The Instigator
Con (against)
7 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/18/2009 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,482 times Debate No: 7454
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




-This is my first debate on this website.

-I am trying out my Negative case for the March/April Lincoln-Douglas topic before I head to districts.

-Considering that I am testing out an LD case for an LD topic, I would appreciate it if my opponent knew and debated LD format.

Best wishes for a rousing debate and good luck to my future opponent. Adhering to LD format I will allow the Affirmative to have the first word in this debate.


I affirm: Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

I offer the following resolutions from Black's Law Dictionary and Merriam Webster:
Vigilantism: The act of a citizen who takes the law into his or her own hands by apprehending and punishing suspected criminals.
Justified: proven or shown to be just, right, or reasonable
Enforce: To give force or effect to; to compel obedience to

I offer the following resolution analysis.
First Observation: The resolution asks a question concerning vigilantism as a general principle. This is because the resolution chooses to include the word "vigilantism" with the suffix "-ism" in order to demonstrate a principle. Thus, arguments in this debate must concern the general and basic principle of vigilantism first and foremost.
Second Observation: The resolution refers to the terms specific in context:
The Resolution states that "the government has failed to enforce the law." Note that this is not a specific law but rather a universal concept binding all laws together. This is because of the usage of the article "the" in front of "law". The Negation therefore must recognize the government has failed to uphold the universal concept of law, instead of a single, unique law.
Third Observation: Justification in the debate refers to being proven or shown to be just, right, or reasonable. Because law is not enforced, then any argument relating to the legitimacy of government cannot be considered valid in the context of this debate. In the resolution, the government has had its justification revoked by the addition of the "failed to enforce the law" condition. Thus, we cannot look to arguments concerning the legitimacy of government. Therefore, we must realistically look to other sources of justification.

I offer a value of justice for this debate. I define justice as Aristotle did, "giving each his due". This is the most legitimate value for this debate because of the resolution giving the condition of lack of law enforcement and also the main focus point of vigilantism, which is a principle regarding the citizens' enforcement of law. Law at its most basic and universal concept has always been the maximization of justice. In order to achieve justice, societies have relied on law and the enforcement of law. Vigilantism also seeks to achieve justice through the private implementation of law. Justice as a value also provides the means to "justification", which is explicitly stated in the resolution. The definition of justified is "proven to be just, right, and reasonable". Justice, which is giving each his due, fulfills each and every one of these qualifications of justification.

As a means of achieving my value, I offer a value criterion of protecting autonomy. Autonomy, by the definition of philosopher Immanuel Kant, is the right to self-government. It refers to the capacity of the rational individual to make an informed, rational decision. Preserving individual autonomy--including the ability to exercise discretion in going after villains--is a necessary route to justice when the government has failed to enforce the law. Autonomy precedes any sort of societal or law-and-order consideration, because it is the foundation of human rights and societal order. Thus the justice and law system has always worked to preserve autonomy. However, in the condition of the absence of law enforcement as presented in the resolution, the burden of the protection of autonomy falls to the individual people themselves. Thus, because of the prior resolution analysis, and because of realistic implications in the realm of the debate, autonomy proves to be the legitimate means of achieving justice.

I offer two contentions.
Contention one: Vigilantism protects autonomy.
Vigilantism is the act of a citizen who takes the law into his or her own hands by apprehending and punishing suspected criminals. From the definition of vigilantism as defined by the definitive law dictionary, Black's Law Dictionary, we see that vigilantism places the role of the enforcement of justice into the individual's hands. The individual then is granted the autonomy of the enforcement of justice as a vigilante. Under normal conditions in society, there exists the government, which according to Max Weber, one of the most influential political economists, owns the monopoly of legitimate force in the enforcement of justice. However, in the condition described by the resolution, that monopoly is broken up and the legitimacy of force is given to the people. Since one of the roles of the government was to protect autonomy, autonomy still has to be protected in order to enforce justice. Thus, vigilantism in the condition of the resolution is the force that drives the protection of autonomy because it is the people themselves that own the autonomy and thus have to protect it. Therefore, the act of a citizen apprehending and punishing suspected criminals, or "vigilantism" is done in the manner to protect autonomy and thus achieve justice.

Contention two: Vigilantism legitimizes and restores the government, thus protecting autonomy.
Suzette Heald, writing in an article titled "State, Law, and Vigilantism in Northern Tanzania," found in the April 2006 edition of African Affairs, describes the history and impact of the sungusungu. She explains:" From the early 1980s onwards in central Tanzania, Sukuma and Nyamwesi villagers began to organize their own form of collective policing which became known throughout Tanzania as sungusungu. Over time, these groups, which initially by-passed the official agents of state, far from being rejected, have become an integral part of the administrative structures of vast areas of rural Tanzania." In regards to the effect on the government of Tanzania, she adds, "The sungusungu have come to operate in a distinctive space; co-opting government and, in turn, co-opted by it. A new vision of community responsibility is heralded and held out as an ideal. In the same way, perhaps, they have reformed and reclaimed the state, with the administration demonstrating an increasing responsiveness to the priorities of local communities and allowing them a greater degree of autonomy in the management of their own affairs." The solution to the lawless condition described the resolution is the protection of autonomy. Because vigilante communities such as the sungusungu demonstrate a greater exercise in the protection of autonomy, they also provide legitimacy in law enforcement. This is because legitimacy and autonomy are inherently linked. This legitimacy helps to restore order to the state, and ultimately bring across justice in the form of protecting autonomy.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting the challenge and look forward to a good debate.

I will concede to my opponent's definitions, as well as my opponent's first and third observations, but I must point out a fault in my opponents logic in his second observation. My opponent seems to believe that the government in the resolution has failed to enforce all laws, stating that "failed to uphold the universal concept of law, instead of a single, unique law." However, he misses the implications of the resolution by a long shot. Princeton Dictionary defines the law as "the collection of rules imposed by authority". Accordingly, whenever ANY law has failed to be enforced, the collection of rules (as an inclusive entity) has failed to be enforced, and therefore, the Affirmative must affirm that vigilantism is justified whenever any law is broken, because the abuse of that single rule is enough to detract from the collective entity of the law. That being said, my opponent's idea of total lawlessness is a valid situation for this debate; however, it being a single example, it will not pass as an exclusive standard by which this debate shall be judged.

On to my case.

Tell me this: Would you let an auto mechanic cut your hair? Would you let a custodian repair your transmission? Would you let a barber perform heart surgery on your sister? Common sense tells us: of course not. Why? Because, quite frankly, something is probably going to go wrong along the way. Just because you may need an operation, or a car repair, or even a haircut, doesn't mean that you should rush to the first unqualified person available to fix your problem, lest the be unnecessary harms made in the process.

Likewise, if there is a problem with society, we must be sure that when we aim to fix the problem, we fix it in the way that will best benefit society, for the sake of the common good. Common sense tells us that some jobs take a bit more than a summary of the problem and a will to fix it. Common sense tells us that good intentions are ruined if their consequences are ultimately negative. And common sense urges us that if there's a job that needs doing, it needs to be done well and it needs to be done right, and in support of common sense and the common good, I stand in firm negation of the resolution that vigilantism in justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

The value that I shall uphold in this debate shall be justice. My opponent defines justice as "giving each his due". Although this does reflect the most basic principle of justice, it barely scratches the surface in accordance to the massive variables in the formula that is vigilantism. I will try to better explain how justice shall be obtained, then, by the Negative, which leads me to my value criterion.

The criterion by which justice shall be measured in this debate shall stand as the maintenance of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty is defined as "a doctrine in political theory that government is created by and subject to the true will of the people", and is basically the idea that because the government gains power through the consent of the people, it is the duty of the government to reflect . Note that the true will of the people is not always identical to the desires of the public, because the true will is a result of both the freedoms of the individual and the restrictions necessary for the maintenance of a just society. By this we must see that the acts of vigilantes often fail to reflect the true will of the people for a number of reasons, which leads me to my first contention.

C1: Vigilantism is unjust because the actions of vigilantes often fail to coincide with the true will of the people.

Vigilantes strive for swift and sure punishment: the problem, however, is that vigilante "justice" if often TOO swift and TOO sure. Vigilante "justice" offers no room for due process, and the decisions of guilt and magnitude of retribution are issued solely by the vigilante(s). This means that vigilante justice often fails to take into account the respect for human dignity and true justice demanded by popular sovereignty, and is therefore unjust, partly by fault of the ineptitude and inexperience of the vigilantes in interpreting the true will of the people.

C2: Vigilantism cannot be justly used to enforce laws that in themselves are unjust.

Often in society, a law arises that is unjust in itself. One example of this is a law that was in place during pre-Civil War times in America requiring that escaped slaves be returned to their owners upon discovery. It's obvious to see that this past law was additionally unjust, and for that reason that law enforcement officers of that era often intentionally failed to enforce this law. However, although the law enforcement officers refused to commit injustices themselves, there is no rationalization for the citizens to commit these atrocities themselves. Vigilantism simply cannot be justified under any circumstances when enforcing the law directly equates to injustice, because those injustices go directly against the need for progression and the respect for human dignity that popular sovereignty achieves.

C3: Vigilantism is often unjust because vigilantes lack the necessary means to reform their victims or to repair their victim's actions.

Unlike government systems, vigilante justice most often resorts to violent, physical measures as retribution for their victim's crimes. There is no reform of the victim attempted, no lesson has been taught, and if the punishments issued by the vigilante(s) do not kill the criminal, the victim is free to wreak havoc upon society. Vigilantes also cannot make reparative action for the criminal's actions, either directly through a mandate of community service nor indirectly through fining the criminal. Consequently, vigilantism ultimately opposes the maintenance of popular sovereignty because it opposes the progression that is an basic part of the true will of the people: it impedes the moral progression of the criminal by a lack of reform and additionally makes no effort to further society by repairing the negative impacts of criminal activity.

C4: Governmental reform is the correct response to a lack of action against criminal activity.

So far, we have established that vigilante "justice" fails to meet the standards of popular sovereignty, both because of the ineptitude of vigilantes' view of the true will of the people and because of the physical inability to ensure retribution that will further both the victim and society. The obvious solution is to reform the existing government. The whole job of politicians is to maintain the true will of the people. Therefore, reform of the existing government ensures that the deciding body has both the expertise and the physical ability to issue truly just punishments.

On to my opponent's case.

Considering the value of my opponent and that of my own are identical, I hold no contest to the issue of value.

However, I must oppose my opponents affirmation that justice must be obtained by preserving autonomy, mainly because there is no line that judges harmful and helpful actions in my opponent's value criteria. I may very well choose to "self-govern" myself by shooting a man who attempts to steal a loaf of bread from a local supermarket, which obviously negatively impacts society. The idea of self-government does not distinguish between actions that are good or bad, and therefore my opponent's VC must be scrapped as a means by which to judge this round.

My opponent's C1 states that vigilantism preserves autonomy. However, as I have just proved, preserving autonomy does not ensure a beneficial result, and my opponents C1 is refuted by the refutation of his VC.

My opponent's C2 states that vigilantism restores the government. However, since autonomy is defined as the right to self-government, his C2 is directly contradictory to his VC, and must be scr


Assume the value criterion of preserving autonomy to be greater than the value of popular sovereignty.
1) He provides no link how popular sovereignty to lead to justice. Merely reflecting the true will of the people does not lead to justice. Rather, preserving autonomy leads to justice by allowing people the freedom to govern themselves and not an ambiguous "true will".
2) He states it is the duty of the government to reflect. Right now, the government is not a legitimate body to protect neither popular sovereignty nor autonomy.

Reject his contention one for two reasons.
1) Vigilantism is a self regulating process. Vigilantes and vigilante committees are each striving for the greatest goal: safety. This means that the vigilantes that can provide for the greatest safety are advantaged in this process.
2) In the conditions prescribed by the resolution, due process takes less priority to safety. The immediate concern is the protection of autonomy.

Turn his contention 2 to my case for the following reasons
1) Autonomy allows individuals' interpretation of the law rather than an illegitimate government's. If we assume individuals to be for the most part just, then we further take away the legitimacy of government and allow for greater preservation of autonomy.

Cross apply my counter against his contention 1 to his contention 3. Also note that criminals must face retribution nevertheless.

Turn his contention 4. Look to my contention 2 to see how to reform the government through vigilantism.

Reject my opponent's attack on my criterion. He does not address my warrants and he also fails to realize that my shooting of a man takes away his self government. Vigilantes act to protect people's autonomy.

Cross apply to extend my contention 1.

Self-government and government are not inherently contradictory. Government is needed to protect self-government. It is the basis of free society.
Debate Round No. 2


In regards to my opponent's affirmation that I showed no link between popular sovereignty and justice, I quote my first constructive:

(Popular Sovereignty) is "basically the idea that because the government gains power through the consent of the people, it is the duty of the government to reflect it." That being said, its obvious that if the ultimate goal of the preservation of autonomy is the reflection of the will of the people being preserved through the vigilante going after criminals, then there's no reason no vote affirmative, as the negative accomplishes this objective with greater expertise and ability to enact this will. See my contentions 1 through 3 and apply to this above argument as proof.

In regard to the claim of the legitimacy of the government as an attack against popular sovereignty, i simply stated that it is the duty of the government to reflect the true will of the people. I never stated that this was the case with the government in the resolution. The government in the resolution has obviously failed to maintain popular sovereignty, and my case affirms a course of action to restore popular sovereignty, and consequently, justice.

In regards to his attack on my contention one:

Regardless of whether due process or safety take priority in this debate, the Negative preserves both in his stance. Therefore you must vote negative as he affirms the preservation of both safety AND due process.

In regards to his attack on my contention two:

A government that has unjust laws in the first place obviously needs reform; however, by not enforcing these unjust laws, they are in fact preserving justice. An unjust law, such as the law provided as an example for my C2, is still a law, and thus the affirmative must encourage vigilantism of unjust laws, which he has failed to address.

In regards to his attack on my contention 3:

I agree that criminals should still face punishment, but we must remember that it must be just punishment. That being said, vigilantes lack the resources and authority to do anything other than physical punishment, and thus justice is best preserved by the negative, because I affirm justice for all crimes, including those that still deserve punishment that doesn't include physical harm to the criminal.

In regards to his attack on my contention four:

In regards to my opponent's defense of his VC:

The claim that shooting a man takes away the murder's self-government is a bold claim that is backed by no warrant whatsoever. I am forced to ignore this argument unless it is expanded upon by my opponent.

Additionally, my opponent still fails to provide a line within his VC that divides harmful actions from helpful actions. Therefore, it must be assumed that my opponent's stance harms society, as with the example I provided, and therefore affirms unjust action.

Extend the negation of his VC for the negation of his defense of his first contention.

My opponent's defenses of his second contention are completely lacking warrants, and are simply bold statements with no logic, reasoning or evidence to back them up. Even if governmentment was nessecary to protect self-government, the negative would win because the governemenr is best preserved, as is self-government through popular sovereignty.


goldstandardanarchist forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


My condolences to my opponent who had not the time to apologize for his absence and extend his arguments. As now contest has been made, however, I must extend mine.

Please vote Negative.


goldstandardanarchist forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by i_defy_the_norm 7 years ago
I will stand corrected if you have a version newer version than version 6.
Posted by i_defy_the_norm 7 years ago
i want to know what dictionary since APPARENTLY you, goldstandardanarchist, got your defintions from blacks' law dictionary and merriam webster. i own both of these, and neither defines vigilantism the way you did
Posted by Clockwork 7 years ago

I really do hate forefeits...

On the bright side, I did get third place at districts =) On to state in a few weeks, I suppose.
Posted by Clockwork 7 years ago
My apologies: the final word was cut off. It was meant to be "scrapped".
Posted by Clockwork 7 years ago
By the way, this is the "extended" version of my case; the one that I use for actual debating is considerably shorter, though the concepts and contentions are the same.
Posted by Clockwork 7 years ago
Does it really matter? More rounds equals more time for examination of the opposing case, which means a better-refined case when I head out to districts. I tend to prefer the actual value of the debate over the nuances and technicalities, especially on unofficial grounds for debate such as those implied by this website.
Posted by goldstandardanarchist 7 years ago
There should only be 3 rounds.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Clockwork 7 years ago
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