Chapter 14

The Kritik

 

Is the kritik another example of advanced debate theory?

Definitely. The kritik has its roots in German philosophy from the 18th century onward, especially in the writings of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) and Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). The application of this style of reasoning in debate further borrows from "post-modern" academic writing, notably post-structuralist literary criticism, deconstruction, and the Critical Legal Studies movement. This is all heady, cutting-edge radical stuff. It won’t surprise you to find out — as we’ll see later — that the theory of the kritik is not yet well developed, and is poorly understood by many judges.

Even the word we will use is tentative. "Kritik" is the German word for the English "critique," and both words are pronounced the same way. But debaters already use "critique" to mean the assessment a judge gives after the round, and so many debate authorities use the German spelling to distinguish the new term from the old one. But some experts use the English spelling, instead, so don’t be confused if you encounter that variation during research in speech journals and Internet debate sites.

The use of this type of argument within debate circles is fairly new. Kritiks appeared on the college debate circuit in September 1991. By the spring of 1992, kritiks had already spread to high school policy debate, and specifically were being used in Michigan high school debate by Fall 1992. Clearly, the kritik is a strategic approach which has not yet had time to mature. It is unclear whether the high school community will ultimately accept or reject these arguments. This is history being made as you watch: the last major revolutions in debate theory were the introductions of justification in the 1970s and judging paradigms in the 1980s, so we are due for another challenge to debate traditions. Moreover, even if your school’s squad does not encourage kritiks, other schools throughout the state are using them and may try to use them against you to gain a competitive advantage, so it is in your best interest to have a basic understanding of kritik theory.

 

What is the kritik?

Kritiks are philosophically-based arguments which question fundamental assumptions underlying the arguments, positions, or presentation of one side in the debate. Since the kritik asks for the judge to evaluate the round based on the evaluation of the kritik, we can consider these arguments to be varieties of (formal) decision-rules. Generally, the kritik is a tool for the Negative team against the Affirmative — but there are instances where Affirmatives can apply the kritik, too. Authorities suggest that successful kritiks have five characteristics:

  1. The kritik questions the fundamental assumptions of the round. It looks at issues lurking within the presentation of one side of the debate, rather than taking the presentation at its face value. The result of this is that the debate shifts away from policy discussion, often toward discussing questions of fact or value.
  2. The kritik is generally presented as an absolute argument. It demands a yes-or-no response from the judge, rather than an impact which is weighed against other arguments.
  3. The kritik may be non-unique. The side presenting a kritik may indulge in the same "hidden assumptions" for which it is kritiking the opposing team. They will argue, however, that a decision on the kritik can mean a lost debate only for the opposing team.
  4. Kritiks are non-comparative. The kritiks only questions and objects. It does not seek to present an alternative. At most, a kritik can suggest a vague realm of alternatives but not specify which one should be selected. A "kritik of capitalism," for instance, may urge that capitalism be rejected, and the Affirmative plan’s capitalistic underpinnings would be rejected as well. But the Negative presenting the argument would not have to urge for a specific replacement for capitalism, such as fascism or socialism.
  5. Kritiks are a priori (Latin: "from the beginning") voting issues. Since they represent fundamental considerations on which presentations are built, they demand to be evaluated before substantive issues such as inherency, topicality, or disadvantages are considered. If the bedrock of those arguments is faulty, as the kritik suggests, then we can discard the arguments without looking at them in detail.

Negatives will find that kritiks have some features in common with more conventional arguments. Often, the argument embedded in a kritik could be recast, using the same evidence, as a counterplan, disadvantage, topicality challenge, or a response to one of the Affirmative’s stock issue burdens. Strictly on its own, though, the kritik should be distinguished from any of these. It’s not a counterplan, because it’s absolute and non-comparative. It’s not a disad, because it’s not unique and it’s a priori — it must be evaluated before disadvantages. Topicality arguments also claim to be absolute and a priori, but they are also unique and comparative where kritiks are not.

It should be obvious from this discussion that kritiks are naturally generic arguments. They do not look at the details that the other side has presented, but rather at the core reasons underlying the opposing case, or style and diction of the presentation.

 

Help! I don’t think I’m understanding this at all.

If you are new to the concept of kritiks, everything we’ve discussed so far might have been very confusing. Let’s try looking at kritiks another way. Many — not all, but perhaps most — kritiks can be viewed almost like a type of disadvantage argument. However, while the traditional disad says the plan, if put into effect, would have serious, harmful side-effects in the real world, a kritik says that the way the opposing team (usually Affirmatives) have presented their arguments is having a bad effect on the process of debate or on the participants — debaters and the judge — in the round. These bad effects are so serious that the judge ought to give the offending side a loss.

A great analogy is available to us: the use of fraudulent evidence. Suppose that the Negative team can conclusively prove the Affirmative team made up evidence used in the 1AC, or altered the content of a real quotation. The Negatives will ask the judge for a decision in their favor, on the grounds that fraudulent evidence destroys the intellectual foundations of debate. In response, Affirmatives might try strategies similar to "minimizing the link" of a disadvantage, arguing that the violation was relatively minor ("Really, it’s only one card," they might say, or "We got this from a handbook, and we didn’t know the handbook editors were not ethical.") Or Affirmatives might try to limit the impact of the violation, much like they would do against a disadvantage ("Throw out the bad evidence, sure, but remember the evidence we had in our extensions. That’s still valid, so we can still win our inherency position and the debate.") How will the judge decide this? When it is proven that one side in a debate is using fraudulent evidence, virtually all judges will give that side the loss, even if that side did the superior job of debating. The issue of debate ethics is more important than the game-world issues of argumentation and fiat, and judges feel it’s more important to punish the unethical side with a loss rather than award to the same debaters a victory based on their legitimate evidence. Indeed, it could be argued that, by using bogus evidence, the Affirmative has robbed even their valid evidence and argumentation of its credibility.

Okay, now let’s see how this serves as a model for a kritik. The Affirmative propose a plan that will be brought into effect by the federal government of the United States (no surprise there — almost all resolutions require federal action). In response, the Negative team proposes a Kritik of Statism. By proposing federal action, the 1NC says, the Affirmatives are implicitly saying that government is legitimate — they are endorsing the idea of government. (Note that this is the equivalent of a plan link argument in a disadvantage; this is the trigger for the rest of the kritik). But — 1NC goes on to claim — government should not be reflexively assumed to be legitimate. Governments are necessarily coercive: they force people to do things they don’t want to do, and this destroys human freedom. Governments become tools, therefore, for one class of people — the rulers — to oppress and control their fellow citizens, to silence their voices. And even worse, governments aren’t real. "Government" is merely a fiction, a word we use to describe a collection of people all believing and acting together; as far as natural rights go, individual persons have more rights than a make-believe concept such as "government" whose primary purpose is to deprive real people of their freedoms. Of course, the Negative speaker provides evidence for each of these crucial points. (This becomes the equivalent of the internal links of a disadvantage — the detailed description of what proceeds from the trigger). Finally, we come to the "impact" of the kritik: 1NC says that blind acceptance of government stifles our ability to conceive of other options. It numbs us to the alternatives. The impact is felt in the debate round, as the debaters become programmed by the language of "government" to be more accepting of government rights over peoples’ rights. What is the recourse? The only alternative to passive acceptance of "government" — which has just been shown to be evil — is to reject the idea of government unless it can prove its worth. And the way to "reject government" is to reject the Affirmative approach, which is tainted throughout by the passive acceptance of government. So the judge is urged to vote against the Affirmative, not based on the merits or demerits of the plan, but because the way the Affirmatives present their ideas requires a rejection.

I admit, the analogy between a kritik and a disadvantage is not a perfect one — but there are enough similarities to give the new student some idea of what kritik argumentation is like. A kritik focuses on a hidden assumption made by the opposition (in the example, the assumption is that government is a legitimate way of carrying out actions). It exposes that assumption, and argues that the assumption is a mistaken or an evil one (in the example, all the "government is bad" analysis serves that purpose). Finally, the kritik tries to have an impact on the round by arguing the mistaken assumption must be rejected, even though that means rejecting all the arguments of the opposing side.

 

Are kritiks good arguments to use?

Let’s postpone the question of whether kritiks are strategically wise for a moment. Instead, consider the question: Is the kritik a legitimate strategy in high school debate? In other word, should it be permissible to develop and run kritiks?

That really is something that needs to be decided from round to round, but I would argue the answer is yes — at least for Negatives. And there are several ways to arrive at this conclusion. First of all, the Negative team’s only duty is to clash with the Affirmative at some point. Sure, most Negatives will argue on the basis of the traditional stock issues, but they are not confined to those. Topicality attacks and counterplans are not really relevant to stock issues analysis, yet Negatives can win on that basis. Counterwarrants and justification arguments shift the debating ground away from the Affirmative team’s specific arguments and examine the naked resolution. In many cases, kritiks just carry this one step forward, and look to the assumptions embedded within the resolution, or within the Affirmative’s style of presentation. Negatives can argue that, if the resolution itself is based on a flawed assumption, then nothing flowing from the resolution need be debated, since it, too, will be flawed.

Another argument on legitimacy: One position that is central to many (but not all) kritiks is the rejection of fiat in favor of other issues. Fiat power is a mythical, utopian concept. No matter what arguments are presented in the round, we’re just playing a game in debate. The judge does not really have the power to modify the status quo if she votes Affirmative. The only people really affected by what occurs in the debate round are the four debaters and the judge. Think back to our example of evidence falsification in the previous section. The moral there is that when issues arise that affect the legitimacy of the debate activity itself, we are accustomed to overlook all arguments in the round and decide the debate on other grounds. Those who favor kritik arguments claim they have something of the same legitimacy to overlook the topic issues of the debate round in favor of examining the validity of the debate experience.

A final argument on legitimacy: A number of highly regarded debate theorists begin with the premise that judges should listen with an open mind to any arguments debaters present, and evaluate them on their merits without regard to preconceptions. While this looks like a plea for debate evaluators to avoid judge intervention, the argument really has more radical implications: judges ought to be (at least initially) receptive to all theoretical positions which may arise in the round. In other words, tabula rasa and games-playing judge paradigms are the only truly legitimate judging philosophies. Anything else imposes the judge’s opinions of "what debate ought to be" on the round, and forecloses some arguments either team might want to make; in turn, that may mean that before the round begins, some teams will be doomed to lose because the judge will not accept their favored argument.

While not all debate judges accept this reasoning (and there are arguments against it), there is a growing consensus within the debate community that debate theory is not written in stone, but that theoretical arguments should be evaluated as they arise. And that, ultimately, is why kritiks are legitimate arguments for debaters to explore.

 

Now answer the other part: Are kritiks strategically wise?

Although kritiks might be legitimate arguments to develop, that does not mean debaters are automatically going to win the round by running one. Just because an idea is new does not mean it’s good. (Hey! Isn’t that what Negatives are saying all the time?) If you, as an advanced debater, want to run a kritik argument, you have some massive obstacles ahead of you. Your coach may be one: the more time you spend playing with abstruse philosophical arguments, the less attention you’re going to devote to the real issues of the resolution. Your coach may forbid you to develop kritik arguments until you have mastered the topic area first.

Second, you must consider: how much do you want to win? Because kritiks are novel types of arguments, and foreign to the experience of many judges, you can expect to lose some debates even though you know you ran a solid kritik that was not effectively refuted by the opposition. Perhaps the judge didn’t understand the argument, or she rejected it out of hand. Perhaps the kritik isn’t even discussed clearly on the ballot. You should not try to run a kritik unless you have the maturity to handle an unjust decision against you.

Third: Can you handle the research burden? Most kritiks arise from philosophical issues, and philosophy makes for very difficult reading. A few of the lesser-read (and more expensive) debate handbooks now include kritik arguments and evidence, but even that material makes for dense reading. And you won’t understand handbook kritiks thoroughly enough to handle refutation unless you do independent study. I don’t care if you’re a genius debater, researching a single kritik argument is gonna put you so deeply into ponderous and subtle reasoning that you may be overwhelmed. At the very least, you will feel like a novice again, exploring an alien dimension of argument for the first time. It’s an exciting — but demanding — experience. Decide early whether you want to make that kind of commitment.

 

What are some examples of kritiks?

What follows is an exploration of some of the kritik arguments which may be developed and presented in the course of a debate season. The list is worded to show how kritiks may be applied against the Affirmative, but — as we mentioned earlier — some of them can be reworked to apply against Negative arguments, instead. This list includes common generic kritiks that can appear from year to year; each specific debate resolution will also open up certain other potential kritik arguments specific to the annual topic.

This list is not (repeat: not) a recommendation to use any of the suggestions. It should be clear from the preceding paragraphs that, although I think kritiks are legitimate, I have doubts as to whether they best fulfill the educational mission of high school debate.

ANTHROPOCENTRISM
Aristotle was wrong: man is not "the measure of all things." Focusing too much on human needs and problems prevents our appreciating the essential oneness of life and thwarts a transformation to biocentrism or ecocentrism. Inasmuch as the concept of privacy is usually construed only to mean relationships between humans, a concentration on this issue destroys our ability to put human concerns on an equal footing with those of nonhuman animals, or plants, or other aspects of the natural world. And yet those larger concerns are obviously more important. Human rights and values are "socially constructed" — they are phantoms with no real meaning outside each society. The relationship of people within the ecosystem is not a social fiction, though, but an immediate concern that is being ignored, endangering us all.

AUTARCHY
A key element of responsible government is reliance on public input and understanding. A government that is not responsive to its people is tyrannical. But this responsiveness is best understood as a process — the due process of democracy — rather than as a result.

Because the Affirmative plan is implemented by fiat, it serves as a model of despotic rule rather than of democratic due process; the plan is a ukase, or edict, rather than a legitimate policy proposal. Implementation in this way serves to numb the debaters to the value of their democratic heritage; the Affirmatives should lose because they hurt the cause of the democratic process.

CAPITALISM
The thesis of this kritik is that capitalism is evil. It dehumanizes people, because it does not think of them as complex, individual persons but rather as "consumers" to be manipulated into making purchases or working for minimal rewards. The capitalist ethic reduces people to things, which flies in the face of centuries of moral philosophy. Promoting capitalism frustrates our efforts to look beyond the capitalist mentality, and thus must be rejected. Plans which operate within the capitalist system are corrupt and evil, and must be rejected so we can transcend the impulse to treat all things and all people as commodities.

COMMUNITARIANISM
Many debate approaches are grounded in the need for collective action on behalf of the community. The kritik of communitarianism begins with the obvious statement that there is no such thing as "community" — there are only individual people, separate by nature, who choose to cooperate for mutual benefit as they see fit. Failure to recognize individuality is both offensive (reducing people to socialist, robot workers or to drones in the Borg Collective) and counterproductive (discouraging individual efforts to excel). Arguments which give priority to the group over the individual set up a mindset which hurts people and hurts the quest for the common good. For this reason, arguments based on common good, communitarianism, or decreases in individual rights (such as privacy) taint the whole position and merit rejection.

CULTURAL IMPERIALISM
This kritik applies to a number of international resolutions. The United States is trying to impose its values on other nations. That’s wrong, because there’s no grounding for belief that U.S. values are superior to those of other nations. This argument is the same as the Kritik of Ethical Imperatives (discussed below), by argued at the level of relations between nations. You should not be surprised to see this position argued — perhaps with slight variations — under different names: Kritik of American Exceptionalism, Kritik of Hegemony, or Kritik of U.S. Nationalism. All of these will make the same point: The U.S. believes itself to be uniquely special. Promoting this idea — asserting "American leadership" — is just a grand way of covering up American bullying and American force.

DEMOCRACY
Advocates say that one of the key reasons for U.S. intervention in other nations is that it reinforces a climate of peace that bolsters democratic traditions. This would seem to be a good thing, right? This kritik says no. Democracy is predicated on the belief that the opinions of hundreds of people are all more likely to be correct than the opinions of one person. Is there any evidence that this has ever been the case? Instead, we see that the prejudices of the majority become the policies of the government; those citizens who have overcome these prejudices are isolated from power. Elected officials inevitably cultivate special interests which can deliver votes to keep them in power. Democracy is the most oppressive form of government, because the lone voice of dissent is helpless against the tyranny of the majority.

DETERMINISM
We assume that every event has a cause. But have we ever know the complete list of causes for even one event, anywhere, at any time? Even if we did, we cannot prove that causality is a universal truth. There may be some spontaneous lapses from the rule of cause and effect. In fact, modern physics has determined that some interactions between subatomic particles violate our common notions of causality, at least for a brief time. If causality cannot be relied on at the micro-level, then it may not be true on the macro-level, either. We must reject anything which may be untrue, so notions of causality have to be discarded. However, that implies that all causal claims in debate (inherency, solvency) must be rejected, unless the team proposing them can prove that causality is real.

DETERRENCE
Threats are morally equivalent to violence. If it is wrong to do something, then it is just as wrong to intend to do that thing, meaning it’s wrong to sincerely threaten to do it. (A concrete example may make this clear. It’s wrong to kill. Therefore it is wrong to intend to kill — even if you are stopped — and it’s wrong to sincerely threaten to kill — because that just publicizes your evil intention).

But sincere threats are the keystone of deterrence policy. If it is wrong to use nuclear weapons in war (and almost all philosophers believe it is), then it is wrong to intend to use nuclear weapons and wrong to threaten to do so. Thus, possessing nuclear weapons is in itself a passive threat and thus morally wrong. The implications for debate are as follows: the team that is relying on the existing framework of nuclear deterrence and arms-control treaties is supporting a morally untenable, or even evil, position. Their arguments must be rejected as tainted.

But deterrence is not only nuclear. Is it wrong to let an innocent person suffer, or even starve? Everyone says yes. If that is so, then it is wrong to impose economic sanctions on a nation if those sanctions might result in starvation or deprivation. By the logic above, even threatening economic sanctions is equally as wrong. An Affirmative plan or Negative counterplan which relies on economic punishment if a nation refuses to cooperate with the plan is morally tainted and must be rejected.

ETHICAL IMPERATIVES

This kritik springs from the term "should" in the resolution. The realm of "ought" is divorced from the realm of "is." Just because we can do something does not establish that we should do it. Two thousand years of philosophical speculation have not allowed us to discover any single moral truth or ethical rule. To claim otherwise is to commit "the naturalistic fallacy": the false deduction of rules from mere facts. Since there is no legitimate ground for arguing values, worth, or needs — or the policies derived from them — the Affirmative side of the debate rests on the false premise that proving effective action could be taken is sufficient to prove it should be taken.

EVIDENCE
Think of the advertisements you have seen on television or in print: "Four out of five dentists surveyed recommended <product X>," and so on. These all demonstrate a flaw, a logical fallacy, called an appeal to authority. The listeners or readers are encouraged to suspend critical thinking and to follow blindly the recommendations of a supposed expert. If you pick up almost any reference book on logic, propaganda, or rhetoric, you will find a discussion of how the appeal to authority is an invalid argument.

Now consider debate. The chief way opposing teams "prove" their arguments is strictly by an appeal to authority! In other words, the use of a widely-recognized form of corrupt argument is central to our activity.

This can be used as a particularly insidious kritik. After the Affirmative presents their case, the First Negative explains the fallacy of the appeal to authority. The Negative position would be that the Affirmative use of "evidence" corrupts the development of critical thinking skills in the debaters and in the judge, programming us all to accept advertising messages at face value. Since the appeal to authority is invalid, not only must we wipe all the Affirmative evidence out of the debate, we must also erase the Affirmative arguments, since they were developed within this corrupt framework. Only by rejecting the Affirmative (with a loss in the round) can we score a victory for logical and critical thinking.

But wait: Affirmatives can try this too, if they’re willing to go out on a limb. They would have to run a very straightforward, mainstream case, relying on commonly known flaws in arms control policy. And — this is important — they present no evidence in 1AC. If the Negatives fall into the trap of pointing out the lack of evidence, and (worse yet, for them) read evidence of their own, then the Affirmatives make essentially the same argument described in the paragraph above, calling on the judge to reject the Negative stance. On the other hand, without evidence, how can the Affirmative win? This must be explained by 2AC: if we cannot trust quotations from so-called experts, then we can only fall back on personal experience. That’s why the case was so mainstream in the first place, in the belief that the judge (who has had considerable life experience) will recognize the merits of the 1AC based on his or her personal life. That gives the Affirmative two ways to claim victory: either because the kritik invalidates the Negative approach, or because the judge’s experience tells him or her that the Affirmative is basically true.

FEMINISM
This is another kritik which would likely be presented by the Affirmative under certain resolutions, in response to a Negative disadvantage based on feminist principles. However, it is also marginally likely that Affirmatives may adopt a case based on a feminist view of the topic area, and that would provide the Negatives a link to this kritik.

The kritik claims that the "critical feminist" stance is intrinsically divisive and incoherent. Feminism claims there are inescapable differences between men and women in modes of thought and in being. At the same time, feminism purports to believe in equality across gender lines. In practical terms, it makes that goal of cooperative equality unattainable, by denying that men’s thoughts and feelings have parity with those of women. Indeed, rather than abolishing hierarchies, critical feminism merely wants the womyn’s position to be given precedence. The only way to work toward the ideal of equality is to reject the mindset of critical feminism. Accepting arguments based on a feminist perspective would undermine that effort, so the team adopting the feminist position must lose the round of debate.

INDETERMINISM
The world is a clockwork; every action is a consequence of past events via immutable physical laws. Even individual choices are the result of electrical current flows in the human brain, and those currents are the result of precisely determined chemical reactions. Any being which knew the state of every atom in the universe at any one particular moment would be able to calculate the course of events, everywhere, to any future point in time, with absolute precision. The fact that no real person has the perfect knowledge to make such predictions does not refute the conclusion that the future is predestined. The future is already determined by the present, but veiled from our knowledge. Free will is an illusion based on this ignorance. In terms of debate, there’s no use proposing alternatives (such as the Affirmative plan) if the course of future events is already determined.

INDUCTION
Deductive reasoning is a dead end. Its conclusions give us no new information. Consider the classic example of a syllogism: "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal." Now, the deduction is valid according to the rules of logic, but whether it is true depends on how well the premises (the first two sentences) correspond to the real world. Valid and true deductions already have their conclusions implicit in the first premise; we must already know that Socrates is mortal before we can truly make the claim that "all men are mortal."

But inductive reasoning, or generalizations, do allow us to discover new truths. Consider the possible conclusion, "All crows are black." The way we prove this is by induction — we look at crows, and each one we see that is black makes us a little more certain that the generalization is correct; each serves as a confirming example. Of course, any single counterexample will disprove the inductive conclusion, so the more examples we look at, the greater our confidence in the conclusion. As a counterpoint to this, drawing conclusions from just a few examples is unrealistic, since the likelihood of finding a counterexample in just a few trials is low.

Now, all acts of induction are innately uncertain, since we may not have found the rare exceptions to the rule. Somewhere, for instance, there may be an albino crow that nobody has ever seen. Therefore any claim from examples is suspect and must be rejected. As a debate kritik, this argument suggests that any causal or empirical claim (harm, inherency, solvency) must be rejected, because it is based on too small a sample set to test the claim adequately. Or, to take it one step further, the Affirmative case itself is just a single example which is unable to prove the general truth that the resolution should be adopted.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
A branch of legal thinking called Critical International Relations Theory has posed a number of challenges to conventional interpretations of how countries interact with one another. Many of the ideas from CIRT could be developed into plausible debate kritiks. Here, we’ll examine four:

Nations do not exist. This is sometimes called the Kritik of Geopolitics; it also shares a lot of argumentation with the Kritik of Security we will discuss a bit later in this document. The thesis: Nation-states are merely human conventions. There is nothing an observer can point to in the real world to show where the borders of one country must end, or to distinguish a person as being from one nation rather than another. Indeed, all of human history has shown that national borders are fluid, and nations arise or disintegrate freely. The distinctive quality of nation-states is that they allow citizens to reject non-citizens as "alien" or "foreign," and thus somehow subhuman. Anything which perpetuates the myth of the nation-state thus perpetuates this "us vs. them" mentality which is the ultimate source of all war. Since the Affirmative team has bought into the nation-state myth, rejecting the myth requires rejecting the Affirmative position.

"Foreign policy" is oppressive. To assume that other nations can be bullied, intimidated, or cajoled is to assume that other nations cannot legitimately have a difference of opinion with the United States. In other words, the ways of living chosen by other nations are implicitly rejected; anything that is not American is necessarily inferior. This is the vilest form of nationalism, because it rejects at the very outset all opinions of all other nations and peoples.

Anticommunism equals oppression of belief. People have the innate right to be wrong. American policy that is aimed at opposing communism denies the remaining communist nations their natural right to choose, even if that choice would be misguided. Worse, if communism is truly suppressed, then we will lose the opportunity for the errors of communism to be exposed in the free marketplace of ideas. Thus, anticommunist actions will only serve to cloak communism in shadows, rather than truly neutralize it. Finally, it is but a tiny step from being opposed to communism to being opposed to communists — that is, a move from opposing a viewpoint toward opposing, and oppressing, people because of their beliefs. Note: Although we used anticommunism as an example in this paragraph, any U.S. foreign policy program which is pursuit of a specific philosophical goal would generate a parallel argument. In many cases, this could be combined with a kritik of rhetoric — for example, if your opponents argue that fundamentalist Islamic movements pose a special danger for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Foreign aid is immoral. At best, American foreign aid works much as a lollipop is used to pacify a crying infant. A better analogy might be that foreign aid is a form of bribery, through which the American government convinces another nation to do something which may not be in its best interests — at least, to do something the receiving nation would not have done without the bribe. Even worse, foreign aid now is predominantly in the form of loans and loan guarantees, and the receiving nation is often formally required to spend the loans on purchases of American goods. This means that "foreign aid" is really a marketing tool to ensnare other nations in a web of debt, making them captive clients for American big business. The term for this is economic imperialism. Any plan or counterplan providing foreign aid must be rejected.

MATERIALISM
I know I exist, because I can directly perceive my own mind at work. In a sense, I can recognize my own identity, my ego. It’s not enough to say that I can sense things in the world around me, for I know my eyes, ears, and other sensory organs can be easily deceived. But because I can sense my own thinking processes directly, I am sure of my own existence.

I’m not so sure about anything else. I’ve experienced visual illusions and dreams before, so I know that at least some of my experiences are not "real" to other people. I have read scientific reports of people who have had electrodes planted in their brains who suddenly "taste" a familiar flavor, or "hear" sounds, or even "experience" hallucinations, all triggered by a particular trickle of current through their brains. Perhaps these illusions are more extensive than I have realized. It’s possible that the world of my perceptions is all illusion. Maybe no other people or things exist, and I’m one of those test subjects being zapped on an experimental table — or a disembodied brain in a vat.

As a debate kritik, it is clear that there’s no motive to take imaginary actions to help nonexistent people; only if the opposing team can prove that the material world of our perceptions is real, and not a hallucination, do they earn the right to have their arguments considered on their merits.

NORMATIVITY (traditional version)
All values are relative. All values are merely preferences: when you say that "privacy is good," you are expressing your personal belief, just as "pizza is good" really speaks about your preference, not the intrinsic qualities of pizza.

Whenever you give one value precedence, even by using the word "should," you establish an oppressive power-structure that disenfranchises dissent. But debate is really a conversation between four debaters and a judge, and the lesson we need to come away with is that dissent is valuable, for it allows us to investigate alternatives. Before we can look at the game-world of debate, with its imaginary concepts such as "fiat," we need to look at how the debate acts on those five people involved in the debate round. Proposing arguments grounded in "norms," or moral rules, is offensive to the personal growth of these five people, and should be rejected. Affirmatives ought to lose, because they set oppressive value-norms by telling people what they "should" do.

NORMATIVITY (postmodern version)
Normative statements — those dealing with values, obligations, or "shoulds" — assume that human beings are free-willed, politically effective individual beings. But in reality, political power is held by impersonal bureaucratic forces not subject to democratic control. Trying to decide what should be done is both useless and deceptive (it masks the political impotence of individuals). The only way to free ourselves from the illusion that political action is worthwhile — or even feasible — is the rejection of proposals which call for political action, such as the Affirmative plan.

NUCLEAR DISCOURSE
This is becoming a staple in some debate circles — so much so that the argument is sometimes referred to as the "nuke-speak" kritik. This is a variation on the kritik of rhetoric discussed below.

Reality, it is argued by some post-modernists, is socially constructed. What this means that the limits of what we perceive as possible or desirable are bounded by what we as humans acknowledge in our thinking and our discourse (broadly, our writing and speech). Talking about nuclear war or nuclear weapons, in this view, allows us to think about mass murder intellectually, without engaging our emotions or our moral sense; in turn, such talk desensitizes us to the prospect of using such horrible weapons. Any team that brings up the idea of nuclear war in a debate round is actually making such war more likely, by making the prospect of nuclear war less "unthinkable." For this crime against human interests, the team talking about nuclear war should lose.

A variant of this argument is sometimes called the Kritik of Technostrategic Discourse, and that particular variation may be more generally useful under some resolutions. Any talk about the technology of arms or arms control promotes a viewpoint of power as the ultimate end of international relations, this kritik says. But highlighting power issues just heightens the risk that competing interests will worry that their power will erode, promoting conflict between the parties. So talking about technological weapons promotes further conflict and increases the danger that such weapons will actually be used.

PATRIARCHY
Political and governmental decisions, particularly at the federal level, are almost always being made by men. Thus the governmental establishment is a means to perpetuating the second-class citizenship of women (or "womyn") — not only in the United States, but throughout the world. By working within the system, the Affirmative blinds us to the possibility of breaking free from male domination. Rejecting the Affirmative allows for change.

In years dealing with foreign affairs, there is the prospect for a Feminist Kritik of International Relations to be developed from the traditional Kritik of Patriarchy. The concept here is that any consideration of international relations is really gendered discourse, because it is heavily dependent on masculine ideas of military strength and weaponry. The foreign relations process is tainted with the masculine ideals of "how things are done": rationalism, causal reasoning, and certainty. A masculine view of international relations makes war inevitable — it’s a testosterone thing. Acting through conventional tools of international relations means a confirmation of the global patriarchy that oppresses women. This is not to argue that a gynocentric method of international relations would necessarily be better. No, the argument here is that using the conventional tools makes it impossible for us to believe in (far less use) a feminist approach.

Finally, there is also a Feminist Kritik of Arms Control that develops from the same root precepts as the issues above. The whole idea of "control" in the phrase "arms control," it is argued, resonates with a masculinist viewpoint. It buys into the dominance and submission perspective which underscores all relations between the sexes within our patriarchal system. It denies the opportunity for engagement and the use of a mutual, evolutionary dialogue among all parties to reach a conclusion that satisfies everyone. Anyone talking about "arms control" is promoting a masculine agenda, and a gender-based oppression of the feminist viewpoint — and that approach should not be permitted to succeed.

RATIONALITY
Proof isn’t enough. Reasoning alone is sterile. Rational thinking breeds rationalizations. There is no compelling argument that tells us we need to act only on purely logical grounds. So any arguments based on logical and rational grounds — in fact, the act of argumentation itself — need to be rejected. Since the Affirmative case is grounded in rational reasoning, it cannot be accepted.

Supplemental note: Even though the kritik of rationality has won debate rounds, I don’t think it’s workable. If reasoning and argumentation themselves are to be distrusted, doesn’t the Negative cut its own throat by presenting the kritik as a well-reasoned, rational argument? And if we reject reasoning, doesn’t that mean the judge can still vote Affirmative on some other grounds, such as emotion?

RHETORIC
Language can hurt. The language of oppression does violence to self-esteem, even if the oppressed people do not witness it. Using language or concepts that reflect racism, sexism, or other biases is unacceptable even if nobody in one of the maligned groups is on hand to take offense, for it desensitizes all participants to prejudice. This examination of language must even extend to the words used in the evidence read by the opposing teams in a round of debate. Sensitivity toward people who face discrimination requires that we overlook the arguments presented in the round and punish the side using offensive language with a loss; anything less than that is an endorsement of oppression and bigotry.

Supplemental notes: You should take notice that this is one kritik which can be used by Affirmatives against Negative rhetoric as well as vice versa. On the face of it, this argument looks like it is an appeal to political correctness: the side that uses the wrong language ought to use. But this kritik has probably won more rounds than any other mentioned on this list. Debaters have won by noting that their opponents’ word choice uses the word "black" instead of "African American," for instance; on the China policy resolution, arguments which suggested that Asian culture was inferior to western culture, or that there was a "yellow peril" (even if not expressed in those words) providing a military threat to the United States were subject to the kritik of rhetoric.

Arguments that deal with certain segments of the world population (such as those living in the Middle East, those living in Asia, those described as "terrorists", or those living in "rogue states") could trigger a rhetoric kritik. Of course, failure to provide special mention of any of these groups can also trigger a rhetoric kritik, on the basis of "perpetuating the Western pattern of ignoring disenfranchised peoples." Political correctness being as aggressive as it is, one can build a kritik based on the mere mention of these groups (because mentioning them underscores their "special" status and denies them inclusiveness within the general population), or based on the failure to mention them (because that just reinforces society’s effort to exclude these people). However, even though you can conceivably run this kritik every round, it is best saved for clearly abusive situations.

REALPOLITIK
What is called "political realism" in foreign relations — also known by the German term Realpolitik — is the theory that power and immediate material interest should dominate over all other considerations. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains it this way: "Political realism is a theory of political philosophy that attempts to explain, model, and prescribe political relations. It takes as its assumption that power is (or ought to be) the primary end of political action, whether in the domestic or international arena. In the domestic arena, the theory asserts that politicians do, or should, strive to maximize their power, whilst on the international stage, nation states are seen as the primary agents that maximize, or ought to maximize, their power. The theory is therefore to be examined as either a prescription of what ought to be the case, that is, nations and politicians ought to pursue power or their own interests, or as a description of the ruling state of affairs — that nations and politicians only pursue (and perhaps only can pursue) power or self-interest." (www.utm.edu/research/iep/p/polreal.htm)

A Kritik of Realpolitik argues that political realism, which is the dominant mode of international relations these days, justifies mutual suspicion between nation and inevitably leads to a failure of arms control. If all nations are striving to achieve advantage over one another, then any action will be perceived as a play for additional power at the expense of other countries. Suspicion breeds paranoia and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the same time, by ignoring moral and ethical issues, realpolitik promotes immoral actions in the international arena. The argument claims that plans (or counterplans) acting through the normal mechanisms of international affairs, or cases which deal with the "threat" posed by other nations, entrench the viewpoint of political realism and make us unable to envision alternatives. Because political reason is an amoral vacuum, the debaters operating within that framework must lose.

RIGHTS
Much of this analysis derives from the Critical Legal Studies movement, which challenges conventional legal theory by "critiquing" (in the same sense debaters "kritik") standard interpretations of fundamental legal doctrine. Under many resolutions, it’s likely that Affirmatives may start talking about rights — such as the right of security, or the right to life. That opens the Affirmative to a kritik about the nature of so-called "rights." Of course, Negatives are not immune to this, either; they may well propose disadvantages grounded in various rights. Many attempts at using valuative decision rules can also become links to this kritik.

Rights are legal fictions. Nobody naturally has a "right" to anything; even life itself is something we sustain only at the sufferance of other human beings. Government arbitrarily creates rights. This leads to several problems. First, the more we talk about rights, the more they begin to seem real things, not just abstract concepts; this process is called "reification" (REE-if-a-KAYshun). As rights begin to seem more real, people seem less so, in violation of the moral rule called the categorical imperative, which says that people are to be valued above all things or ideas.

Second, the proliferation of rights just leads to more conflicts with other rights that already exist, and there is no way to decide which rights should have precedence. Third, when rights do inevitably collide, society gives priority to the people who are already in control — so "rights talk" tends to further disenfranchise and disengage minority opinions, women, and other less-dominant voices in the social structure. The idea that reality is socially constructed can also apply here. In the debate round, the side advocating rights should lose, in order to rid our culture of its futile and harmful obsession with "rights" and to create the possibility of breaking out of current power-structures.

SCIENCE
Many Affirmative plans will rely on scientific data and reasoning for justification, and some resolutions intrinsically deal with science, medicine, or technology. It is just as likely, though, that Negatives will defend medical and scientific research as issues which could be put in jeopardy by the Affirmative plan. Any approach which seems supportive of science and technology can trigger the kritik of science.

The kritik of science argues that reliance on scientific data and reasoning is bad, because science is defective both in its methodology and in its conclusions. Scientific methodology is mechanistic, reductionist, and empirical; it views each part of the world as a cog in a great machine, and assumes that truth about these separate parts is equally true about the whole. Science treats human beings as the sum of their actions derived from nerve impulses, thus destroying the humanity of people. This explains why science ignores all human values as irrelevant. The upshot is that the workings of science become so aggressively amoral as to become immoral; turning away from human values in order to pursue deeper knowledge inevitably results in actions that offend human values. Consider: invention of terror weapons, experimentation on animals and unwilling humans, and even recent cloning experiments were all done in the name of pure science, without regard for the consequences.

But look also at science’s conclusions, rather than its methodology. The scientific method is always open to reinterpretation of its data. Any conclusions, especially those of a causal nature, are always tentative. Often they are invalidated by later experiments or by new hypotheses. Scientists readily admit that the answers given in textbooks a decade ago are now known to be false. Each generation of scientists impose a new world-view on the scientific enterprise, which in turn changes the interpretation of research data; this was the central argument of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a groundbreaking book on the sociology of science.

The conclusion is that use of science is bad for people, and it provides incomplete or incorrect answers to problems. That justifies rejecting the argumentation of whichever side in the round is relying on science.

SECURITY
The thesis here: The idea of "security" only serves the interest of the state (the government, the nation). Preservation of the state becomes a value, in the minds of political leaders, which outweighs the interests of the people who live in the state. We have seen how this path leads — to oppression of people who dare to criticize the state or its leadership, and the establishment of a hierarchy where those who claim to defend the security of the state are given greater importance over others. In moral terms, since a nation is arbitrarily defined anyway, the concept of national security elevates a fiction over the real needs of real people — an argument similar to the one developed on Statism, below. The impact of the kritik is that the debaters who base their arguments on "security" are establishing an oppressive power-structure and should lose the round in order to restore the proper emphasis of people over fictional institutions.

SOCIAL CONTROL
It is an innate property of organized society to establish a network of social control over a nation’s population. If there is not constant pressure to resist the trend, the net of social control will expand — usually, but not always, through the direct action of government. This is bad, for as social control expands, individual liberties diminish, and the core value of freedom itself is extinguished. Social control is innately (or, as philosophers would say, "deontologically": by the nature of its existence) evil.

The Negative kritik argues that the Affirmative plan will end the constant pressure against social control, and set us on the slippery slope toward tyranny. It does this by reinforcing the institution of compulsory education, which is the primary means by which society cages and confines adolescents — who are seen as dangerous, pre-human creatures. Affirmative case argumentation may actually feed this argument, if the Affirmative position is that education is important in instilling social rules, civic engagement, and good conduct in students.

STATISM
Liberty is the natural and preferred condition of human beings, and it should not be taken away lightly. Government is evil, because it is intrinsically coercive. Cooperating with government makes you an accomplice to evil. Any debate argument which involves governmental action — for instance, any Affirmative plan — is tainted, because it consolidates the evil that is government and blinds the debaters to the alternative, which is doing away with government altogether. Since fiat is unrealistic, the Affirmatives should lose because they are promoting coercive, statist power structures.

TERROR TALK
This is yet another variation on the Kritik of Rhetoric. One man’s "terrorist" is another man’s "freedom fighter." We have been conditioned to have an emotional response to the idea of terrorism — a response that short-circuits rational assessment. We can have no conception of people laboring under such great oppression that they resort to violence as their only means of calling attention to the situation. Instead, we label such people "terrorists" and use the fear that term evokes as justification for considering those people as less than fully human. Using the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" is an attempt at psychological manipulation of the audience — and an attempt to cover up the fact of true injustices afflicting these people. Obviously, then, debaters who start using these buzzwords should be chastised for their attempt to manipulate the debate process, and their arguments must be rejected in order to free us to develop a positive and inclusive future for all people.

THREAT CONSTRUCTION
Any time we start talking about "security" and "conflict," we are being divisive. The very concept of security requires us to imagine an "other" — some group of people who are distinct from "us" — and then to construct for these others the role of "enemy." Even when we acknowledge privately that these are only potential enemies, we have still formed the mental picture of them as opponents. In other words, talking about security threats makes us consider other people as enemies, and then treat them as enemies, so that they respond by becoming enemies. Critics say that this process of constructing threats actually encourages war, because we are predisposed to take heroic action to vanquish our enemies, even though those people are usually only opposing us in our own minds. In debate, the team that begins talk about security threats is actually poisoning our minds, blinding us to the possibility of a truly universal community where nobody is excluded as an "other."

TREATIES
The problem with treaties is that they presume the legitimacy of nation-states and the legitimacy of government — so a combination of ideas from the International Relations and Statism kritik can be applied here. In addition, treaties between nations create a "policy lock" — the commitments they represent becoming a barrier to any changes in future international relationships. The treaty itself begins to be treated as more important than the needs of the citizens (indeed, that’s what some people are saying today about the ABM Treaty). Moreover, this effect of treaties serves to bar future generations from making their own decisions about how they are to be governed; instead, they are coerced by the words written on paper by long-dead statesmen. A plan which relies on treaties, or Negative arguments in support of existing treaties, just reinforces this damaging role treaties have on foreign policy.

 

Can you give an example of a fully developed kritik?

Sure. What follows below is the text of a Kritik of Determinism, just as a First Negative speaker would use it in her constructive speech. Of course, the complete brief for the kritik would consist of even more material than this: there would be answers to all the expected Affirmative responses.

You will notice, however, that the argument as a whole doesn’t ever use the word "kritik." That’s to avoid alienating any judges who have a bias against debate jargon.

Notes to the debater using the kritik are highlighted in colored text at the start of the argument. Those comments would not normally read aloud in a round of competition.

KRITIK OF DETERMINISM

{Note: You might find it best to present this as an "observation" at the start of 1NC. Don’t label it a "kritik," since some judges are afraid of that word. On the other hand, if the Affirmative presses the point, admit it is one. No big deal.

"Causality" (kaw-ZALL-ih-tee) is the relationship of cause and effect. Don’t confuse this with the word "casualty." "Determinism" is the idea that what will happen in the future is precisely and predictably a result of what has happened in the past. A deterministic view of the world suggests that the universe acts like a clockwork, and that all future history is already decided. This kritik challenges that viewpoint.

Adapt this brief to the time limits you face. In addition to the A, E, and F points. you will need to present at least one of points B, C, and D in the 1NC. The points you omit may be useful as extensions in later speeches. Of course, if you have time, read the entire brief.}

Observation: Deterministic causality should be rejected

A. A deterministic world-view is a hidden assumption of the Affirmative case.

Analysis: Determinism sees the universe as a clockwork mechanism of cause and effect. By presenting arguments based on causality, the Affirmative tacitly endorses this world-view. The Negatives see this viewpoint as fundamentally flawed, and we are clashing with the Affirmative on the basis of this unstated assumption.

B. Deterministic causality is an unproven assumption.

Determinism is unproven
Alfred C. Ewing (Lecturer in Moral Science and Reader in Philosophy, Cambridge Univ.), The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, 1962, p. 216: "Yet we must emphasize that the principle that every event is completely determined by causes has not been proved, and is not clearly self-evident. We cannot even conceive a way in which determinism could be plausibly worked out in detail for the mind, and even if true of the material world, doubtful as this may be nowadays, mind and matter are sufficiently different for us to have no good grounding for concluding by analogy that it is true of mind."

Causal reasoning is circular reasoning
John Passmore (prof. of philosophy, Australian National Univ.) in The Great Philosophers, edited by Bryan Magee, 1987, p. 149: "To say that the same causes must always have the same effects because nature is uniform is just to say, or so Hume argues, that they must have the same effects because they must have the same effects. This gets us absolutely nowhere."

A simple sequence in time does not establish causality
Bryan Magee (senior research fellow in the history of ideas, Kings College, Univ. of London), The Great Philosophers, 1987, p. 149: "It does not save the situation to say: ‘We know that Event A is the cause of Event B because B always and invariably follows A.’ Day always and invariably follows night, but neither is the cause of the other. Invariant conjunction, though it is all we observe, is not the same thing as causal connection. It could be the case, by sheer coincidence, that every time I cough you sneeze, but my coughs would not then be the cause of your sneezes."

C. Conflict with free will justifies rejecting determinism.

Analysis: Determinism conflicts with the concept of free will, for if determinism is true, then all our actions — indeed, our thoughts and motives that give rise to our actions — are the effects of causes in the distant past. We would have no choices. Given that free will exists, determinism must be false.

Determinism and free will are mutually incompatible
Alfred C. Ewing (Lecturer in Moral Science and Reader in Philosophy, Cambridge Univ.), The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, 1962, p. 207: [According to determinists:] "Every act of mine was determined by previous causes and therefore, it may be argued, I can never be or have never been free at any given time, because, whatever time I take, my actions then were determined by earlier ones which I could not alter once they had been performed."

The conflict with free will justifies rejecting determinism
Alfred C. Ewing (Lecturer in Moral Science and Reader in Philosophy, Cambridge Univ.), The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy, 1962, p. 211: "On the one hand we have no right to expect that the common-sense conceptions of responsibility will be exactly right; on the other, we should certainly be justified in rejecting determinism if it were shown to be incompatible with any tolerable system of ethics. Determinism after all cannot be proved, and we know some ethical propositions, such as that it is wrong to ignore the interests of others, with almost as much certainty as we know anything."

D. Conflict with recent scientific discoveries justifies rejecting determinism.

Analysis: Last century, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle became the cornerstone of the branch of physics known as quantum mechanics. A simple implication of this science — borne out in thousands of subsequent experiments — is that on the atomic level events can and do occur without being caused, and equal causes do not necessarily lead to equal results. More recently, the development of chaos theory and complexity theory have proven that it is impossible to predict events on the macro-level, since minute difference below any possible threshold of detection will drive the system to produce results other than predicted. Mechanistic determinism is invalid across the scale from the smallest to the largest events.

The principles of quantum mechanics prove that determinism is false
Dr. Michio Kaku (prof. of theoretical physics, City Univ. of New York Graduate Center) and Jennifer Trainer (freelance science writer), Beyond Einstein, 1987, p. 50: "The French mathematician Pierre Simon Laplace took this one step further and believed all future events (not just the return of Halley’s Comet and future eclipses of the sun, but future wars and irrational human decisions) could be calculated in advance if the initial motion of all the atoms from the beginning of time were known. For example, determinism in its most extreme form states that it is possible to calculate in advance with mathematical precision which restaurant you will be eating in ten years from now, and what you will order. Moreover, according to this view, whether we wind up in heaven or hell is determined ahead of time. There is no free will."

Same source, pp. 50-51: "According to Heisenberg, however, all of this is nonsense. Our fate is not sealed in a quantum heaven or hell. The uncertainty principle makes it impossible to predict the precise behavior of atoms, let alone the universe. Moreover, according to the theory, in the subatomic realm, only probabilities can be calculated. Since, for example, it is impossible to know the exact position and velocity of the electron, it is impossible to predict much about the electron’s individual behavior."

The principles of chaos theory suggests that determinism is false
Paul Davies (prof. of mathematical physics, Univ. of Adelaide, Australia) and John Gribben (astrophysicist), The Matter Myth, 1992, p. 15: "It has been discovered that so-called nonlinear effects can cause matter to behave in seemingly miraculous ways, such as becoming ‘self-organizing’ and developing patterns and structures spontaneously. Chaos is a special case of this: it occurs in nonlinear systems which become unstable and change in random and totally unpredictable ways. Thus the rigid determinism of Newton’s clockwork universe evaporates, to be replaced by a world in which the future is open, in which matter escapes its lumpen limitations and acquires an element of creativity."

E. Impact: Rejection of determinism has implications for policy debate.

1. Implications for the Affirmative

Analysis: If deterministic causality is untrue, then it becomes unprovable that the Affirmative harms will persist, regardless of any inherency evidence presented. Likewise, it becomes unprovable that the plan will act to abate the harms, regardless of any solvency evidence presented. The ability of the Affirmative to win either of these stock issues is contingent on the truth or falsity of the hidden assumption of determinism.

2. Implications for the Negative

Analysis: If determinism is proven untrue, the Negative must win, because inherency and solvency evaporate. If, on the other hand, determinism is proven to be true, then causal arguments become viable, and the weight of Negative case and disadvantage arguments will be applied against the Affirmative’s net solved harms.

F. Decision rule: The status of determinism becomes a voting issue in the round.

1. This is an absolute issue.
At the end of the round, determinism will need to be evaluated as either true or false, based on the preponderance of evidence introduced. There is no leeway for a weighed impact; an absolute, yes-or-no answer is required.

2. This is an a priori issue.
Because the validity of inherency and solvency rests on the issue of determinism, the judge will need to evaluate determinism first, before stock issues and substantive arguments are examined.

3. This becomes a voting issue for the Affirmative.
To win, the Affirmative must have valid inherency and solvency at the end of the round. That can only be accomplished by defeating our objection to determinism. Therefore the objection itself can be thought of as a threshold position the Affirmative must pass before they are allowed to proceed further.

How does the opposing side respond to a kritik?

We’ll assume — as is usually the case — that the side initiating the kritik is the Negative, in the 1NC. That means the burden of responding to the kritik will be initially on the Second Affirmative speaker.

Obviously, a kritik should never be ignored. The Negative team will usually be trying the win the round based on the kritik’s decision rule, so you cannot afford to just drop the argument. If you don’t understand what claims the opposition is making in the kritik — and, very often, kritiks are initially presented as jumbles that simply don’t make sense — then you must use some time in cross-examination to clarify the position. Sometimes, that will even reveal that the opposing team doesn’t understand their own kritik argument.

There are four key strategic approaches in responding to a kritik. Each of them has several different tactical arguments that can be used. The wise course generally is to use a variety of responses to kill the kritik early in the round.

 

Option 1: Reassert a comparative policy framework for the round

Kritiks often get a lot of their persuasive strength because the Negative is asserting that they do not have to meet the same standards that they set for the Affirmative, and that there is no near for the kritik to engage in comparative policy analysis. "The kritik doesn’t have to give an alternative to the plan," the Negatives say. "It’s enough that we show the plan isn’t as thoroughly conceptualized as the ideal Affirmative team would want it."

That’s just absurd. Yes, the Negative might have a point if we were discussing philosophy in a college classroom, but in a debate we’re locked into a competitive, comparative framework. So a key tactic will involve rebuilding the focus of the debate where it belongs: on the comparison of policy systems, rather than one-sided philosophical considerations.

Potential Affirmative responses are as follows:

 

Option 2: Show the kritik is not compelling within the policy framework

Once the Affirmative shifts the debate back into a comparative policy-based mode, the next step is to show that the kritik fails to be persuasive if viewed as policy issues. The last tactic we looked at in the previous section — permuting the kritik — was already a step in this direction. Other arguments that the Affirmative team can make are:

 

Option 3: Refute the kritik on its own terms

By now, you know how to debate. It’s time to put those skills to use. The arguments you will make:

 

Option 4: Kritik the kritik

Turn the tables back on your Negative opponents. Their action in proposing a kritik implicitly endorses the legitimacy of kritiks. You can use that implicit argument right back at your opponents. The arguments you might chose to make:

 

Introduction to Policy Debate
Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002 John R. Prager
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