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The more fear a government inflicts on its citizen, the greater risks of civil disorder it carries.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/29/2011 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,894 times Debate No: 16779
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (13)
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Hello my opponent and all,
This is my first debate on this site. I have been reading and following many other debates, but this is my first one. I fear I do not have much experience in terms of formatting and conventions, therefore, please correct and advise me whenever you can.


My position on this topic:
The more fear a government inflicts on its citizen, the greater risks of violent civil disorder it carries. When the citizens is afraid of their own government, less likely there is political, social, and economic stability.

All arguments will be posted from the second round.



a : an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
b : anxious concerns

Civil Disturbance:
An unlawful assembly that constitutes a breach of the peace or any assembly of persons where there is imminent danger of collective violence, destruction of property or other unlawful acts.

Burden of proof will be shared equally.

Side note: I will have to make it a bit informal since I am very new to these debates. Thanks for your understanding! : )


Since the type of government that uses fear as motivation is an authoritarian government, we should compare extremely authoritarian governments (experimental group) to moderately authoritarian governments (control group). If the more repressive authoritarian governments have greater stability, this proves that fear creates stability, under authoritarianism.

I'll cite one statistical analysis by Oxford economist Paul Collier to show that this is in fact the case - that within the authoritarian sphere, more repressive regimes suffer less internal violence.

I'll also use the examples of Syria (compared to Libya) and North Korea, to show that repressive police states have less civil disorder than non-repressive states.
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate.
Firstly, I would like to attack the claim that only authoritarian states use fear as a tool. Not one government since written history did not use fear as a tool to control its people. There are many ways of using fear. One of the most common ways is through polices, military, prisons, and prosecutions. Riot police is a body created to suppress civil disturbance, and that is a way to inflict fear on those who plan to protest.
In a constitutional country, the government is often afraid of its own people more than reverse. These Member of Parliaments or Senators have to earn the heart of people and respect the constitution, or else face the possibilities of being kicked out the next election or prosecution before court.
In an absolute state, there is no such constitution to adhere to.
When having absolute power, including the power over the tool called fear, it often asserts too much fear on its citizens and this directly increases the chances of civil disorder in the long run. Firstly, human are selfish and preservative. If the government has the absolute power in a state, including the military and the supremacy to define morality and imposing it on its citizens, the selfishness and preservative instinct between the government and the people instantly comes into conflict. As the sovereign is another human being, he is extremely selfish and preservative. Therefore, when he holds complete power, he will try to obtain things for his own good with that power. Eventually, what he asks for or commands may danger his subjects, such as waging nuclear war, heavy labour... As it is left for the civilians to judge if their lives are in danger and to preserve themselves, his state is no more than a bunch of people in their own constant fear of violent death and state of war, and they will be ready to kill or harm others, or even the sovereign, for their own preservation. To repress this and stay in power, the government has to increase their use of fear, such as presence of polices and military. It feeds into a vicious cycle. Violence increases and the people's fear of their own government increases, actively increasing their state of war with their own government, being more ready to kill or harm for their own preservation.
In a constitutional state, excessive use of riot polices during conventions, suppressive and authoritarian laws are also considered a factor of fear and feed directly to the mentioned vicious cycle.
The demand of the people in an authoritarian state for liberalization rises as more fear is inflicted and more suppressive a state becomes. This has been the case throughout history; therefore I feel no need to debate this.
China during the Cultural Revolution experienced civil chaos. The Red Guards, or a youth group created by the government, used fear to achieve its own "revolutionary" beliefs.
"Ideological cleansing began with attacks by young Red Guards on so-called "intellectuals" to remove "bourgeois" influences. Millions were forced into manual labour, and tens of thousands were executed. The result was massive civil unrest, and the army was sent in to control student disorder."
As you brought up the case for Syria protest, to my understanding of the timeline, the first truly serious unrest that marks the escalation of tension took place on March 18th. Helicopter and water cannons were used to "disperse" protesters. The next days the government began opening fire into protesters, more tear gas were used. In the very same timeline we see the progressive escalation of three things. This collective escalation is solid proof of my resolution:
More violence used to disperse protesters
More protesters burst to the street
More public infrastructure was built
More violence...
Civil unrest did not fall as more violence is used in the Syria protest, it escalated.

I look forward to your argument.

BBC News - Cultural Revolution

My source is entirely credible without conflict of interest.


Thanks Coltrain.

I decided to cite an online source, rather than Collier (which is from a book), so my opponent could access it.

C1) U-shaped relationship between regime type and political violence/unrest

According to Thomas David Mason in the book Caught in the Crossfire, "Empirical support for this proposition is found in the frequently cited "inverted-U curve" relationship between repression and civil violence"; at the top left of the U, the more authoritarian a regime is, the less likely it is to experience civil violence because "autocracy represses any possibility of mobilizing for violent conflict"; the bottom of the U is an anocracy, meaning a hybrid regime incorporating elements of both autocracy and democracy (such as a dictatorial president with a real, if somewhat neutered, parliament), and as you move up the right side of the U, democracy increases, and with it, violence decreases as there are more outlets for dealing with frustration without resorting to civil violence. [1]

What this ultimately means is that the more repressive an authoritarian regime is, the less civil violence that it sees because people are too afraid to organize. This is precisely what we see in North Korea, which on the Polity IV index (a typical democracy index used by political scientists) ranks as the most authoritarian regime. According to Bruce Bechtol in the book Defiant Failed State, North Koreans are afraid to even talk to neighbors about politics because they may inform on them to the secret police. Half of North Koreas military expenditures go towards domestic monitoring. Obviously in such an environment, civil unrest is less likely.

Iraq is another perfect example that Paul Collier talks about. Saddam Hussein ran an extremely repressive government; after Saddam's repression was removed (by the United States in 2003), the country devolved into an extremely violent civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites. Collier observes that in ethnically diverse countries, often times a repressive dictator is the only thing holding the country together and preventing ethnic violence, so when repression decreases, violence explodes.

Let's compare Syria (repressive) to Mubarak's Egypt (less repressive). In Egypt, protesters continued to take to the streets, growing in number until they ultimately succeeded in ousting Mubarak. Assad in Syria is in no such danger and no US intervention there would succeed because the state is so repressive that opposition is hopeless (much as it is in Iran and China as well, both also repressive regimes). Times Magazine writes on May 24th, "The capital of Syria has the illusion of calm. But do not trust appearances. In fact, trust is a very precious commodity in Damascus nowadays. The city, according to residents, is swarming with secret police. Nobody dares speak out against the government." [2] The article continues that Assad's killing of 1,000 protesters has quieted protests and dulled the movement, and anti-government activists believe "nothing will change." Compare the recent Jasmine revolution in Tunisian (un-repressive) compared to the success of the Green Revolution in Iran (repressive). The former succeeded and the latter failed. Sure sometimes extremely repressive regimes see small outbreaks of civil unrest, but repression prevents these outbreaks from spreading, makes them smaller than in less repressive regimes, and makes them less likely to begin in the first place.

It is not my burden to show that there is NO civil disorder in more repressive regimes, just that there is less, which is quite easy.

Singapore is one of the most peaceful countries in the world, but has a very strict authoritarian regime (caning people for spitting on the street and the death penalty for drug possession). Civil unrest is less likely in Singapore than the US, where riots after major sporting events routinely destroy property.

It's pretty basic - the more afraid you are of what might happen, the less likely you are to go out there and protest or cause disturbances.


My opponent claims that people will rise up against repressive dictators because the dictator puts them in danger of nuclear war, or takes their money. Firstly, according to Paul Collier, authoritarian regimes have the lowest tax rates of any nations because with increased tax rates come increased demands for accountability. Also, many authoritarian regimes govern in regions where the economy is too informal to tax. In addition, there is no evidence provided that authoritarian regimes are any more likely to engage in nuclear war than democracies. In fact, democracies hold far more nuclear weapons today than do autocracies. And even when a regime endangers its country's survival, like Saddam Hussein's regime, under economic sanctions, which killed over a million people, people are still too afraid to rise up because if the regime is really repressive, the short term likelihood of dying from a bullet from the secret police outweighs the long term likelihood of dying from starvation.

The Cultural Revolution in China

For those that don't know, during the Cultural Revolution, Mao forced farmers to cultivate steel in their backyards instead of farming, resulting in millions of deaths. People were too afraid to disobey Mao's orders, even to feed their own families. Yes, of course there would be some backlash to the enslavement of an entire populace, but the unrest was surprisingly short lived given how horrible Mao's policies were. Maoist China actually proves that repression works in subduing a populace. No attempts to change China's form of government during Mao's time (or after) ever came remotely close to success.


My opponent must show that protests are getting larger and succeeding in Syria as a result of the repression. If the repression destroys the pro-democracy movement, that proves that civil unrest in less likely in repressive governments, when you compare the success of the Arab Spring in Syria to the other countries that have caught the democracy bug.

Again, it's pretty basic. When people think that protesting the government might get them killed, they are less likely to do it than when they think that they are unlikely to get killed. Civil unrest is highest in un-repressive autocracies, anocracies, and democracies with weak governance and very little centralized authority. Meaning the stronger and more centralized the government, the more fear it can impose on its citizens for misbehaving, and thus the less likely civil disorder is, regardless of government type.

Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for continuing this debate. I am happy I meet a very strong opponent on my first debate here (I scanned through your records), but I do have compelling arguments for my resolution. Well, part of.

My opponent has failed to address my proper claim that not only authoritarian governments utilize fear as a tool.

Democratic government has created fear in its people's mind under different forms, such as media-generated fear ("They are going to bomb us any second," "The potentiality of war is increasing every minute", and "The economy recovery is so fragile"), suppressive riot police (toward protesters), and being invasive of the bedrooms of the nation. In fact, my opponent has supported my argument that the more fear a democratic government creates for its citizens, the more likely there are civil disorders! Therefore, my argument stands.

My opponent's main argument in this debate is a rather common-sense-generated one:
"It's pretty basic - the more afraid you are of what might happen, the less likely you are to go out there and protest or cause disturbances."

However, I find his argument rather based on the assumptions that no other factors in the society will change the more fear a government creates. He has assumed that the citizens' anger of the government and of the society does not increase if more fear is created in their mind. Especially in a democracy, this anger will often outweigh fear and results in civil riots.

The democratic part of my resolution stands.

On the other hand, awed by the good amount of empirical research my opponent provided, I realize my cycle of fear only stands theoretically in a police state/authoritarian state. I adopt my opponent's position on that aspect.

Thanks those who advise me in the comments section. Thanks Bluesteel.

By the way, my username is Coltrane, not Coltrain. Coltrane is a very cool guy, and you can check him out here:


Thanks Coltrane.

My opponent concedes that fear leads to less civil disorder when comparing autocracies to each other. Thus, I've proven that the resolution fails to hold true at least 50% of the time. Even if my opponent DID prove that it holds true the other 50% of the time, in democracies, you should still vote Con on presumption. If the resolution were "if you flip a coin and it lands heads 5 times in a row, it will land tails the next time" and I prove that it will in fact land heads again, 50% of time, then you would negate. If the resolution were "US military intervention is bad" and I prove that 50% of US military interventions ended up being good, then you would vote Con because Pro fails to meet the burden of proof. 50% does not a BOP make.

Based purely on argumentation presented in the debate, using case-based proof, I've proven that repression succeeded in Syria (relative to Egypt), in China, in Singapore, and in Iran relative to Tunisia.

Lastly, let's see if more repressive democracies are more at risk of civil disorder. The problem with this argument is that repression co-correlates with weak democratic governance - normally the governments that are both democratic and repressive are illiberal democracies with weak state institutions, which have to resort to repression out of a position of weakness, rather than a position of strength. This means that repression isn't causing the civil disorder, the lack of strong state institutions is (meaning people are NOT afraid of the repression, knowing that it is a bluff).

When you look at strong governance and repression in democracies, like the United States, you see that repression works. Remember how no one in the CIA stepped forward to rebut the Bush administration's claims of WMD in Iraq, even though analysts like Valerie Plame knew the evidence was completely flawed. It's because when Plame's husband finally stepped forward, the Bush administration threw her to the wolves, outing her identity as a covert operative in retaliation, letting Scooter Libby take the fall, and then having Bush commute his sentence. This explains the lack of genuine civil unrest during the decision to go to war with Iraq. Notice the lack of protests in the US (more repressive - PATRIOT ACT) compared to the French, who are more liberal and protest constantly.

According to a study by Aldon Morris of Northwestern University, repression in the South would have prevented the NAACP from succeeding, had it not been for Northern sympathies. She says, "The consequence of these repressive actions was to make it practically impossible for NAACP activists to operate." If the South were its own democracy, repression would clearly have succeeded in preventing the civil rights movement from flourishing and achieving victory.

So in democracies, repression may make civil disorder more likely but only when it DOESN'T actually generate fear.

In fact, look to when large numbers of people start protesting: when they see that the protest movement is on the cusp of success and they sense State weakness. That's why democracy movements come in spurts - because people take heart from another country's success and stop being afraid; they stop believing that the government's threat of force is legitimate. Meaning people don't start civil disorder until they cease to be afraid of the State.

I thank my opponent. Please vote con.
Debate Round No. 3
13 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
I would agree, the resolution is worded in a way that allows contention over semantics about how to refute it and Coltrane did have room to counter your argument and defend the resolution. Now he did attempt that weakly by arguing that you were noting just one extreme example but you dealt with that deftly anyway and expanded and quantified on control/oppression noting it was not a simple linear correlation on civil uprising.
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
i think I know what you're getting at Cliff, but something doesn't hold "generally true" if it's wrong 50% of the time
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
I'll expand more after the next response.
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
*i really don't think I was arguing that "pro = always, and I just have to prove there is only one example where fear leads to less civil unrest"

I was saying that I was not arguing that; i don't know what you're talking about. I'm fine with the resolution as a generality. What part of my argument are you getting this from?
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
"I just have to prove there is only one example where fear leads to less civil unrest"

If you take the resolution to mean always then yes, but not if it is a generality as Pro seems to be arguing.
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
my Round 2 argues that repression always decreases civil unrest.

i really don't think I was arguing that pro = always, and I just have to prove there is only one example where fear leads to less civil unrest
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
Pro seems to be arguing akin to "it is commonly found that", but you are rebutting "it is always the case that".
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
I will be interested to read the development of case by Bluesteel and how he responds to the claim lack of refuting ability of his counter example.
Posted by BlackVoid 7 years ago
Please put spaces between paragraphs in future rounds...
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:25 
Reasons for voting decision: Nice to see Bluesteel putting up more debates, as expected powerful response which provides both a specific and general counterexample to the resolution which are not refuted by Coltrane. Fairly dominating performance by Bluesteel 5:2