote Pro.
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Belknap, 1971.
In this final negative rebuttal, I will be boiling the debate down into 4 major arguments which which have been very prevelant:
1.) Government is Amoral
~This is the point around which the debate has centered. Again, I would like to remind the judges that my opponent has CONCEDED to my definition of morality ( a duty to act based off ones beliefs) by not contesting it in their first response. I argue that an institution which ought to be dedicated to the internal and external protection of its own citizens cannot base justice off of its personal duty to act based off of a particular belief system. Government cannot have personal beliefs it is an entity which is designed to be a framework for justice... nothing more and nothing less.
~ The Spanish Inquisition was indeed unlimited government. Indeed, government's belief that it must adhere to "morality" is what loosed its bounds. King Philip II of France and his wife Queen Mary believed that it was their moral obligation to convert their citizens through whatever means possible. Agreed, this may be an excellent argument for the separation of church and state, but it is also a sobering example for what takes place when individual morality seizes governmental power.
~ In response to my oponents definition of justice, I would ask that in future debates my opponent abstain from using Wikipedia as a source, as it is credibility is highly questionable. For clarification on the actual meaning of justice I would like to refer to Aristotle who defined it as "Rendering to each that which is his due"
~In response to the Brave New World example, this was a violation of JUSTICE (Giving to each that which is his due). If an individual had perpretrated the spraying it could be considered an act of gross immorality and disrespect for humanity. However, government's crime is perhaps even more serious as it violated the human rights (that which they were due) of these individuals.
2.) Justice and Morality are not Synonymous
~ Another hotly disputed argument has been the issue of morality and justice. My opponent stated that I accused him of making morality and justice very similar concepts. Allow me to answer this accusation by quoting my opponent's first round of arguments: "Justice is impossible without morality" This means, in my book at least, that morality cannot exist without justice Thus my opponents' statement makes justice merely an aspect of morality.
~Justice is based off of laws and the enforcement of them. Morality is founded in one's own beliefs about right and wrong. Justice is a concrete standard for governmental policies and... morality is not. Government can only properly function in the realm of concrete standards. This is why we are a nation of laws and not of men. It is wholly inconceivable, to the logical mind, for a framework that is designed to follow strict laws be able to determine the morality of those laws.
4.) National Soveriegnty is Vital
~The cause of the Rwandan Genocide. Perhaps my opponent does not completely understand the progression of this genocide, so allow to explain. First came racial classification. Instead of promoting equality the Belgians separated the tribes into two groups through the identification of physical characteristics. Next was racial segregation. The Begians elevated those who had originally viewed as the underdog, the Tutsi into positions of power while downtroding the Hutus. Then, the Belgians began to mess with the economy... which failed. Famine and sickness. In rebellion, the Hutus formed terrorist groups to attack both Belgians as well as their "pet" nationality the Tutsi. These hateful feelings continued to show themselves in the many riots that took place before the actual genocide. However, it wasn't until 1994 that they eventually boiled over. Things don't always happen right away. Even Hitler had been preparing Germany for years before the actual holocaust.
~ When National Soveriegnty is violated it allows foriegn governments to exercise power in areas which do not require their authority. This action results in a lack of governmental accountability as well increasing the possibility that such a terrible and horrific example as the Rwandan Genocide will take place.
3.) Attempting to put a "Moral Face" on government causes it to overstep its bounds of proper authority
Finally, allow be to respond to my opponent's views on government. Now, I believe that he basically categorized all my arguments as speaking of wars between countries. I must say that he misuderstood my meaning.. and allowed me to much better understand his own views of government. He stated that "An entity is morally obligated to prevent suffering to precisely the same degree that he,she,or it is obligated not to cause suffering. Therefore, that the government is a moral entity is sufficient to establish the moral obligation to help alleviate the suffering in other states." He views government as an entity which should fly to the assistance whenever it feels that its assistance with help a suffering nation. This view would be absolutely correct if we were dealing with the individual; but we aren't. We are dealing with the entity of government whose sole obligation is the protection of its citizens. Everything in life has a specific purpose. Government's purpose is to rule and to protect. The individual's purpose is to provide aid when they are morally obligated to do so. When this structure is violated it places government in a position which jeapordize its actual obligation.
Now that I have responded to my opponents key arguements I present 3 voting issues.
1. Moral Obligation~ A duty to act based off one's beliefs
My opponent conceded to this definition and therefore it stands that only the individual can have a moral obligation.
2. National Soveriegnty must not be violated
When we force government to give aid, we are violating its national soveriegnty, causing it to disregard its primary obligation, and jeapordizing its citizens
When we force government to receive aid, we harm international relationships, allow government to commit actions which it cannot be held accountable for, and also jeapordize the lives of the citizens by causing social and eonomic disruption.
3. Charity is the business of individuals and not of institutions.
As I have throughoughly responded to all of my opponent's key arguments and shown the consequences of them, I would respectfully submit to you that this Resolution has been negated. It is for this reason that I strongly urge a negative ballot.
In conclusion, thanks to my opponent for his excellent arguments and for allowing me the pleasure of encountering an experianced and well grounded debater. Also, I would like to again thank the Judges for the time that they have dedicated to the reading of these rounds.
Have a Great Evening!
My opponent wishes the Spanish Inquisition to be a warning against government operating as a moral entity. However, modern government operates as a moral entity. The US governement is nothing like the Spanish Inquisition, so it cannot be the fact that a government is moral which leads to such terrors. America was founded upon moral principles, as I have already established.
John Adams said
"Virtue must underlay all institutional arrangements if they are to be healthy and strong."
George Washington himself said (in his farewell address) that
"It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."
Here are a couple modern government agencies that deal with moral issues:
The UK government's Research Ethics Committee - http://www.hse.gov.uk...
US Office of Government Ethics - http://www.oge.gov...
My opponent questions the credibility of Wikipedia. Astute voters will know that Wikipedia is a highly accurate and credible source, more so than any other encyclopedia.
Nonetheless, we can look at a dictionary definition of justice:
1.the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness: to uphold the justice of a cause. 2.rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason: to complain with justice.
3.the moral principle determining just conduct.
4.conformity to this principle, as manifested in conduct; just conduct, dealing, or treatment.
5.the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
Not one of those five definitions is free of moral language.
Of most consequence is the fact that I invited my opponent to demonstrate how policies concerning justice, human rights, civil rights, capital punishment etc could possibly be put together without consideration of morality. She declined.
"In response to the Brave New World example, this was a violation of JUSTICE (Giving to each that which is his due). If an individual had perpretrated the spraying it could be considered an act of gross immorality and disrespect for humanity. However, government's crime is perhaps even more serious as it violated the human rights (that which they were due) of these individuals."
My opponent would have it that the fact the act was perpetrated by a collective means it could not be considered an act of gross immorality.
The act is not actually prohibited by any article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example. After all, a government has a right to keep civil order, and the use of such pacifying agents as tear gas is not outlawed. It is only moral consideration that makes the use of Soma especially distasteful to us. Anyway, since it has not been shown how justice and human rights are free of moral considerations, my opponent doesn't have much of a point here.
Aristotle's definition of justice doesn't help my opponent, appearing as it does in his Ethics. Indeed, in the larger sense, Aristotle sees justice as a synonym for virtue. Aristotle himself says
"Justice is the moral state in virtue of which the just man is said to have the aptitude for practising the Just in the way of moral choice".
(Aristotle, Ethics, Page 88)
"my opponents' statement [that justice is impossible without morality] makes justice merely an aspect of morality."
Spaghetti Bolognese is impossible without tomatoes. This does not make Spaghetti Bolognese merely an aspect of tomatoes, nor does it limit tomatoes to being merely an ingredient in Spaghetti Bolognese. Dancing is impossible without a body. This does not make dancing merely an aspect of the body, nor does it limit the body to the activity of dancing.
"Government cannot have personal beliefs it is an entity which is designed to be a framework for justice"
"It is wholly inconceivable, to the logical mind, for a framework that is designed to follow strict laws be able to determine the morality of those laws."
Governmment is not a mere framework. Neither is it designed only to follow the law. Government is an active participant in establishing justice.
"We are dealing with the entity of government whose sole obligation is the protection of its citizens."
Assertion without warrant.
"1. Moral Obligation~ A duty to act based off one's beliefs
My opponent conceded to this definition and therefore it stands that only the individual can have a moral obligation."
A collective can and does act based off its beliefs, as can and does an entity such as government. A government is made up of individuals representing a political party, so it should be no surprise that there are common beliefs.
"Instead of promoting equality the Belgians separated the tribes into two groups through the identification of physical characteristics."
The tribes were already separated into two groups! Besides, I have pointed out that the Rwanda example is not even relevant.
"When we force government to receive aid, we harm international relationships, allow government to commit actions which it cannot be held accountable for, and also jeapordize the lives of the citizens by causing social and eonomic disruption."
None of this has been substantiated.
I have established that a collective and/or entity can have beliefs.
I have established that government can be and is a moral entity.
I have established, via a consequentialist argument, that government has a moral obligation to assist nations in need. I have presented further arguments that to assist nations in need is in the interest of national sovereignty.
Therefore I urge you to vote PRO.
Thank you to my opponent for the worthy challenge and an educational debate.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by GorefordMaximillion 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I can't decide I really can't. I've read it twice.
Vote Placed by imabench 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: see comments section
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