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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: 3/17/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,345 times Debate No: 7440
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (5)
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{I wish to debate Lincoln Douglas style}

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.


martin Luther king jr. once said,"justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere."

because I agree with martin Luther king jr, I stand firmly in negation to the resolution, because vigilantism, can NEVER be justified, whether the government has failed to enforce the law, or not.

I offer the following definitions:
vigilantism is defined by Black's Law 8th edition the most relevant dictionary to debate on philosophy and law as,"the act of a citizen who takes the law into their own hands by apprehending and punishing "suspected" criminals."

My Value will be that of justice, with a criterion of protecting rights.

justice is defined by wordnet.princeton as, "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair." with vigilantism, not every individual entity is treated impartially, or with justice, because the vigilantes are by definition "Punishing" "Suspected" criminals. not every vigilante could have possibly graduated from law school, so they couldn't possibly, as a whole, take the necessary means to punish the "suspected" criminal.

protecting rights, is key when getting the correct perception of justice, vigilantism offers no protections of 1.) due process rights, 2.) no checks on cruel or unusual punishment, and 3.) no accountability to any exterior force. "Suspects", or even known criminals are still humans, and deserving of fair trials and humane treatment, because in the end, you may find out that these suspected criminals are not even guilty.

observation 1There are several problems with this. First off, if the individual is allowed to decide when laws are not being upheld, they can basically justify their vigilantism anytime they want. You then run into the problem of degrees. If I decide the government did not do its job when it found the murderer of my son guilty, but did not imprison him to death, I am then justified in rectifying the government "error."
To further prove my point, I now offer the following contentions
Contention 1- vigilantes cannot punish justly, without the governmental entity to carry out due process, and enforce law, no protection of due process.- Say John Doe, Michael Johnson, Joe Smith, and Ray Lewis are all suspects in a murder case. What is a vigilante to do... punish all 3 of them? punish none of them? either way, no justice is served by the action of the vigilante, society's well being is only further harmed by corruption.
Contention 2- the bakassi boys of Nigeria prove that vigilantism is the rationalization of crime, no checks on cruel and unusual punishment. - The other day I saw on television the news of an armed robber apprehended by the police a few hours after the crime was committed. He was charged, sent to jail, and the police closed the case. It got me thinking about my home country Nigeria, and how a wave of crime took over in some cities a few years back by a group who took the law into their hands. The Bakassi Boys are a group of youths known for their anti-crime vigilantism. They came into being in the late 1990s, and, in addition to being armed with machetes, guns and charms , they were officially supported and financed by the state government. They operate in eastern Nigeria, in West Africa, and they are sometimes accused of illegal activity and human rights abuses, yet they still enjoy popular support from the government and most of the citizens. This is because the people are tired of the police taking bribes and failing to fight the massive crime wave in the area. They hunted down criminals, cutting off their limbs for stealing, and burning suspected rapists, and murderers alive with a tire attached to their necks. Judge, the bakassi boys fall under the definition of vigilantism, and while the government, the people, and even themselves believed that they were doing justice, you must realize how skewed their perception of justice had become. they think because they are punishing criminals, they are doing justice, but the ends obviously do not justify the means, judge we must stop the rationalization of crime and it starts with a negative ballot.
Contention 3- With vigilantism, privacy is deteriorated, and no justice is served, no accountability to any exterior force.-- Justice is either defined as, "impartiality," or, "giving every citizen what is due to them." since the resolution clearly states justified, we must be debating on a proposition of justice. vigilantism is defined as, "the act of a citizen who takes the law into their own hands by apprehending, and punishing "suspected" criminals. if we must treat every single citizen impartially to justify vigilantism, every single law breaker will be apprehended and punished by a vigilante. seeing as how some specific drugs are illegal, and most people use them in the privacy of their own confinement, a vigilante would not only be required to break and enter to apprehend the "suspect", because they can't possibly acquire a search warrant without the governmental entity, but they would also have to commit the fundamental injustice of invading the privacy of an individual, by peeking in and watching the person do drugs.(medicinal marijuana is legal in some places which is why they keep the title of suspect) vigilantism can never be justified because it requires the so called justice keeper to break more laws than the single one they were trying to enforce. with that I will now point out the flaws in the affirmative case,
first to my opponents' definitions of vigilantism, if it is defined as apprehending and punishing "suspected" criminals, then there is no possible way to enforce vigilantism, because there is no possible way to prove the "suspected" criminal guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, because the framework states that "the government has failed to enforce the law" there would be no court of law to prove them guilty so the suspect must maintain his/her innocence, via innocent until prove guilty.
next, for an English lesson, lets break down the word justified, just is defined as impartial or fair, now the pro would like you to believe that justified simply means permissible, by this standard it would be justified to drugs... as long as you receive permission, we must realize that justified actually means To demonstrate or prove to be just, right, or valid, now this statement agrees that something is permissible, but just because something is permissible, that doesn't mean its permissible because what is being permissed is just, right, or valid, because although someone may get permission to drugs, it is still not just, right, or valid.
He says the government is technically able to enforce the law through the courts, but this couldn't be further from the truth. My opponent has the right idea that laws are enforced through the courts, but when the government has failed to enforce the law like the resolution clearly states, the courts would be inactive, therefore irrelevant. if the government has failed to enforce the law, their court systems have failed as well.
criterion is autonomy, this contradicts his alternate def. of vigilantism where he stated that vigilantism is defined as groups, with individual autonomy, you would be representing what you individually believed was just, which can't be proven to be just as a whole or in a group, therefore autonomy would fall, because you're causing corruption, because every individual's definition of just differs.
his first contention says the government failing to enforce the law justifies vigilantism, but we must conclude that this is the exact opposite look to his definition of vigilantism, to punish suspected criminals, how can you prove a criminal guilty without the government to do so?
He gives you the Brazil example, and how they need vigilantes, but justice would be deteriorated if you put the bakassi boys from Nigeria into Brazil because they're unjust.
I agree that justice is most preferred, but pro can't achieve justice so please vote con.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting this debate:)

First lets start off with my opponents definition of vigilantism: It does not matter if it is a "suspected criminal" or not, my opponent is saying we should only prosecute if there is real clear evidence. The FBI for example, if they have a lead on someone or something, they will go after the fugitive, but they do no have real clear evidence, so my opponent says that is not condoned either

VP-Justice: my opponent says it is unjust for the Vigilante to act because he is punishing suspected criminals, again this is superfluous look back to my argument, Second, I acheive Justice because the only way to achieve justice when the government has failed is through the vigilante, thus they are upholding there automic power. Since in observation B. vigilantes are part of a community they want whats best for their society

VC- Protecting rights. My opponent says they over no due process rights and stuff like that, but my oppent say how we can protect our riights other than a vigilante when the government has failed. As Brazil government has failed to enforce the law thus no rights are being protected. Since no one is expresing their automic power no right are being protected

OB1: My opponent says that the vigilante could prosecute when the government actually did their job. But if I Imprison you for life I am enforcing the law, so his observation falls.

C1: Again it does not matter if they do it justly or not, they are doing it, and without anyone expressing their automic power there is no way for laws to be uphold when the government has failed to enforce the law. And his contetntion is so short you can not look to it.

C2: Okay, so my opponent brings up an example of vigilantes that abuse the law. Firstly I would like to say if you have bad vigilante you shouldn't have vigilantes at whole. My opponent is saying if there is one bad person, we shouldn't have the group. The polic for example, I am sure that there are corrupt policemen, so my opponent is saying we should not have cops, so con is advocating an anarchy system as one advocated by the resolution.

C3: My opponent is saying that the vigilante violates basic rights like privacy. But again we should still do it because if we do not it is total anarchy.

My definition of vigilante: My opponent is saying we should pursure criminals because they are suspected but look to the argument on top.

Ok, my opponent read my justified statement wrong. it means permissable or the best alternative which the vigilante is
Extend my observation C, since my opponent did not attack it.

Extend My observation B in which I bring up those 4 definitions, my 3rd one is, that vigilantes have definite goals without random violence. So this makes my opponents case fall because vigilantes dont commit random violence. My 2nd point was that vigilantes are members of a community therefore they want whats best for the society.

Ok, my opponent said under my VP, I say how courts enforce justice, and he said that the government has failed to enforce the law and what I said is superfluous. But the point was that since courts ensure justice, that is why I made my Valued Premise.
So my opponent did not really attack how vigilantes dont ensure justice, so you can extend my valued premise.

He said against my VC he said everyone's individual definition of just differs. This does not attack my Valued Criterion because I am saying the only way to ensure justice when the government has failed is for people to express automic power. And we are not causing coruption because there are not widespread views of justice. And autonomy is the only way to ensure justice because they are the only way to enforce the law. Therefore vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law

Against my contention 1 he says it is not justified because you can not prove a criminal guilty when they are suspected. Again this will lead to anarchy

Extend my SBB and my Gloria Steinem saying how it does not matter if the vigilante breaks the law because it can be corrupt and that is the first step toward breaking it. This is saying that the vigilante will ultimately lead to good.

Against my Brazil example he brough up his example of the bakassi boys. Again If there is one bad vigilante we should not give up vigilantes as a whole. And how would rights be upheld when the government has failed to enforce the law

Extend my contention three which socrates states nothing is to be preferd before justice. Since the government has failed to enforce the law there is no way to acheive justice other than through a vigilante expressing his automic power.

Thank I urge you to Affirm


stillistand34 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Extend all of my arguments


stillistand34 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Ok, there is no way for me to lose this round due to the fact my opponent makes no rebuttal, but I will go over some points.

1) It does not matter when the criminal is "suspected" if there is no vigilante there is anarchy since my opponent does not say how we can enforce the law.
2) I prove that the only way to acheive justice is through someone expressing their automic power.
3) My opponents VC is human rights but the best shot to protect those are through a vigilante.
4) The vigilante does not have to be just, just justified. My opponent does not contest this. So the vigilante is the best alternative and is permissable.
5) Just because you have one vigilante you should not just just rid of them. Like the Police there are corrupt policemen, so should we have no police. My opponent advocates a state of anarchy
6) my definitions of vigilantism- one with definite goals NOT WITH THE INTENT OF RANDOM VIOLENCE.
7) In my SBB Steinhem says, (just look up top). It does not matter if the vigilante breaks the law, because that might be the first step toward changing it. So is vigilantes commit violence they are justified nevertheless. And they will stop corrupt laws if they are in place.
8) You can look to my Brazil example on how the government has failed to enforce the laws and less than 1 percent of robberies are even investigated. The way to protect from this happening is through vigilantism

Quick summary

- The only way to acheive justice in the resolution is through preserving autonomy
- Without the vigilante crimes would not be punished. (Look to my Brazil example.)

Vote Affrimative because the only way to acheive justice when the government has failed to enforce the law is by someone expressing their automic power.

Thank you!:)


stillistand34 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


Extend all my arguments..

I hate when this happens:(


stillistand34 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by Epicism 9 years ago
I hate it when this happens, more than half of my debates were like this.
Posted by dan1 9 years ago
Posted by dan1 9 years ago
Why arent you posting arguments
Posted by dan1 9 years ago
are you going to post an argument?
Posted by gamingmaster42 9 years ago
uh the aff case is my case.
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