The Instigator
MTGandP
Pro (for)
Losing
6 Points
The Contender
RoyLatham
Con (against)
Winning
14 Points

When forced to choose, a just government . . . (see text for full resolution)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/1/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 18,606 times Debate No: 12675
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (12)
Votes (5)

 

MTGandP

Pro

Resolved: When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.

All year, I kept saying that I'd get back into debating during the summer, when I had more time. Well now it's summer. I'm busier than I thought I'd be. But I think I owe it to myself to do a debate.

This resolution is one of the potential resolutions for LD in 2010-2011.

Resolved: When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.

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Introduction

More than at any other point in history, people today are able to see that all men and women are truly created equal. Racism, although it wouldn't be fair to say that it has been completely eliminated, is universally understood to be inhumane -- that was untrue even just fifty years ago. Today, we more than ever understand that other people deserve respect and kindness, even if they look different from us. This is why I support the resolution: when forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.

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Definitions (from American Heritage Dictionary)

just government: A government that is honorable, fair, and consistent with what is morally right in its dealings and actions.
human rights: The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.

Not all terms that are obviously important have been defined. If I haven't defined something, it is because I think the definition is already unambiguous. If my opponent wishes to define further terms or to challenge one of my definitions, I am not opposed to this.

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Contention 1: The Injustice of National Interest

As I hinted at in my introduction, putting national interest as the top priority is a vestige from an earlier time. It was a time when racism and xenophobia were the norm. A time when like-minded people of one's own country were considered more valuable than the "brutes" in Germany (http://www.learnnc.org...) or the disgusting, inhuman Japanese (http://en.wikipedia.org...). At a time when dehumanizing outsiders was in vogue, national interest was indeed very important. In order to dehumanize the enemy, our own countries were deified.

Thankfully, we are no longer living in such a time. Citizens of a free country have the power to look past the propaganda and see that everyone, everywhere in the world, deserves the same basic human rights.

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Contention 2: The Importance of Universal Human Rights

No rational person would deny the importance of universal human rights. It is agreed among all civilized peoples that we have certain unalienable rights; among the most paramount are the right to life (for someone to murder one of us would be a great injustice), the right to liberty (restriction and imprisonment without just cause), and the right to free speech.

One of the greatest tragedies in this world is that these rights are not always respected. Natives in Nigeria are being driven out of their land in the name of war; citizens of China are not permitted simple freedom of speech; people around the world are unable to find enough food to survive.

A just government has the duty to ensure that these universal human rights do become truly universal. Allow me to use the United States' founding documents as an example. The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." It states not that all Americans are endowed with certain unalienable rights, but all MEN. If that's not a declaration of universal human rights, then I don't know what is. The Founding Fathers understood that every human being is created with unalienable rights. In order to keep these rights safe, it is the duty of a just government to protect them -- this should be a top priority.

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Conclusion

National interest is ONLY relevant in terms of the needs of humanity as a whole. If basic human rights are not afforded to each and every man, woman and child, it is the duty of the world's free nations to give aid to these people. To do so would be to allow suffering to flourish and continue rampantly throughout the world. Guaranteeing universal human rights is the first priority of any just nation.
RoyLatham

Con

This an interesting topic. It seems to me that the resolution problems, but we'll see how it goes.

Definitions

I accept the definition of "just government."

N1. There is a problem with the definition of "human rights." Some human rights, including the ones Pro named, have widespread agreement, but others are controversial. Is government provided health care a human right? How about a right-to-life? How about a right to a job or a right to to housing or to education? The resolution requires that governments make a list of human rights, then undertake crusades to enforce those rights. A "crusade" is "a vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse." There is always a choice of spending a nation's resources on the crusade for human rights or for things related to self interest such as food or security. Therefore, the resolution implies governments should crusade for indefinite causes.

Even the rights upon which there is general agreement are not universally held. Suppose a government decides that human rights considerations demand the imposition of Sharia law http://en.wikipedia.org..., they are then obligated to try to impose it worldwide. Because "human rights" are not well defined, the resolution fails immediately on the grounds of being indefinite. No one should affirm a resolution whose consequences are ill-defined. The resolution is likely to provoke "holy wars" over differing interpretations of human rights.

Rights of free speech are not absolute anywhere, and in Canada, France, Great Britain, and Germany, for example, there are significant restrictions against what the governments consider to be "hate speech." The United States has no such restrictions. So the resolution requires that the U.S. press it's concept of free speech ahead of the national interest of maintaining friendly relations with those countries. The U.S. and Japan has death penalties, so that implies that those countries that think it immoral must crusade against it.

It is possible to argue that enlightened self-interest always requires placing human rights above immediate self-interest. If so then the resolution is vacuous, saying no more than "governments should do the right thing." That cannot be what was intended for a national debate topic, because it isn't debatable.

C1. Pro's case is one of presenting false choices. Negating the resolution does not require that a nation ignore human rights concerns. Negating the resolution means that the citizens of a country can decide through their elected government what instances of international human rights violations are more important that domestic needs. Pro falsely poses a choice between "dehumanizing outsiders" and prioritizing international human rights concerns above all domestic concerns.

The alternative to the resolution is that governments ought to act in the enlightened self-interest of the people it represents. That means that human rights considerations are valid and important, but they must be measured against the health, welfare, and security of it's people.

C2. Pro again assumes that the choice is between completely ignoring human rights and making international human rights an absolute priority. The examples that Pro cites are the land rights of peasants in Nigeria and the lack of free speech in China. Right now the top priority of the United States is economic recovery, and after that issues related to health care, immigration, and terrorism. The resolution says when "forced to choose" we must put Nigeria and China as higher priorities than national interests.

What does "forced to choose" mean? Clearly, there is no deity descending from the heavens threatening lightning bolts for government choose to put one set of goals over another. The "force" must only be the need to choose in circumstances. For example, either we can put the resources of the United States primarily towards bettering the welfare of its citizens in economic recovery, or we can put them mainly to improving human rights in Nigeria, China, and elsewhere. The choice is present, so we are forced to make it.

Under what circumstances might a government not be forced to choose? The only exception I can think of is when a country is at economic subsistence level. At that point a just government has no choice but to take care of its own people. Above that point they must choose between promoting national interest and promoting international human rights.

It is wrong to require that people sacrifice for the sake of others.

N2. The resolution implies elitist rule

Pro cited the Declaration of Independence as authoritative on the subject of human rights. I agree that human rights have great importance, as the Declaration says. However, the Declaration is also authoritative on the power and functions of government. After declaring inalienable rights, it says, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," The clear implication is that the people have the right to set the priorities of government. Lincoln famously restated this as,

"government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" Gettysburg Address, http://en.wikipedia.org...

The U.S. government has thus far operated through consent of the governed. For example, the U.S. intervened militarily in Bosnia in the interests of human rights, despite having very little national interest at stake. In that case, the people acting through government decided that the level of involvement in Bosnia in the cause of human rights had a priority above other issues of higher national self-interest.

The resolution does not declare that "people" should put international human rights above self-interest, it declares that government should do so. It is absurd to suggest that people will voluntarily put themselves in economic disadvantage or increased threat of terrorism in order to make land rights in Nigeria a top priority. This is not speculation, we have the evidence of history. Sometimes international human rights are given high priority, per Bosnia, other times a lower priority. The lower priority may mean doing nothing, extending moral support, economic sanctions, or other measures short of priority above national interest.

The resolution implies elite rulers who make moral judgments, deciding what human rights are important and how important, and then give them priority over national interest. This abandons democracy, and doing so is both immoral and dangerous. It is dangerous to empower national leaders to determine morality.

N3. Requiring the interests of others be placed above self is immoral

Morality includes moral judgments related to the individual, the family, and to society. There is moral obligation to support and protect one's self and one's family. The resolution subordinates the moral duties to self and family in favor of advancing the human rights of others, and it designated government as the agency for doing that. The resolution suggests that the families within a country ought to be made worse off at the hands of heir government for the sake of improving land rights in Nigeria and other human rights causes.

That destroys the moral obligation to take care of oneself and family. If people vote to make some small sacrifice to help others at their expense of themselves, that is one thing, but the resolution demands that the human rights of others be given priority. The resolution is negated because it demands the immoral sacrifice of self for others.

===================

The resolution requires that government determine what constitutes human rights and then crusade internationally for those rights as its priority. The purpose of government is to serve its people, not crusade internationally to advance its own ideas of morality.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 1
MTGandP

Pro

I thank my opponent for accepting this debate; I think it will be a good challenge.

Definitions

N1. My opponent claims that governments differ in their definitions of human rights. He claims that "the resolution is likely to provoke 'holy wars' over differing interpretations of human rights." I have two rebuttals.

First, the resolution does not state that a just government should prioritize its own definition of human rights; it says that it should prioritize *universal human rights.* This debate is not about what these rights actually are, but rather about whether a government should pursue them given that they exist. Perhaps it will be a difficult task for the just government in question to define human rights and determine which ones are worth pursuing, but that is not what this debate is about. As far as we are concerned, the just government already had that conversation and has figured out what rights are universal.

Second, a just government will by definition — since it is just — have an appropriate definition of "universal human rights." If a government started a holy war that resulted in greater harm, that government could not be considered just.

========

C1. The resolution states that the government is forced to choose between human rights and national interest. Thus, by necessity, if you negate the resolution then the government must ignore human rights concerns in favor of national interest.

"Negating the resolution means that the citizens of a country can decide through their elected government what instances of international human rights violations are more important that domestic needs."

In fact, that is not what it means. If the government (or the citizens, through the government) decides that international human rights violations are more important than domestic needs, then the resolution will have been affirmed. The only case in which this could negate the resolution is if the government's action against human rights violations is intended to serve the long-term interests of the country. Similarly, a government that prioritizes human rights violations will often act in its own self-interest; it is impossible for a broken government to ensure universal human rights. This does NOT mean that this government is prioritizing self-interest; but sometimes the best way to serve universal human rights in the long term is a little self-preservation in the short term. For example, the United States should work to pull itself out of the recession, but not because national interest is the top priority. It should primarily do so because a country with a weakened economy is less capable of helping those whose rights have been violated.

========

C2. My opponent only seems to state a few facts about current US national policy, a case in which the government has no choice (which is irrelevant considering the resolution), and a single statement (which I'll get to in a bit). He does not refute the arguments in my second contention. I acknowledged the importance of universal human rights, the tragedies that occur when these rights are not respected, and that governments of free countries often declare certain rights to be universal, demonstrating how such great men as America's Founding Fathers are on my side. Other free governments agree, such as France (http://www.mindconnection.com...) which states that "The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man." This statement could not be more clear.

"It is wrong to require that people sacrifice for the sake of others."

What is the context of this statement? Is this meant to imply that placing human rights above national interest requires that the people of a nation are forced to make a sacrifice? If so, then it is equally arguable that to place national interest over human rights would require that people of many nations must sacrifice their human rights for the interests of the people within a nation. If this statement means what it seems to mean, and we assume that for a government to place its efforts in one area and not another requires a "sacrifice" by the people of the latter area, then it is immoral for the government to take any action, ever.

========

N2. The resolution states that the government is forced to choose between human rights and national interest. The elitist rule my opponent mentions is only an issue if there is a third option: letting the people decide. It is certainly arguable that such an option would be preferable to either of the first two. Regrettably, there is no such option. Even if there were, it doesn't mean that the people should get to decide. That would be nothing but mob rule. A truly just nation is bound by rule of law, not by the whims of the majority. The government is defined by the law, and as my case has demonstrated, the law ought to prioritize universal human rights over national interest.

========

N3. My opponent makes some bold statements, which he fails to justify. Certainly one could write an entire book about the the interests of others versus self. Unfortunately, we are limited to 8000 characters per round. Still, such books have already been written. Kant argued that self-preservation was a moral duty but only an indirect one, the more direct duty being universal (http://www.earlymoderntexts.com...). Utilitarians argue that everyone's happiness is equally important, so you should not necessarily prefer your own. And I'm sure that there are plenty of Libertarian philosophers out there who argue that you ought only be concerned with your own happiness and not that of society. The point is, attempting to argue that "[t]here is moral obligation to support and protect one's self and one's family [over universal human rights]" is going to be fruitless, and could continue for hundreds of pages.

Even if I accept my opponent's bold statement (which I do not), I can still make a strong counter-argument. Just as individuals within the country in question may have to make a sacrifice if the resolution is affirmed, people worldwide must similarly sacrifice their human rights if the resolution is negated. Yes, it is arguable that only people within the just government are allowed to vote on the government's decisions. But, as my opponent stated earlier, it is not the people's choice. It is the government's. That may sound a bit authoritarian, but it's not. The government must choose between universal human rights and national interest; there is no third option. In this particular case, it is simply not the people's choice.

========

My opponent's arguments have gone outside the definitions of the debate, failed to address my arguments, and made unfounded claims. As of round 2, the resolution stands strong.
RoyLatham

Con

N1. Consider the resolution: "A cautious person should shun the frumious Bandersnatch." (ref: Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, Jabberwocky. http://www.jabberwocky.com...) I would object that that resolution should not be passed because it has no defined meaning. The rebuttal in Pro's line of thinking is "It doesn't matter that no one knows what a frumious bandersnatch is. The debate is not about that. A cautious person would figure out what to be cautious of and then shun it." No, because we cannot tell if the bandersnatch ought to shunned at all until we know what it is.

Similarly, we cannot resolve to prioritize human rights until we know what is to be prioritized. The resolution does not say what universal human rights are, but it does tell us who will determine it. Government will decide. So Kim Jong-Il will be obliged to press his version of human rights, and every other country will be obliged to press their versions.

Pro argues that a "just" government will correctly identify human rights. There are no governments on earth who meet the criteria of knowing human rights with certainty, so perhaps we are debating governments in the Kingdom of Heaven? That makes no sense. The resolution cannot be assuming that, because as an academic topic we have a right to assume the debate concerns the real world. The resolution must be asserting "A government that attempts to be just will prioritize advancing it's concept of human rights above advancing the interests of its people." It cannot prioritize anything other than its concept of human rights, because there is no general agreement otherwise.

C1. Pro says, "The resolution states that the government is forced to choose between human rights and national interest. Thus, by necessity, if you negate the resolution then the government must ignore human rights concerns in favor of national interest." Let's simplify the resolution to "If forced to choose between A and B, government must choose B." The negation is "If forced to choose between A and B, government need not choose B." The operative verb phase in the original resolution is "must choose." Negating that is "not (must choose)" or "need not choose."

Another way to think about it is the resolution is a call to action to do something. If the resolution fails, then we go on doing whatever we have been doing rather than what the resolution says. What we have been doing is sometimes putting the pursuit of human rights ahead of national interest and other times not.

Pro argues that sometimes pursuing human rights is consistent with self-interest. I agree. That is most often the case. However, the debate is about the cases when self-interest and human rights causes are not aligned. The US had scant self-interest in pressing human rights in Bosnia, for example, but chose to do so.

C2. Pro claimed, "A just government has the duty to ensure that these universal human rights do become truly universal." Pro cited as evidence that the Declaration of Independence claims certain rights to be universal. My refutation was that asserting rights to be universal does not imply that government must always prioritize expanding human rights over self-interest. The Declaration of Independence obviously referred to the right of a people to assert their rights within their country. The Founders would certainly have supported Nigerians asserting their rights in Nigeria and Chinese asserting their rights in China, both on the grounds that rights were universal. However, nothing in the Declaration of Independence suggests that the United States ought to prioritize advancing right overseas above the interests of the people of the United States. I cited the principle of "government ... for the people" as evidence that serving the people of the country should be taken as the longstanding priority.

To refute my claim, Pro should offer evidence that the Founders intended that the government of the United States should advance universal rights as a priority above serving the people of the United States.

Separately I asserted that "forced to choose" in the resolution means no more than that there is always an opportunity o devote resources either to the well-being of the country or to the advancement of universal human rights. Pro did not dispute that interpretation. Resources expended saving Bosnia or Nigeria are not spent supporting the people of the United States.

Pro cites the French, "The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man." As with the Declaration of Independence, this says that people form governments to preserve their rights, and that they are entitled to do so. America is not in "political association" with Nigeria. There is no mandate to give priority to Nigerian interests.

N2. Pro asserts that the resolution only allows government to either always choose self-interest or to always choose to advance universal human rights. I refuted that in N1. If the resolution fails, then we keep on operating as a republic as we always have. Only if it passes are we forced to operate with government empowered to act contrary to the will of the people. It's important for all the leaders of democratic governments watching the outcome of this debate to know that if the resolution fails they can keep on operating democratically. If it passes, they must convert to a government that independently pursues human rights as it's priority, regardless of popular will. We have a heavy responsibility here at DDO.

N3. I claimed that there is a moral responsibility to protect oneself and one's family. The resolution subordinates self-interest to sacrificing for the sake of others. Pro counters that there are no grounds for my assertion of morality, and that since morality is such a difficult subject the claim should be discounted. Let us suppose that moral claims should be discounted in this debate. If so, what is the basis for asserting universal human rights above self-interest? The basis cannot be a practical one, because self-interest is the practical side of the argument. Pro is instigator, proponent, and affirming, so by all accounts he bears the burden of proof. There is nothing but the moral claim supporting Pro's argument for the resolution. Dismissing moral claims as unprovable therefore dismisses the case for the resolution.

I claim the the moral obligation to protect one's family is self-evident. Pro cited the Declaration of Independence, which held that certain moral assertions were "self evident." The founders called it "natural law," meaning that it is observable from the nature of man. (The founders were Deists and believed that God's will could only be determined by observation, rather than, say, revelation.) It is easier to observe that people have a moral responsibility to their families than to observe that "all men are created equal." It takes some intellectual insight to conclude that people who do not appear equal really should be equal before the law. But virtually everyone in every society recognizes the responsibility to care for family. If you still doubt this, you can ask Sarah Palin.

==========

One problem with the resolution is that it only asserts universal rights in general, but leaves it to government to decide in particular for what they must crusade. A second problem is that is always puts the rights crusade ahead of self-interest. If the resolution said, "Nations should make some sacrifices to advance the universal right of free speech." then I would affirm it. It does not do that. It resolves that government must always place an undefined quest for universal rights above self-interest. That empowers Kim Il-Jong to pursue his concept of rights as much as it empowers anyone else.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 2
MTGandP

Pro

N1. The analogy regarding the frumious Bandersnatch is inappropriate. In the case of universal human rights, it doesn't matter what they are because we already know their relevance. We know that universal human rights are (to put it plainly) a good thing to have, and that all people have a right to them (which is why they are rights). In the case of the frumious Bandersnatch, we don't know what it is, but more importantly, we do not know its relevance. We really know next to nothing about it. Not so with universal human rights. We know that all humans have a right to them, and that's all we need to know.

If a just government is "consistent with what is morally right in its dealings and actions", it will correctly identify universal human rights. My opponent agreed to this definition. But, for those who do not think it realistic to assume that a just government will correctly identify universal human rights, my case still holds weight.

Although my opponent argues that no country has identified universal human rights with certainty, I think this is too extreme a requirement. Many nations have a fair and agreeable idea of universal human rights. Countries that highly prioritize universal human rights often come up with very similar definitions. The United States, in the Declaration of Independence, recognized "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; the French Declaration of Rights recognized "liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression." Although these rights are somewhat different, I think you'd be hard pressed to find an American who would object to the rights that the French recognized, and vice versa. I also think you'll find this to be true of any government in the free world. Perhaps Kim Jong-il would have a different definition, but the government of North Korea could hardly be called just. My opponent has turned to an unjust government for an unjust example of human rights; only an example of a just government with an unjust definition of human rights could begin to be relevant.

Totalitarian leaders such as Kim Jong-il probably do have suitable definitions of universal human rights; but their failure to act on those definitions — to place human rights at a high priority — is what makes those governments unjust. I'm not friends with any dictators, but they probably understand at some level that the crimes they're committing are morally wrong. But doing the morally right thing for the people isn't their priority.

========

C1. My opponent simplified the resolution to "If forced to choose between A and B, government must choose B." There is a subtle but significant flaw in this simplification: it ought to read "If forced to choose between A and B, government *ought to* choose B." The negation is "If forced to choose between A and B, government *ought not* choose B." If the resolution is a call to action for B, then the only alternative is A; the negation is therefore implying that A is the preferable choice.

========

C2. All people are created with certain unalienable rights. A deprivation of these fundamental rights represents nothing less than the deepest form of injustice. My opponent claims that there is no mandate to give priority to the interests of foreign countries. He fails to recognize the mandate to rectify injustice, wherever it may be. All men are created equal; Americans are no more important than the citizens of any other nation. This is why it is imperative that universal human rights be ensured. Anything less would be immoral.

While I'm sure the Founding Fathers would have supported Nigerians asserting their rights in Nigeria and Chinese asserting their rights in China, they were busy asserting their own rights. They were not asserting their own national interest, which only happens after human rights are in place. To continue to use America as an example, we citizens are now given assurance of our rights, and it is time to turn to the rights of people outside of our nation. It is a simple matter of justice.

========

N2. My opponent continues to assume that the resolution contains some third option. It does not say "a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over national interest and letting people vote on it." In the scenario we are debating over, the government is required to choose between universal human rights and national interest. I am arguing that universal human rights is the preferable choice. My opponent is arguing that it is not. It's that simple.

========

N3. My opponent makes a good point on this contention. I concede that there is a moral responsibility to protect oneself and one's family. In addition, I would argue that ensuring human rights takes priority over the welfare of one's family. Ensuring basic human rights for yourself and your family is the top priority; but it would be unjust to force others to sacrifice their own human rights in order to ensure the interests of yourself or your family. Suppose that you are poorer than you'd like to be. You could take a job as a hitman and rob others of their life for your own self-interest. This would clearly be wrong. There is a reason why killing another human being is such a great crime, except in the case of self-defense: your own rights are of paramount importance, but your interests are not more important than the rights of others.

This still leaves my second counter-argument, which has not been addressed. The government must make a choice between the interests of people within the nation and the rights of people everywhere. If the government chooses to support human rights, the interests of people within the nation will be harmed. At the same time, if the government chooses to support national interests, the rights of people around the world will be relinquished. Either way, someone has to make a sacrifice. One side represents sacrifice of temporary interests; the other side faces relinquishment of fundamental rights. It is clear where the scale tips.

========

I have demonstrated that any government that cares about human rights can come up with a good definition, and that ensuring universal human rights is not an "undefined quest" but a clear objective that any free country ought to support. I have demonstrated that human rights are more important than personal self-interest. I have demonstrated that, when in conflict, universal human rights ought to be prioritized over national interest.
RoyLatham

Con

N1. It is not possible to prioritize "universal human rights" without knowing what they are.

Pro first argues that it doesn't have to be an individual country's concept of human rights, but rather just "universal human rights." So how does that prevent Kim Il-Jung from prioritizing his version of human rights while America prioritizes it's version? It is impossible to avoid the specifics. In fact, the resolution compels Kim to prioritize his version of human rights above the interests. If Kim believes that freedom from the yoke of capitalism is a human right, then under the resolution he is compelled to attack South Korea.

Pro clams that we even if we do not agree on what human rights are, they are all good so it doesn't matter. Kim's concept of human rights is not all good. Beyond that, some say that a right to health care is a good thing because everyone deserves heath care, but others say it is a bad thing because less real health care is delivered by government. The right to bear arms is good because it provides for self-defense, but it is bad because people are allowed guns for bad purposes. There is no end of controversial rights issues.

Pro next argues that by the definition of a "just country" any country that meets the definition of the resolution will figure out exactly what universal human rights are before prioritizing. I rebutted that the resolution cannot mean that only countries that have achieved a true understanding of justice must comply, but rather that one thing a country must do to achieve justice is prioritize human rights above self-interest. The proof is that the resolution is posed for the real world, not a fantasy world. Pro did not respond to this argument.

Additional, if the resolution presumes that just countries exist and can be identified, then there is no need for a resolution to tell what them to do. A resolution is call to action. A hypothetical "just country" needs no call to act justly, it will do whatever is just.

Pro argues that many countries have good agreement on what constitutes the broad principles of universal human rights. Pro is right that Americans would largely agree with the French about human rights. However, that does not help when the Chinese and North Koreans get their copies of the affirmed resolution. The resolution might have been written as "... a just country must prioritize traditional Western concepts of universal human rights above self-interest." That would still have problems with being definite, but it would have been better. However, the resolution leaves it entirely up to government to decide what constitutes "universal human rights," without clues as to what those rights are.

While the broad principles are agreed to by many nations, it is easy to make a like of possible rights upon which first-world nations disagree: health care, housing, jobs, abortion, education, right to bear arms, right to hate speech, jury trial, separation of church and state, and the death penalty. There is not much agreement on the extent of property rights among nations. If the resolution were enacted, some things would be agreed upon by Western nations, but the resolution does not say, "Prioritize the human rights that Western nation agree upon, but then lay off the many issues of disagreement." If A and B disagree over some right, then the resolution obligates them to prioritize that right above self-interest.

C1. Pro argues that the negation of "ought to" in the resolution is "ought not." "Ought to" in the context of the resolution means "is compelled by moral considerations". The negation is therefore "is not compelled by moral considerations."

Let's suppose that Pro's understanding of the resolution is correct, so that country's choice is to always act in self-interest or to always act for universal human rights. Now consider a hypothetical in which India gets some funds from tax revenues and must choose to spend it upon either the economic development of rural India or universal human rights, like land rights in Nigeria. If Pro's interpretation is correct, then if the resolution is affirmed, India may never spend on its own economic development, it must always choose advancing universal human rights. But that's ridiculous, so the resolution must be negated to allow any self-interest whatsoever.

In response to this example, one might argue that the economic development of rural India is also among the "universal human rights" that ought to pursued. However, economic development is clearly *also* self-interest. Therefore the resolution then becomes, "self-interest should be prioritized above self-interest." Then the resolution provides no call to action and fails. Under either my claim of the meaning or Pro's claim, the resolution fails.

C2. I challenged Pro to provide evidence that the Founders intended for the advancement of human rights in foreign countries to b prioritized above American self-interest. Pro claims that "all men are created equal" implies that national interest be subordinated to universal human rights. If the Declaration of Independence was a proclamation that the new nation exists to advance human rights elsewhere, then surely that should have been proclaimed clearly in the writings of the Founders. But there is no such evidence. Pro's interpretation is unsupported by any of the people who wrote or signed the document. The Revolution was entirely about the self-interests of the American people, not a call for an international rights crusade.

I agree that the Founders would provide endorsement of universal human rights. That follows from the rights being "self-evident." That does not imply that the rights of others ought to be prioritized above self-interest.

N2. Repeats the arguments of N1.

N3. Pro concedes that there is a moral responsibility to protect oneself and ones family, but claims "that ensuring human rights takes priority over the welfare of one's family." The resolution requires that universal human rights always be put at a higher priority. The burden is put upon government to enforce the resolution. So if your family is short of food and you get a dollar, the government has the choice of letting you keep the dollar or taxing it away and using it to advance land rights in Nigeria. The resolution might have said, "Wealthy countries have an obligation to advance universal human rights." But it doesn't say that. It gives no option other than to always prioritize human rights over self-interest. Demanding self-sacrifice as a priority is immoral.

Pro argues that it wrong to always prioritize self-interest above the rights of others, because that validates theft. I think that enlightened self-interest invalidates theft, but for the sake of argument, suppose that's true. Clearly placing the rights of others above self also fails. Pro's interpretation is that the resolution offers two completely unacceptable extremes. If so, the resolution is negated as being absurd and self-contradictory. The self-contradiction is that a "just government" is mandating an immoral action. Under my interpretation, negating the resolution means that we get to keep doing what we have always been doing, sometimes prioritizing universal rights and sometimes not.

The resolution fails because it is indefinite, and thereby calls for governments to define universal human rights and then crusade for them. The resolution separately fails because it completely subordinates the moral responsibility of self-interest to the interests of others.
Debate Round No. 3
MTGandP

Pro

N1. "Pro clams that we even if we do not agree on what human rights are, they are all good so it doesn't matter."

Never did I make that claim. What I claimed is that the human rights defined by JUST governments are widely agreeable. As examples I gave the US definition and the French definition. I in the US find the French definition to be very agreeable. Other just nations will have similar definitions. The North Korean definition of human rights is irrelevant, because *North Korea is not a just government.* There may be debates among just governments over some human rights, but the most important ones -- life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, among a small handful of others -- are widely agreed upon. If a government is going to enforce universal human rights, the first rights to enforce will be these.

"If the resolution presumes that just countries exist and can be identified, then there is no need for a resolution to tell them what to do."

I hardly see the point of this argument. The resolution states that a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights. This is what I'm arguing. The resolution isn't telling them what to do, it's telling them what they ought to do. And if they're already doing it, then great. Is my opponent seriously arguing that the resolution must be negated if just governments already support it? Unless I'm misunderstanding something, his argument doesn't make any sense.

The Chinese and North Korean governments are unjust. It is not simply a matter of difference of cultures. China's citizens are no more happy about the government's censorship than we Americans would be. Not all Eastern countries are so unjust, either: India, for example, supports the values of justice, liberty and equality (http://www.astro.virginia.edu...), legally prohibits discrimination (http://www.astro.virginia.edu...) and provides equal opportunity (http://www.astro.virginia.edu...). We're talking about India here, which is about as Eastern as you can get.

While it's true that there is disagreement among just governments over which specific rights are universal, the most important rights are agreed upon. The best course of action for a just government is to universally guarantee these primary universal human rights; the rights in dispute take secondary priority. A just government that is truly interested in universal human rights would spend its efforts on ensuring universal liberty, universal equality, or others of the paramount values that all peoples of the free world agree upon.

"If A and B disagree over some right, then the resolution obligates them to prioritize that right above self-interest."

False. Obligation starts with the rights that are universally agreed upon among just governments. The next step is to work with the more contentious rights inside one's own country -- this is a case in which national interest and human rights are not in conflict, so the resolution does not deal with it. A government ought to start by ensuring the human rights of its citizens, which benefits both universal human rights and national interest. This is what just governments are doing most of the time. Once national human rights are ensured, governments move to the territory dealt with by the resolution. When everyone in one's own country is guaranteed their rights, the next step is not to make these people more comfortable, but to guarantee the rights of people outside the nation as well. And this guarantee begins with the most important rights, those discussed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence.

C1. "Now consider a hypothetical in which India gets some funds from tax revenues and must choose to spend it upon either the economic development of rural India or universal human rights, like land rights in Nigeria. If Pro's interpretation is correct, then if the resolution is affirmed, India may never spend on its own economic development."

As my opponent later points out, human rights within one's own country are still human rights. India's support for its own citizens is in line with both universal human rights and national interest. My opponent claims that this fails because the resolution then becomes, "self-interest should be prioritized above self-interest." Universal human rights and self-interest are clearly not the same thing, although they are often both achieved through the same means. My opponent's leap of logic makes no sense. The just thing for India to do is to prioritize human rights, which includes the rights of its citizens.

C2. The American Revolution was about the interests of a people who were being robbed of their universal human rights. The founding of America was another of those cases in which human rights and national interest are not in conflict. I would argue that if you can maximize human rights AND national interest, then this is better than just one or the other. The Founding Fathers likely agreed, which is why they said "all men are created with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and went on to prioritize their own rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Human rights are far more significant than personal comforts. While ensuring one's own human rights or the human rights of a nation's citizens can take first priority, it is unjust to worry about the comfort of one's citizens when there are human beings throughout the world being stripped of their very rights. Helping people become more comfortable is charitable, but human rights is a matter of justice. If a just government does not have justice in mind, then why call it just?

N2. I repeat: the resolution is a question of human rights and national interest. There is no third option. My opponent has not provided a substantial counterargument.

N3. It is not a matter of self-sacrifice. The world has limited resources, and the just thing to do is to provide these resources to those who need them most. The only truly objectionable action a government could take against its citizens while acting in the interest of international human rights would be an actual violation of human rights. If a government using tax money to ensure the rights of human beings is ever considered unjust, it can only be because the taxation is a violation of the rights of the citizens of the nation.

"Clearly placing the rights of others above self also fails."

I never proposed that the rights of others should be placed above the rights of self. What I am arguing is straightforward: when forced to choose, a government ought to prioritize universal justice -- the assurance of human rights for all -- over the comforts of the few.

Let us assume for a moment that human rights are less important than self-interest. My opponent's argument still fails because he does not make a connection between self-interest and national interest. A single person has certain duties and obligations, and a nation has entirely different ones. It is absurd to argue that the morality we apply to a person should be identically applied to a government, which is on an entirely different scope.

To put it simply: The government has resources. It may use these resources to support the mere comforts of its citizens, or it may use them to bring about justice. I think the choice is clear.

Conclusion.

My opponent has attempted to argue against the resolution itself, but has failed to back up his objections. He has failed to show that national interest ought to be prioritized, or even that universal human rights ought not be prioritized. I have demonstrated that, when forced to choose, supporting universal human rights is the only just course of action: comfort takes a subordinate position to rights. A government that truly cares about justice will prioritize human rights.

The resolution is affirmed. Vote Pro.
RoyLatham

Con

Pro has given us a proposed national debate topic to test. We have given the resolution a fair test in comprehensive debate. I conclude that the topic, when well debated, oght not be affirmed.

A debate resolution is a call to action. Our subject resolution calls upon governments to act:

"When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest."

The resolution calls for governments to act regardless of the will of the people. We know from history that given the opportunity to chose, people will sometimes sacrifice national interest to advance human rights, but not always. America cannot merely choose to play international policeman, as it did in Bosnia, it is compelled to adopt that role. The resolution demands an end to democracy.

Suppose the people of a country are starving? Too bad, because the government must choose to spend whatever resources it has on advancing universal human rights, no matter how pressing the national interest.

Who defines universal human rights? Pro says a "just government" will know. But every government thinks it is just, and the resolution neither identifies the rights are nor gives a mechanism outside of individual governments for deciding. North Korea can prioritize freeing South Korea from the yoke of capitalism as its priority, providing Kim Il-Jung thinks his government is just..

Democracies agree on some rights as being universal, but they disagree on everything from the right to bear arms to the right to use hate speech. Pro suggests it would be reasonable to only prioritize the agreed upon rights. It might be reasonable, but the resolution allows no limits on the crusade. Canadians must prioritize Americans establishing a right to health care, while Americans must prioritize Canadians having a right to hate speech -- each country prioritizing the quest for rights above national interest.

National interests, including economic recovery and defense against terrorist attack, must be subordinated to the crusade for whatever the government of a country believes to be universal human rights.

There are serious questions about what constitutes "universal human rights." The resolution leaves it to governments to decide. the resolution might have specified the rights either directly or by referencing a document, but it did not. Pro contends that democratic nations have good agreement on the basic human rights, and I agree. However, the resolution does not say that the core rights agreed to by democracies should b prioritized above self interest. All rights must be given priority. I named many rights claimed by some democracies, but not by others. If the U.S. believes that there is right to "hate speech" while Britain and France do not. The resolution requires each country to press its concept of universal human rights above self interest.

North Korea and China are obligated by the resolution to prioritize their concepts of human rights. Pro argues that only "just governments" are subject to the requirement, which leaves out North Korea and the like. But the resolution has no mechanism for determining which governments are just. The call to action is solely to government, so only the government decides whether it is just, along with deciding what the rights are to be prioritized.

Pro offers the possibility that just governments are established as a precondition to applying the resolution. I claim that it makes no sense for the resolution to b posed for a world other than our own, in which there is no predetermination of just governments. Instead, it makes sense to suppose the resolution means, "... for a government to be just, it ought to prioritize human rights over its national interest." That makes sense for an academic debate. The resolution is then asking if the prioritization is just or unjust.

Clearly, it is unjust to always prioritize universal human rights above national interest. It abolishes democracy, because the people of a nation do not get to choose whether they prefer to increase their own security rather than advance human rights in a distant part of the globe. Government acts without considering their wishes. Moreover, it is unjust and immoral to place the interests of others universally above the interests of ones family and countrymen.

I posed a case in which the government of India had to choose between devoting resources to economic development in rural India or using the resources to advance human rights overseas. Pro rebutted that human rights locally ought to take precedence, but after that n-country human rights ought to prevail over those overseas. However, he characterized local economic development as mere "comfort," not human right. "Comfort" might even include fending off potential starvation. None of Pro's suggestions for agreed upon universal human rights included any level of economic comfort or economic stability. I believe we agreed that countries must always choose to either spend their resources internally or use those resources t advance human rights. We debated whether negating the resolution allowed countries to operate as they have, choosing national interest sometimes and advancing rights other times. I argued that the negation of "ought to prioritize" is "need not prioritize." If so, then clearly the resolution fails, because their are minimum levels of national interest in economic stability and self-defense that ought to take precedence. A just government, I claim, must be democratic and look after the needs of its people.

Pro argued that the negation requires always prioritizing national interest. If so, the resolution must nonetheless be negated. The self-interests of democratic government, economic health, and national security must take precedence over always attempting to police the world in a quest for universal human rights. This allows that sometimes advancing human rights elsewhere is sometimes in the national interest.

Each of the reasons I have given suffices to reject the resolution. We should not require indefinite crusades by governments contrary to the wishes of their people.

The resolution fails.
Debate Round No. 4
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by MTGandP 6 years ago
MTGandP
Yvette, when did RL portray the resolution as a false dilemma?
Posted by PARADIGM_L0ST 6 years ago
PARADIGM_L0ST
Looking forward to getting some time to sit down and analyze this debate.
Posted by Yvette 6 years ago
Yvette
Voting explanation:

Conduct: Tied.
Spelling & Grammar: Tied.
Convincing Argument: Tough, but I eventually have to go with Pro. Someone who does not view upholding rights as important might disagree. However I felt Con attempted to portray the resolution as a false dilemma and failed. For me it came down to that the government is "morally right".
Reliable Sources: Tied.
Posted by Yvette 6 years ago
Yvette
Reading over and will vote. Hard to decide.
Posted by MTGandP 6 years ago
MTGandP
I think this is in my top five most challenging debates. I feel like I made the better arguments (although it's not like I'm exactly unbiased), but RL's points really made me think. I request that voters review this debate carefully.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
sadolite
"Now if only we knew what exactly *universal human rights* are." This is the one thing that negates the resolution. Pro wants us to pretend that it has already been determined, When in reality it will never be determined universally without brute force by a one world govt.
Posted by Steelerman6794 6 years ago
Steelerman6794
I can tell this will be an epic debate. Now if only we knew what exactly *universal human rights* are.
Posted by MTGandP 6 years ago
MTGandP
Okay. The wording of the resolution is going to turn out to be pretty important, but I think it will still make for an interesting debate.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
RoyLatham
Sorry, I meant "the resolution has problems" meaning it is not worded as precisely at it ought to be to make a good debate resolution.

I have had a persistent problem with Windows Vista dropping chunks of characters. I proof read but obviously do not get them all. Today I am upgrading to Windows 7 to try to solve the problem. If I disappear entirely, that will be a clue the upgrade didn't work.
Posted by MTGandP 6 years ago
MTGandP
"It seems to me that the resolution problems"

Did you mean that the resolution causes problems?
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by Nails 6 years ago
Nails
MTGandPRoyLathamTied
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Reasons for voting decision: CON won on the argument that any government would see its own conception of rights as just. (This is over-simplified due to the character limit.)
Vote Placed by MTGandP 6 years ago
MTGandP
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Vote Placed by sadolite 6 years ago
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Vote Placed by PARADIGM_L0ST 6 years ago
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Vote Placed by Yvette 6 years ago
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