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

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/22/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,639 times Debate No: 7393
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (4)
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In this round I will be debating affirmative for the following resolution:
"Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law."
For clarification I offer the following definitions:
vigilantism- "The act of a citizen who takes the law into his or her own hands by apprehending and punishing suspected criminals.";
when-at any time;
government-the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states;
failed-been unsuccessful;
enforce-ensure observance of laws and rules;
the law-the principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision.

I also offer a few observations of the resolution:
a) The resolution uses the word when as opposed to if. This indicates that these failures to enforce the law by the government are already taking place.
b) My next observation concerns the definition of vigilantism. Classic vigilantes, according to the American University Law Review: 1. are members of an organized committee, 2. are established members of a community 3. proceed with definite goals, not with the intention of random violence and 4. act as a last resort because of a failure of the established law system. From this definition, we must see that true vigilantes only act to enforce laws the government cannot or will not enforce. True vigilantes strive to uphold the current legal system by preventing, deterring, or providing justice for crime.
c) There is a definite difference between what is justified and what is just. Justified simply implies permissible, or allowable. So the vigilante does not have to be just, only justified Thus the burden for the affirmative is to prove vigilantism to be allowed when the government fails to uphold the law and the negative must prove vigilantism to be not allowed when the government fails to uphold the law.

Onto my value The government ultimately is able to enforce the law by the courts. So if the government has failed to enforce the law, then the courts are therefore ineffective. The purpose of a court system, or any other method to enforce the law, is to achieve justice. Therefore, my value is justice (defined as: The equilibrium between the full freedoms of the individual and the restrictions necessary for the safety of society, according to Lucilius A. Emery, Maine Supreme Court Justice). When a government fails to enforce the law, there is no other means to attain justice except through the citizens of that society. Hence my value criterion is preserving autonomy. (Autonomy defined as: the power or right of self-government). 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. Furthermore, justice would not exist when autonomy is not preserved when the government has failed to enforce the law, because there would be no system to achieve justice. Thus, vigilantism, while preserving autonomy, will lead to ultimate justice in any society.

Onto my contentions.
1. My first contention is the government failing to uphold the law justifies the actions of the vigilante, because he is exercising his autonomic power in the society that he lives in to achieve justice.
Subpoint A: Under a governmental system the government is the highest power, because it has the ability to enforce laws and punish those who break them. However, in a case such as one advocated by the resolution, the government has failed to uphold the law. As the government is the basis of the law this essentially means that the government is illegitimate and without any de facto power. If the government, the highest power that asserts its power on the citizens according to its singular ideals of structure, has failed, the vigilante is justified in enforcing the law by exercising his autonomy over the society that he lives in. This struggle against his surroundings is justified as the government has essentially relinquished power over the people by failing to enforce the law.
Subpoint B: Gloria Steinem, founder of Choice USA, has stated, "Law and justice are not always the same. When they aren't, destroying the law may be the first step toward changing it." This indicates that even if the actions of the vigilante break the law, his actions are justified nevertheless, because the ultimate goal of the vigilante is to achieve justice in the society. With a government that has failed to enforce the law, there is no means to attain justice, and the vigilante is filling in this gap.
Therefore it is seen that vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

2. My second contention is that there are many countries in which the current government has failed to enforce the law, and has led to an excess of crimes, and thus a lack of justice. In Brazil, for example, as few as one percent of all robberies are successfully investigated by the police (Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, American Academy of Arts and Sciences). Furthermore, Jose Gregori, the secretary of state for human rights stated: "[Brazil] is a chronically violent country. The police are not efficient, it does not fight crime, and it is violent. The justice system is very slow." From this we can conclude that the only hope of justice in Brazil comes from vigilantism, seeing as the government actually furthers crime, and brings the inhabitants away from attaining justice. Justice is, as I previously stated, the equilibrium between the freedoms of a citizen and the restrictions of a society. In Brazil and many other countries, these freedoms are too extreme. Again, it is the responsibility of the citizens to exercise their right of autonomy to maintain justice.

3. My third contention is that Socrates the famous Greek philosopher has stated, "Nothing is to be preferred before justice." This indicates that justice must come before the law. Thus, it can be said that law is a means of attaining justice. When the government has failed to enforce the law, then the law fails. But even when the law fails, justice must still be upheld nevertheless. Therefore a different means of attaining justice must be followed. Vigilantism ultimately leads to justice through the preservation of autonomy. This is seen in our own development of America. When the British were overtaxing the colonists, the colonists decided to revolt. This action stemmed from the colonists' sense of autonomy within them and their goal of justice. The revolt can be classified as a form of vigilantism because it fulfills all four of the requirements of vigilantes. Thus, it is seen that vigilantism ultimately leads to justice in any society, and so vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

Thank you and I now stand ready for cross-examination.


You have many valid points. But if the world were that perfect, and vigilantes kept to the rules, there would be no problem. I agree that vigilantes would be great for when the government has failed to enforce the law.


1) What is the law taking care of, is the incident that has had the government intervene something major or minor. If it is something such as a mugging, the court might fail to uphold the law due to no mugger in the case. This petty crime would have more money and time put into it then what's wanted in the outcome to claim the mugger. And vigilantes mainly take the law into their own hands for a cash sum out of it. The time and money for put aside for the vigilantly would be too much for something too small.

2) There is the problem with how far the vigilante. In a perfect world a vigilante would use light force to get ends meet, and try and take humane actions to get a job done....

In a perfect world there would be no crime...

A problem with vigilant is how far he can take a matter. And even though it rarely happens where a vigilante uses excessive force to make ends meet, but newspapers take something rare and turn it into something big...

3) There maybe reasons why the government has not enforced the law. And it maybe because of other laws that prevent a case being solved. A vigilante might brake a law to again make ends meet, and that just makes the government look bad. The government during all this time is trying to enforce the law, not make the government or the laws look bad. Laws against other laws are there for confusing reasons.

4) Last point for now. vigilante's are putting themselves at risk. Police members and government official teams have put themselves through training and know what laws there are in situations. Vigilante's usually are composed of people who have had no back ground into the field their going into and little knowledge on what they are and aren't aloud to do in situations.
Debate Round No. 1


Ok, since my opponent has aggreed that vigilantes are justified when the government has failed to enforce the law I must win the round. But I will contest his points:

CON 1st POINT: The law that we are dealing with is the moral law
The moral law or the natural law is an unwritten law that is the foundation for almost all of the constitutions of the American-European countries and much of their criminal and civil law. The moral law sets the minimum standard of conduct necessary for the maintenance and stability of a just society. The moral law protects these values: freedom, the right to a fair trial, justice and punishment for criminals, the ability to work, and the freedom of speech and religion. When a government is unable to enforce its significant criminal and civil laws, it tarnishes the legitimacy of the government, which, in turn, may destabilize confidence in the government. An example was slavery in the United States. The United States Constitution, as framed by the founders, permitted slavery. This was a compromise among the states. However, the decision to find that certain people would be slaves based solely on the color of their skin violated the moral or natural law, because slavery by its definition deprives a person of the ability to obtain life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Consequently, opponents of slavery, vigilantes, worked to get around the laws relating to slavery, because they were fundamentally immoral. A just society can not be based upon immoral laws. The moral law, which has been built on thousands of years of common sense, philosophy, and principles incorporated in the great western religions, Christianity and Judaism, provides a check against the failure of government to protect basic human justice. Vigilantes protect this moral law.
Since this law is very important we need a vigilante when the government has failed.
CON 2nd POINT: Look to my SBB Steinhem card. Even if the vigilante breaks the law his actions are still justified because if the law is corrupt that is the first step toward breaking it. Secondly, the actions are just justified not just. So it is the best alternative and it is permissable. It does not have to comply with the meaning of justice.
CON 3rd POINT: As I show you they failed to enforce the moral law, (look to what it protects up top).
CON 4th POINT: This is completelty false. I show you through my definition that vigilantes are established members of a community so they know exactly what is going on.

Reasons to vote AFF:
- My opponent agreed that vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law
- Vigilantes are members of a community so they want what is best.
- My opponent does not contest my case so we must look to my value contentions cards and definitions

Thank you, vote AFF because I preserve the moral law through vigilantes expressing their automic power.

I also offer good luck to Negative/con


I'm sorry, you seem to have the wrong end of my stick.
I would agree with you IF there was such thing as a perfect world...but there is not.
The law should be upheld, but not by vigilante's

I base my words on the fact of there should be no vigilante's AND there is a reason there aren't any, with the closest thing to a vigilante being a private eye.

Point 1 was covering the fact that there is no time or money that can be set aside for vigilantism, not on the lawful facts. If there was time and money, the government would take matters into their own?n hands instantly.

point 2: are you saying two wrongs make a right, you should fight fire with fire? To brake more laws for the sake of one should hardly be justified. Some cases, where the law has been defiled too much, should have laws broken, but I don't see two wrongs making a right.

Are you saying that there should be a secluded group of people who have extra powers when called on. Are you saying someone is able to be able to bend and brake rules just to catch someone else no matter the consequence? The actions that could be used by a vigilante, that could land him in jail himself, should be rectifying one law?

3. Are you also thinking of the government interest. Maybe the government fails to enforce the law due to it would bring less harassment instead of if they did? and again, depending on the law broken, my point for number 3 was can u even forget some of the laws, including moral, to fix one law.

point 4. In a perfect world, someone put in a position of power would use that power for what he was meant to do. The selection of vigilante's may create people who personally choose to go beyond the law, like police men, governors etc. To give more people chances of power and corruption. What is wrong with the system at the moment.

point 5.. I never got around to asking you what failed laws have the government enforced? and also the ones that have not been enforced, how would vigilante's make them any better?
Debate Round No. 2


Okay my opponent states that the law should be upheld but not through a vigilante, but how else are we going to uphold the law other than a vigilante when the government has failed to enforce the law. My opponent provides no counterplan so we must look to the only example provided in this debate which would be vigilantism.

CON POINT 1: Why do we have to set aside money, vigilantes are normally a group and why would the government supply money to the vigilante? This point makes no sense since the government is NOT supplying anything for the vigilante

CON POINT 2: Ok, my opponent is basically saying that the vigilantes break laws. But again look to my Steinhem card. If they break it that is the first step toward changing it. And my opponent is saying if there is only one bad vigilante we should get rid of vigilantes as a whole. The police for example, I am sure that there are corrupt policmen so should we get rid of them too, my opponent advocates the situation of the resolution. My opponent says that we should not have just a group of people that make the laws, well what do you think the government is. It is a group of people that make the laws. So the vigilante is just like the government

CON POINT 3: The government interest does not matter because they have failed to uphold the law thus they have dissolved their side of the social contract, so the people need to express their autonomy in order to uphold the law

CON POINT 4: Ok, my opponent says all this stuff about a perfect world but I never said anthing about this so dont even look to this point. And if there are bad vigilantes we shouldn't get rid of them, look to my police example on top

CON POINT 5: Again my opponent did not read my argument where I state that they protect the moral law.

Vote AFF because vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law


There are already counter plans in place, limited as they are. And once someone is past the counter plans, I say not even then should vigilante's should uphold the law

It never said I should provide a counter plan myself

point 1- how would the vigilante's carry out actions without being paid? if someone wants you to do something, payment is needed. Even if vigilante's were supposed to be free, they would prefer to be paid then do it all for nothing

point 2- I'm not saying because of one vigilant we should get rid of the rest, I am saying the chances of. There are too many people in authoritative positions, and vigilante's create another chance to disturb the peace more than help it. I see more humanity then 'by the book' vigilante's.

As for police men, I believe due to the police force is already around it should keep going, there is still need for authority. But I believe there should be a new police system, unsure how myself. But I would like a way for the police to be less corrupt.

point 3- The government interests are always relevant. Depending on the government means the depending on the law, even when broke. Government officials should be the ones who act after a failure to enforce the law.

point 4- this is turning into point 2

point 5- revoked

new point 5- as stated on the Brazil case. Would the vigilante's be any use in trying to stop the Brazilian case? with the government in turmoil wouldn't a vigilante be pointlessly risking his life to try and uphold the law. Also, American law is changed or broken even now. There aren't any complaints about them..much
Debate Round No. 3


CON POINT 1: He is just saying why would vigilantes act without any money. Well again why the government pay the vigilante to do their job and make them look bad. And they would not want money because they are members of a society and they want what is best. And it does not matter whether they "prefer" it or not.

CON POINT 2: Ok, he says there is more justice without vigilantes. Since he doesne't say how we can enforce the law without vigilantes they are the best alternative. And the government is people that are put in position so there is no differnce. Against my police exzample he says there needs to be some quthority but that is contradicting himslef when he says the vigilantes should not be the authority figure.

CON POINT 3: It doesent matter what the government thinks at this point because they did not uphold their part of the social contract.

Reasons to vote AFF
- My opponent is not even rebutting my arguments just stating his so I must win the round because my arguments stand.
- My opponent does not attack my case so extend it.
- I show how vigilantes prevent crimes.

Thank you


tkreaper forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


My opponent forefieted the round therfore I must win the debate.
Extend my arguments


tkreaper forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by AnimeFanTony 9 years ago
Posted by tkreaper 9 years ago
I am very sorry dan1, but due to i live in England, and it is 3am here, i need some sleep

If reply to my against, i shall reply in the morning


Posted by tkreaper 9 years ago
looks like a good argument, good luck
Posted by dan1 9 years ago
Are you going to post an argument?
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