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Several manuals and pieces exist in aiding the furtherance of debate skills and general
understanding of the sport. There lacks however one that truly encapsulates the challenges
debaters from West Africa face and an effective way of addressing these issues.

This second edition focuses on challenging subjects for most West African debaters, to
change conceptions and to share experiences vital to improvement.
We hope this contributes to your improvement. Have a great read.

We would like to thank all the writers who contributed to this edition; David, Faithfulness,
Karim, Hawau and Isaac. Also to all who contributed to the typing and editing of this
material and to those who helped put them on the various platforms so people can access and
improve. Thanks you all.





Liberty is the zeitgeist of our world. From Europe to Asia, Africa to Latin America, the
people are adamant in their demands for freedoms and rightly so. Mankind, it is right to say,
has never enjoyed an epoch such as this -where neither the fiat of gods or monarchs, or the
weight of tradition can keep us down. As a result, “Traditional values” and institutions like
the family, marriage & religion have been under assault and are often at a loss on how to
respond persuasively to a global discourse that centralizes individual liberty. The purpose of
this piece is not to argue against this zeitgeist but to show how conservative ideas can be
persuasive within this prism.

Liberalism and conservatism are very broad concepts that can have treatises written about
them, but for the sake of this piece, I would attempt a compression of them to the following

 Liberalism is a philosophy with social and economic ramifications. Socially, it

espouses the equality and liberty of individuals and seeks (liberty’s) protection from
all who would threaten it, be they persons, entities, or states. Economically, liberalism
believes that the unregulated free market is a danger to individual liberty, so while it
supports capitalism, it encourages more government oversight of markets and social
safety nets to protect the poor.
 Conservatism also has economic and social dimensions. Its underlying principle is an
opposition to radical change of the traditions and institutions of old. Economically,
conservatives believe in deregulation and the most minimal involvement of
governments in markets and service provision. Socially, conservatives oppose for
example, the expansion of definitions like marriage and notions of rights to
accommodate homosexuals in the former and immigrants/minorities in the later.

The differences between both ideologies can be summarized under two headings; affinity for
change and governmental involvement. While conservatives have a very low affinity for
change, preferring to stick instead to tried and true notions and ideas, the reverse is true for
liberals. With governmental involvement however, liberals seek more government while
conservatives seek less.

Conservative ideas have an uphill battle to be persuasive in a sport dominated by liberalism. I

believe doing this successfully requires 3 steps. They are; challenging the liberal fiat,
establishing intersubjectivity of ideologies & winning the ideological comparative.

Challenging the liberal fiat

The first thing a conservative must do to have a chance in a debate against a liberal is to
challenge liberalism’s monopoly of liberty. It is not true that all illiberal ideas (like those
borne out of religion or devotion to community) are antithetical to individual liberty. For

1. Religion’s injunctions prohibiting certain acts and conduct might reduce the amount
of liberties a person enjoys, but such limitations can only exist where liberty is
recognized. Therefore, (some element of) free will is an integral part of many
religions. So, a person can choose to abide by or ignore the injunctions if they wish,
however their choice will have consequences. Thus, religion freely opted into doesn’t
erode liberties, it is the exercise of liberties that allow people join and adhere to the
dictates of religions.
2. The deprecation of utility for the individual to maximize the social good by policies
like banning/criminalizing drugs or pornography or mandating care for one’s elderly
relatives etc. are supported by social conservatives while opposed by liberals.
However, even though the individual liberty is not maximized here, liberty like all
concepts is not absolute and liberals (the economic kind) often call for the deprecation
of private property rights because of the greater good as liberalism defines. Religion
or tradition are equally pressing concerns for the many, therefore respecting them is
doing the greater good in the eyes of most of the world.

Bottom-line, the maximalization of individual rights can be a conservative argument -even if

it seems like conservative ideals often require restrictions to individual liberties-, if the
individual is at liberty to make that choice (opt into the religion or society). Also, to the
extent no principles are absolute, conservative calls for deprecating liberty and individual
actualization are as valid as liberal claims to do the same if one can show the benefits of such
action. Put differently, a religious reason to curtail freedoms can be as valid as a liberal one.

All things are inter-subjective, nothing is objective nor beyond challenge

Across the public discourse space, it is increasingly the norm that liberal orthodoxy is seen as
unchallengeable. Few will venture the notion that democracy, sexual liberalism, feminism et
cetera are not just flawed but wrong. Most challenges to these liberal views often come -if
they’re presented at all- from the margins, with some slight critique of these ideas made in a
bid to improve, but not contradict them. Conservative ideas diametrically opposed to
liberalism can’t win with such marginal critiques, so this next step is necessary.

Unlike natural law (Gravity, Evolution, Thermodynamics…), social ideas are not based on
absolute/objective truths, they instead rely on an acceptance in the minds of the populace of
the validity of their premises. For example, “rights” are not an objective fact of nature
humans possess, a lion, dictator, or a primitive tribe (with no previous encounter with the
notion of universal rights) will violate one with abandon, caring not for the opinions of the
United Nations. This shows that the concept of rights is one only powerful in a society where
the preponderance of people accepts it. In fact, you can say “rights are true (and powerful)
because we wish them to be”. The modern rise of liberalism is based on the rise of
individualism which historically is a Western principle. Most other societies argued that the
individual is an inconsequential node in the hive that is society and like the bee hive or ant
colony such communitarian philosophies privileged societal wellbeing. Now which is right?
Individualism or collectivism. It doesn’t matter, because with sociological conceptions, the
concepts of right & wrong are not empirically determinable as they are in the sciences. What
this means for the conservative arguing against the liberal orthodoxy is that you need not start
from a position of conceding things like equality, individual liberty, or rights (concepts part
of the liberal orthodoxy) being correct. One can instead push as equally plausible, social
stratification, restricted actualization and society granted privileges as the way the world
ought to work.

A better paradigm, but for who?

Having established that your conservative idea does not violate liberties and even if it does,
that it does so either by the free consent of the victims or for the greater good. And having
established that the liberal ideals you oppose are not immutable laws of nature, thus are
neither objectively right nor wrong but are joint delusions we indulge because of the benefits
of such a societal belief. You need to engage directly in a comparative between your ideas
and those they oppose. Here, it is key to note one important weakness of liberalism and this is
its universalism. Whereas conservatism tends to take on the unique characteristics of the
local culture, liberalism is predicated upon universal notions like equality and liberty. This is
a weakness that must be exploited because issues are seldom discussed in a universal sense,
that is, a debate cannot be had without factoring in the peculiarities of the society that the
issue concerns. Thus, you might concede that in an idealistic world liberalism’s case would
stand, however in a conservative society, in a developing country, in a narcissistic society etc.
adamant insistence on liberal ideals fails to engage the nuance and liberalism is therefore the
inferior paradigm. For example, in the debate, This House Would legalize hard drugs, if set in
America (or most Western Liberal democracies), you can make a case about the society’s
already hedonistic character and how such makes the excessive consumption of drugs likely
(with its attendant consequences), also engaging how drugs allow for escapism which can
further the social detachment already observable in such a society (again to destructive
consequences). If the debate is set in a conservative society, then there is a lot to be said
about how drugs violate the mores and are incompatible with the sort of practice such
societies find ideal. The liberal case is usually hinged on maximizing the individual’s
happiness, but if you have followed the two steps earlier outlined, you would have
established how the notion of individual prioritization is not an absolute and can -depending
on what society prioritizes- be unimportant. Bottom-line, to win the comparative between
your conservative ideals and the liberal ones, you must engage the nuances of the society in
question and show how that makes the conservative line the superior path.

It is important to note that what makes debating a worthwhile enterprise is the fact that it is
useful in the seeking of answers for our societies. To believe liberalism has the monopoly on
solutions is to shutoff an entire realm of possibilities. We fail to find the best solutions and
liberalism itself stagnates -due to the lack of a challenge- when we do otherwise. In Jainism
there exists the doctrine of Anekantavada which posits that there are many truths. Nowhere
does this have the possibility of being truer than in debating, but to actualize this ideal, we
must be open to all truths.



Perhaps the broadest theme, deeply underlying almost every relevant concept there is. Politics
ironically may also be the most misunderstood concept, in debate.

I hate politics.

I don’t follow the news.

I am a debater.

These may perhaps be the most contradictory set of statements since Judas had both the
destined and the choice to betray. The reverse of the statements above may not necessarily
translate into success in debate all the times, as ‘’indeed empires have been built by those
who don’t know their left from right’’ but good knowledge distinguishes the fool from the
wise. Good debaters are known beyond the 7th minute and the essence of news and
understanding of politics to that cannot be overemphasized.

It is the most important social institution, an ignorant departation from Marx’s widely held
position that the Economic institution is the basis of social structure, yet, so true in its essence
that the Political institution is at the core of social structuring. The inevitability of our daily
encounters is a given, yet as debaters we know so little for comfort. At the heart of it is the
popular statement that; ‘’politics is for politicians’’. It is not the goal of this piece to revive
political consciousness, but to say it is a necessity to appreciating the veracity of our
ignorance and the role in improving our chances of winning debates is to state the obvious.

A lazy guess is all an average bin room frequent needs to understanding where popular
themes that influence motion setting come from. It is all in the news and it is always
influenced by our polity. Where we deviate, we are still guided by what goes on around us for
it is rare to imagine and create without any influence from the environment we live in.


A fair appreciation of the varying spectra of political ideologies would be significant in

having quick understanding of motions and effective structuring of cases. From Noam
Chomsky’s darling Anarchism founded on the desirability of non-hierarchical societies and a
notion that the State should be removed because it is harmful and unnecessary, to Plato’s
belief that the best for a society is the presence of a benevolent dictator or more accurately
the Philosopher King who has the interest of the masses at heart, one is sufficiently equipped
with skills in arguing out motions that endorse chaos or promote anti-modern democracy

Perhaps the most popular modern political ideologies, liberalism and conservatism inform the
vast majority of motions. Beginning in England, Sir John’s Treatise of Government 1960
among others was to set a strong foundation for liberalism; the ideology that strongly shoots
off on the heels of stronger individual rights and freedoms. In direct contrast to that, Sir
Edmund Burke and others provide an equally compelling case for conservatism and for
tradition. It is to say communality provides more stability and concreteness against the
fragility of individualism.

And so from all shades of Anarchism (autarchism, makhnovism, panarchism) to Centrism,

Feminism, Environmentalism, Fascism, and the millions of ‘isms’, it is clear that there
numerous ideologies that can shape our understanding of the human society today, and as a
debater you should take interest in knowing as much as you can. The scope of this article
doesn’t allow for a thorough elucidation of these theories and the many others that shape the
political institution. It is however instructive to appreciate that a good understanding of these
provide debaters with the necessary foundation to rationalize and build ideas on political
However as important as these ideologies are, the reality is that they are never enough to win.
It is one thing having a ‘barz’ book replete with all the fanciful theories and another actually
applying them to win. In fact motions rarely take the form of literal theory constructions. In
the next debate tournament you attend, chances are the concept of Islamic radicalism would
emerge without the mention of Huntington’s Theory of the Clash of Civilizations. The
expectation is that you will do the right inference if you are to win. This point is critical to
succeeding in debate as many new speakers are often of the mistaken impression that merely
knowing theories is enough to win. It is not the case. By all means know them, to serve as a
foundation of thought and argumentation but what is more important is to know how to
appropriately apply them.

From the foregoing, it is important to note that the obsession with theories without
appreciable understanding of the appropriate application is unhealthy. It is better to always
practicalize the theories by drawing examples from your environment to be able to persuade
judges better. If we take the example of C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination, the literal
definition of ‘’the awareness of the relationship between personal experience and that of the
wider society’’ is almost useless in debate where one has to place a burden on the State for
individual discomfort. A more useful application, where one fully understands the theory will
be that, if the said discomfort is not peculiar to an individual but affects many others
individually no matter the different forms it may take, then one can reasonably conclude that
it is more of a social problem rather than an individual’s.


Societies are defined by inequality and power struggle. It is the underlying cause of conflict
and so when Karl Marx propounded the Social Conflict theory, it was to say that essential to
change and progress is the friction of ideas which would lead to the ultimate emergence of a
new and stronger order.

Modern Conflict theorist C.Wright Mills perhaps puts into better perspective, contemporary
problems of inequality in power and resources. It is to say and as is evident in contemporary
struggles, wars etc that always at the core of social troubles and anarchy is the problem of
inequality and imbalance. Faced with any motion on this theme, whether it is on World War
III, American invasion of Fuckhudistan, Boko Haram vs Nigerian army etc, it is instructive to
understand the underlying challenges and how they play out for the respective actors.
Conflict in debate largely happens under two broad themes; the first is for the purpose of this
piece regarded as Soft and the other Physical/Hard.

Soft Conflict is very subtle and misleading. In THS Japanese Military Pacifism, we are
invited into a soft conflict of ideas. Here one is expected to put contrasting strategies together
and determine which is better. It is this friction of ideas that underlie Karl Marx’s Dialectical
Method triad where a proposition (thesis) is pitched against another (antithesis) for a
compromise or a superior outcome (synthesis).

Physical/Hard Conflict as implied in the name refers to aggressive clash or confrontation

often as a result of non-compliance, self-preservation or disagreement. Classic examples may
be the numerous wars ongoing in the world today. In both instances the nuances in the
conflict would require different approaches in debating but the ideas are similar. It is
therefore important depending on where one stands in the debate to identify the actors and the
issues that are most significant to them. Refer to (Asamoah 2017, When Minorities Are The
Last Option) for how to apply minority struggles in Conflict motions.


Ultimately it is important to note that there is never a single universal approach to all debates
that is themed around politics or any which idea. Debaters have various strategies to
approaching motions and each may work in its own right. Notwithstanding this position,
having a basic idea on how motions are structured and the requirements going into any debate
is essential. Where motions are themed around issues on the structure of society or even a
miniature of it in the form of any other institution, it is significant to look out for; majority vs
minority interest dynamics, friction [where it exists], and the most appropriate and effective
way of reorganization.


International relations motions by and large, are very dicey and a tad difficult to debate.
Mostly because, they require more detail and analytic specificity. They require debaters to
have at least superficial understanding of facts, since most IR motions are premised on actual
events around the globe.
I started off my debate career being scared of IR motions, they were the chink in my amour,
but with the direct and indirect help of Inung Ejim and Fred Cowell, I became better and I
now fare really well in IR debates. The ideas that I have learnt from different people in my
many months of debating are succinctly expressed in this article. I hope you improve too after
reading this carefully crafted work.

IR motions generally pertain to issues about international laws, state actors, non-state actors,
multi-national corporations etc. They are about political dynamics between states and other
international actors. Most BP motions have IR underpinnings; they are partially about IR
while some others are exclusively about IR. E.g. THW Sanction the UK for Brexit. Motions
like ‘’THBT Desecration of religious sites is legitimate in warfare’’ and ‘’THW show the full
horrors of war’’ can be said to have other strong genres like moral philosophy and ethics, but
have significant international elements and can be said to be IR motions. Generally this
article advises on how to debate motions that have any IR relevance.

1) ACTORS: The actors in IR debates are mostly states, organizations and corporations. It is
very germane to always understand that people (human beings) are behind these actors. Most
speakers debate like these actors are angelic entities free from human control, but they are
not. In 2015 I was on the closing opposition bench for a motion ‘’THBT Nigeria should
severe relations with countries who refuse to return her looted funds’’. The government
bench argued that when Nigeria severs ties with the countries who have refused to return the
looted funds, the UN will be incentivised to sanction those countries. My bench won because
we were able to prove that the UN is not an independent entity but is controlled by the same
people who haven’t returned looted funds to Nigeria. I have won many debates by just merely
reminding the judges that the actors have people behind them. Whether it is the US or WLD’s
all around, who at different intervals might have a strong right wing base that will oppose
policies that are liberal, or governments of countries who might theoretically exist for the
good of everyone, but in practice are manned people who have their own biases and groups
they want to appease or attack. Making the realization that all IR actors have human beings
behind them is an important step to winning IR debates.

2) FACTS: As earlier stated, most IR motions get set due to happenings around the globe.
You must be able to point them out. Over reliance on facts is bad, in as much as facts are
crucial in IR debates, this is because no one can really ascertain the accuracy of your facts in
the course of the debate. So if a fact is presented and is disputed by opposition, it is hard to
decide who to believe. Teams in debates also invent facts and this is a major inherency. Facts
however can be useful under some circumstances namely:
A) When they are known by the ordinary intelligent person e.g. the fact that the Rwandan
genocide occurred or that currently there are secessionist agitations in Nigeria. Facts
of common knowledge like these can freely be used in debates.

B) When the fact is superficially plausible and adequately and persuasively explained in
fine detail. E.g. the notion that most anti-colonial regimes are bad and sometimes
oppressive because since they are populist in nature they are hard to remove or hold to
account. E.g. the ANC in south Africa, or the fact that contrary to popular belief,
strong dictatorships always have underground bodies who control them and who they
try to please e.g. The Soviet Union under Stalin or Italy under Mussolini.

C) When the facts are used merely to illustrate a point, without having very strong
grounding in the debate.

D) When the facts are accepted by both sides in the debate except such a fact is widely
known to be false.

3) STATE RIGHTS: It is vital to understand the basis for state rights. They could be as

A) The rights of citizens: states mostly have their rights emanating from the natural rights
their citizens have. The sovereignty states have is to facilitate the protection of the rights of
citizens. The rights of citizens can also be a justification to deprive states of their own rights,
in the event where they abuse the rights of citizens or can’t protect them.

B) Human rights/ civil rights

C) The need for international peace and stability is also a reason why states have rights. If
states don’t have rights it is reasonable to assume that total chaos will ensue transnational.

D) International treaties, laws and agreements.

4) MILITARY INTERVENTIONS: In military interventions, there is always the underlying
principle of protection of civilians either from oppressive governments, like in Libya or Iraq
or to fight wars like Vietnam. The general clash always has to be about outcomes i.e. what
side leads to the best outcomes for all parties. In analyzing outcomes and consequences four
things have to be put into consideration.

i) Long term motives of parties. (e.g. Does a country like America have extra motives in
invading Iraq other than civilian protection?)

ii) Past behaviour: Here analysis must be given on the past behaviour of the actors and the
tendency of recidivism in the events where the actors have acted wrongly in the past. Also
there has to be analysis on the ideologies of the actors because ideologies inform behavioural
patterns of states.

In military interventions certain constants exist:

a) Asymmetric warfare; (Guerrilla combats) due to the disproportionality in the strengths of
opposing forces. In most cases asymmetrical conflicts are lasting and brutal, and the side
using guerrilla tactics win e.g. the Vietnam War, Cuban revolution.

b) Extensive media coverage: this mostly comes with limitations from warring parties,
especially states when they are against rebel groups , because of the fear of civilian unrest
and pressure on government when casualties are on full display.

c) Side effects: Military interventions always have lasting side effects. Most times, old
governments are destabilized and new ones installed, problems still ensue afterwards and that
is what warrants peace keeping by international organizations in those areas.

5) COMPARATIVES IN IR DEBATES: We always use the word ‘’comparative’’ without

sometimes knowing what it stands for. Comparatives go beyond proving that you like one
side better than the other, comparatives must come with frameworks.

For instance merely comparing Orange to Banana is a bit pointless and is down to subjective
view and decisions, but a framework can easily change everything. Asking what makes for
better fruit juice between Orange and Banana clearly tips the scale in favour of oranges. That
is how comparatives should work in IR debates, don’t say this is better than this, give a
framework to show why.


1) Own a matter file: it is always very advisable to own a matter or case file where you have
either brief explanations of what some organizations stand for e.g. the IMF or Red Cross or to
have the names of presidents, specific historical facts about key issues. Sometimes it is easy
to predict the issues that will be discussed at tournaments especially when such events take
place immediately before the tournament e.g. a plethora of Brexit motions were set at several
tournaments as soon as it became a reality. In Nigeria, it is also a given that now Biafran
irredentists are more agitated and the crisis is at its crescendo, more motions about Biafra will
be set. It is wise to get a fact file fully or partially explaining the key actors in a conflict.
2) Be aware of issues that have nothing to do with your country. Many times debaters don’t
know beyond their immediate surroundings. The truth is the world doesn’t revolve around
you or your country, and since we all at some point aspire to attend international
tournaments, it is advisable to broaden your horizon and know a lot about other countries.
3) Follow the news: Watch BBC, CNN, Channels, etc. Read “The Economist”, even if it has
a unique perspective, it is easy to follow and has a ‘’systematized view of the world’’. You
might want to occasionally look at a map and know where different countries are. Little
things like that help improve your knowledge. Also, I recommend john Oliver’s “Last week
tonight” on HBO, apart from the liberal bias it is excellent. The perfect combination of
comedy, laughter and education. It gives you the option of learning and laughing which is


-Don’t think about matter dumping. The goal of IR debates is to find the team that provides
the best comparative, basically the team that proves their side has better outcomes or
generally has a stronger moral foundation. So it is smart to focus on slimmer issues in IR
motions. The key is outlining the principle in the motion and spending time explaining it and
showing why your side better fulfils the principle obligation inherent in the debate. The
mistake most teams make in IR motions is focusing on multiple examples and explaining
them before explaining the principle. In doing this, they become prisoners of their examples.
The key to winning IR debates is in understanding that the principles have to come first. E.g.
if you have an IR motion about interventionism, say the US intervening in Syria. If you start
the debate with the example of Iraq, you become a prisoner of that example and your
principle can easily be ignored by a lazy opposition, who can decide to spend time criticizing
your example.
When you start by analyzing your principle in detail, the example becomes less important and
teams can then engage the merits of your case. Examples are incredibly important but be wise
about how you present them.

There are three things you must remember in IR debates and they include:
1) Avoid making IR debates revolve around a examples, basically where all teams debate is
an example and one side attacks and rebuts with examples and no one focuses on the
2) Avoid accidental Orientalism: Do not make sweeping assumptions about groups, states
and people e.g. North Korea is evil, ‘’people in Africa.....’’. Essentially looking at the world
from a western vista. Judge every case and situation by its unique merits at the time. Always
think of better ways to analyze your point without sounding crass.
3) Be specific: State the names of countries, heads of states and leaders of groups. Explain the
background before making a comparative and be clear of the limitations of various policies
you proffer.
These points as simple as they are have helped me improve , I am sure they can help you too.


- Brown, Chris Understanding International Relations [2005]

- Perspectives On IR , Henry R.
One of the first things I learnt or memorized in BP debating (apart from attaching ‘principle’
to almost every argument and the social contract theory) were the aims of the criminal justice
system (CJS); retribution, rehabilitation, protection and deterrence. And this represents how a
lot of debaters approach debates on the criminal justice system, with each team trying to
show how they achieve more of these aims than the other team. All of these are important,
but what is more important is the realization that the criminal justice system is multifaceted
and more complex, and the above may merely be aims of punishment and not the entirety of
the system. An understanding of how the principles underpinning the criminal justice system
debates play out and interact with each other is pivotal to understanding criminal justice
debates and making solid arguments.


 It refers to a complex network of institutions, policies, agencies and processes aimed

at determining, deterring and mitigating crime, and sanctioning the commission of
crime. The criminal justice system usually comprises of;
 those who criminalize an act (or omission); usually the parliament or the legislature
 those who detect the commission of a crime (may be the police or even the society at
 those who decide the extent of the criminality and the punishment (usually the court
 facilities for the enforcement of punishments (prison systems, correctional facilities,
rehabilitation facilities)


There are usually a lot of clashes of principles in criminal justice debates. Some of these
clashes may be on;

 The aims and purposes of CJS

 Rights (of the accused, victims and society)
 Appropriateness of sanctions
 Efficiency of sanctions
However, theirbottom-line is to interrogate the notion of justice.Proceeding from this fact,
criminal justice debates can be said to revolve around two questions and both shall be tackled
by this piece. They are;

1. What are the factors that determine the criminalization of an act?

2. What are the elements that determine the extent of punishment?


Crimes as we know them are wrongful acts punishable by a state or authority. There are
different theories that guide the designation of crime and these are usually relevant in motions
that speak to the criminalization or the decriminalization of a thing e.g. THW
CRIMINALISE BLASPHEMY.Crime is usually viewed as deviant behavior that violates
prevailing norms. But not all deviant acts are criminal. For example, in certain jurisdictions,
homosexuality deviates from mainstream values, but is not a crime. The issue of what makes
a crime is fluid and contentious.As cultures change and political environments shift,
behaviours may be criminalized or decriminalized. The following are some
elements/contentions in the designation of crime.

a) Autonomy

Underlying the operation of the crime and criminal law is a fundamental, yet challengeable,
premise. It is that human actions are conceived as the product of free, rational choices on the
part of the individual. This capacity for free and rational action taking effect in and on the
natural and social world designates human beings as autonomous moral agents, that is as
bearing responsibility for their actions whether good or bad. The premise has, then, direct
implications for the relationship of the individual and state because it provides a potential
basis by which to justify and evaluate a system of coercive rules and punishment for breach.
Subjects, as rational, free human beings, have the choice whether to conform or not and are
able, using rules as standards, to conduct their lives with the minimum risk of suffering
interference. Punishment for breach can then be justified because, by offending, the
individual (free and rational) is deemed have chosen to offend.

b) The Harm Principle

The harm principle is one of the most commonly used principles in debates, and is also
important to discussions on the criminal justice system.The harm principle can be viewed in
two ways. Firstly, and this has a liberal appeal, is that the State has limited authority to coerce
and punish. It may only do so to prevent harm to other people. Therefore, individuals should
be allowed to do, say& think what they like so long it does not harm others. Harm to self is
not enough, nor is upholding society’s moral values. They may smoke, or drink themselves to
death. Therefore, this gives political priority to individual freedom from coercion rather than
collective goods such as morality or welfare. On the other hand,the principle is necessary to
identify what justifies State coercion, namely harm prevention. Taken together the principle
yields the following equation. Where freedom of action if restricted will maintain the
autonomy and security of citizens, it is proper to curtail it e.g. the crime of dangerous driving.
Driving a vehicle is lawful, albeit that it inevitably involves some risk of harm; however,
freedom is curtailed to the extent that taking unjustified risks of causing harm while driving is
subject to penalty.

c) Universal Rights(liberalism) v Cultural Relativism (conservatism)

This clash is essential to an understanding of the variety that exists in modern notions of
crime across countries. Universalism (often pushed based on liberal notions) refers to the idea
that human rights are universal and laws -to the extent they exist to adjudicate the conflicts
between people’s rights- should be universal as well. Cultural relativists on the other hand
object, and often push the Conservative notion that (human) rights and thus laws, are
culturally dependent, and that no moral values can be made to apply to all cultures.On the
issue of crime and punishment, contemporary liberals and conservatives differ fundamentally
based on their contrasting views of human nature, the nature of moral values, and the cause of
criminal activity. Most liberals might believe that crime is a result of sociological and
economic factors. Thus, society is held responsible for criminal behavior in having failed to
provide for such individuals. In contrast, conservatives believe that humans have a natural
capacity for good or evil and moral values need to be inculcated to guide this. The poor and
deprived are not predestined to criminality, therefore, the individual is responsible for his or
her criminal acts. These ideas on the nature of rights and the nature of man (to the extent that
determines their propensity for crime) are powerful to bear in mind in CJS debates.


Punishment is usually said to have five recognized purposes which are; deterrence,
incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution &restitution.

Deterrence is aimed at preventing future crime by frightening the potential criminal or

released felons. The concept of deterrence usually has two assumptions. The first is that
specific punishments will deter offenders from committing further crimes, and the second is
that the fear of punishment will deter others from committing such crimes. Deterrence and
the important role it plays is usually an issue in debates that deal with increasing the
punishment for a crime. The logic behind this is that the severity of punishment may alter the
decision calculus of potential offenders, leading them to conclude that the risks of
punishment are too severe. This is part of the logic behind “three strikes” and “truth in
sentencing” policies, to utilize the threat of very severe sentences to deter some persons from
engaging in criminal behaviour. Some research has shown that increase in punishment does
not mean a decrease in crime, what decreases crime instead is an increase in the certainty of
punishment, for example, the presence of some law enforcement agents on the roads
increases the rate of seat belt usage and traffic law compliance. A problem with deterrence
theory is that it assumes that human beings are rational actors who consider the consequences
of their behavior before deciding to commit a crime; however, this is often not the case. For
example, some state prisoners usually claim to have been under the influence of drugs or
alcohol during the time of the offence. Therefore, it is unlikely that such persons are deterred
by either the certainty or severity of punishment because of their temporarily impaired
capacity to consider the consequences of their actions.

Incapacitation is aimed at removing the individual who has committed a crime from the
society so as to prevent future crime. It is the most common response to criminals. It involves
taking away a person’s freedom and liberties that they would ordinarily enjoy. Proponents of
the incapacitation theory of punishment advocate that offenders should be prevented from
committing further crimes either by their (temporary or permanent) removal from society or
by some other method that restricts their physical ability to reoffend in some other way.
Incarceration is the most common method of incapacitating offenders; however, other, more
severe, forms such as capital punishment are also used. The overall aim of incapacitation is to
prevent the most dangerous or prolific offenders from reoffending in the community.
Incapacitation is often described as a reductivist (“forward looking”) justification for
punishment. Reductivism is underpinned by the theory of utilitarianism, which maintains that
an act is reasonable if its overall consequences are beneficial to the greatest number of
people. Thus, the pain or suffering imposed on an offender through punishment is justified if
it reduces or prevents the further harm that would have been caused to the rest of society by
the future crimes of that offender. The concern here is with the victim, or potential victim.
The rights of the offender merit little consideration. Incapacitation has long been a significant
strategy of punishment. For example, in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries, convicted
offenders were often transported to Australia and America. The most severe and permanent
form of incapacitation is capital punishment. Capital punishment is often justified through the
concept of deterrence, but whether the death sentence actually deters potential offenders is
highly contested. What is indisputable is that once put to death an individual is incapable of
committing further offenses. Capital punishment is therefore undeniably “effective” in terms
of its incapacitative function. Other types of severe or permanent incapacitative punishments
include dismemberment for example the castration of sexual offenders. Less severe forms of
incapacitation are often concerned with restricting rather than completely disabling offenders
from reoffending. These include sentences such as disqualification from driving or curfews.
So, according to this theory, punishment is not concerned with the nature of the offender, as
is the case with rehabilitation, or with the nature of the offense, as is the case with retribution.
Rather, punishment is justified by the risk individuals are believed to pose to society in the
future. As a result, individuals can be punished for “hypothetical” crimes. In other words,
they can be incarcerated, not for crimes they have actually committed but for crimes it is
anticipated or assumed they will commit.

Rehabilitation seeks to prevent future crime by altering a defendant’s behaviour. The term
“rehabilitation” means the process of helping a person to readapt to society or to restore
someone to a former position or rank. However, this concept has taken on many different
meanings over the years and waxed and waned in popularity as a principle of sentencing or
justification for punishment. The means used to achieve reform in prisons have also varied
over time, beginning with silence, isolation, labour, and punishment, then moving onto
medically based interventions including drugs and psychosurgery. More recently,
educational, vocational, and psychologically based programs, as well as specialized services
for specific problems, have typically been put forward as means to reform prisoners during
their sentence. Criminals being viewed as products of socioeconomic or psychological forces
beyond their control enables this theory of punishment to be relevant.

Retribution prevents future crime by removing the desire for vengeance when victims
discover that the defendant has been adequately punished. The only goal in retributive justice
is punishment. Whether it deters or restores is immaterial. Proportionality is an important
concept in retributive justice. This does not mean that the punishment has to be equivalent to
the crime. A retributive system must punish severe crimes harsher than minor crimes, and the
severity of the crime is usually determined by amount of harm and the moral imbalance it

Restitution is concerned primarily with closure for the victims. It often punishes the
defendants financially, that is pay, sanction the payment of money to the victim for the harm
done. In other cases, restitutive systems might get the accused to restore (if possible) things
taken away. Repairing damages, replacing stolen properties or income lost and in other case
performing community service in a manner that provides closure for the society or persons
hurt by the crime. Its punitive tool for achieving deterrence is not as strong as the others, so
restitutive systems are not big on that.


Criminal justice debates are not ‘law students’ debates’. Although a lot of legal terminologies
might be thrown around in debate rooms which might confuse some debaters, it is really just
about simple sociological and philosophical principles that guide whether we should perceive
a thing as a crime in the first place, and when we do, how best we protect the society and
make people safe, or at least, feel safe.

Debates can get interesting for many especially when challenged with issues that seek a class of
specific and technical knowledge. So often when people encounter Justice System motions they are
tempted to believe law students can never flunk such motions/debates.

Economics is one of such areas and over my four year competitive debate history, I have encountered
many motions of this nature and I’ve also seen many wonderful speakers struggle when dealing with
such motions. A classic example was the opposition member in GTDC 2014 in a debate on whether
taxation was theft, a slight understanding of how tax works could have spared him of the shaft.

So the first mistake people often make in economic debates is , “though it is not for experts, speakers
must still have an understanding of the various terminologies and processes”. A number of which I’ll
list in the next section.

A second mistake most speakers commit in economic debates is economic motions re not really about
economics and so teams are very likely to lose when all their arguments are centred around
economics, so arguments such as competition and profit hardly win. This will also be explained
further in subsequent sections.

A third fault in most economic debates is a failure to prove whether ends/goods outlined are
legitimate in the first place, so for example it could be legitimate for Russia to increase working hours
to increase productivity and profit but even with the same results such a policy is likely to be viewed
in the USA or Canada with a lot of cynicism since it has a very good history of worker freedoms and
more favourable conditions as compared to Russia or China.

Fourthly is the failure to argue out well the practicality or feasibility of the adoption of a particular
economic system in a sphere. So even though capitalism has worked in many Western countries it is
still simplistic to claim that African states or North Korea for example should adopt such a system
given that the framework of that country might not be suited for that.

Mistake number five is failure to argue successes or failure rates and proving why that is especially
significant in the scheme of that debate. The next point however weakens this premise in most
instances. What most people fail to realize is that economics is not an exact science. So for every
example of free trade successes there are many counter examples of failures; same for protectionist
economies. Hence a major key in economic debates is to argue which model provides the best fall
back plan for people since all economic models can collapse.
The final error in most instances is the failure to effectively argue out alternatives. In a debated where
a team has done a great job of proving the need for their economic model, it may not be just enough
to argue that it is bad without providing useful alternatives that can be considered.


You don’t need to know how to calculate inflation or understand how much spectacular influence and
activity led to the stock market crush of 2008. If there is any knowledge that is not basic, the chances
are it will be explained in the info-slide or the judges are also as blank as you are on that so that it
comes to just a good knowledge of

a) The definitions
b) How they work
c) Examples of places where they have been tested or practiced.

Another key thing about terminologies is the interaction between various terms or systems. Examples;

- Impact minimum wage has on employment

- Balance of payments on foreign exchange
- Tariffs on investment ad imports
- Taxes on industrialization and job creation etc

With this in mind, below is a list of economic terms no one should miss.

a) Balance of Payments, inflation, labour force, money, monopoly, standard of living, law of
supply and demand, GDP, GNP, Exchange rates, recession , Investment, competition,
capitalism, boom, bonds, laissez fair, Protectionist, minimum wage, micro and
macroeconomics, progressive taxes, distribution, cost of living, consumption, consumer
goods and services etc.

NB: These are just a few and the word basic is relative depending on which debate room one finds
himself in.


What do i mean when I say most economic motions are not about economics? Simple reason.

Economic policy is usually an offshoot of national policy. Hence it is difficult to disentangle

economic policy from national direction. That is to say that a very nationalist country cannot be seen
as an effective free trader in most instances because free trade in itself comes within a certain
framework.; A framework that encourages better and personal freedoms, private sector initiative etc.
This framework will struggle to fit in a nationalist country that closes itself to foreign markets in most
instances, limits private initiative and limits personal freedoms. That is why the more liberal China
becomes economically,, the more it opens up itself to the world and is forced to remove certain
limitations albeit certain limitations remain. Hence when faced with economic systems, the smarter
and more persuasive approach is to argue politics and governance and the framework that exists to
push that policy.

An example is the Hogwarts 2016 final with the motion on nationalizing resources with no private
sector collaboration. From OO the chunk of our case focused on efficiency of private enterprises and
how profit is better on our side. Little time was spent arguing resource conflicts that happen when
various ethnic groups in Africa lay claim over resources and how privatization might be one way to
lessen the problem. Government in that debate spent time proving that even if there is less profit and
less efficiency, in the wake of imperialism and viewing the approval given to countries like
Zimbabwe that have nationalized their lands etc, this is a legitimate thing to do. Also, they just had to
mention popular examples of private sector failures that tackle our case on the profiting ability of the
private enterprise. Government won.

Similar examples can be used in debates of automation although it’s easy to prove why machines may
be more efficient, if the opposing teams just prove why human welfare should be the goal of all
governments and that automation means humans lose jobs and the magnitude and backlash that is
created they are more likely to be viewed as persuasive.

In summary, arguing economics is not enough to win economic debates. Politics and governance
systems and various other angles are crucial to winning.


Like IR motions, economic debates have actors and agents. They are carried out by agencies to
achieve a particular end/goal. In the vast number of instances, speakers assume the goal in every
economic debate is profit. The second assumption is that economic policies and systems can be
replicated everywhere. Speakers also assume that all people have the same economic goals. Obviously
these are very dangerous assumptions that could easily lead an otherwise good team to be irrelevant in
the debate.

Goals in this section can mean;

a) The problem you want to solve

b) The context in which this is most crucial
c) Importance of it in context
A typical example comes to mind, that is; In Round 7 of AO ’17, the debate was about a cashless
society. OG kept running on about benefits without setting clear goals as to why we need to entirely
eliminate cash. OO simply engaged that premise and hence the opening half simply became 28
minutes of this is better and that is not better. In assessing debates, judges cannot essentially evaluate
arguments without linking them to corresponding goals or contexts. A smart CG in that debate
became the more relevant team than the OG by setting a goal and creating a context (albeit what was
easily refutable). In the end, they placed above their opening teams . In debates on allowing free trade
between the US and rogue nations such as Korea DPR, one can set the goal of ;

a) Reducing political tensions

b) Showing how interconnected economies are less likely to pursue conflict
c) Set contexts that need the system being proposed etc

This is obviously applicable in a number of debating areas but especially important and easily
neglected in economic debates.

Finally, beyond proving the goal as legitimate, it is equally important to prove that the means is a
legitimate one. For example in the PAUDC Semi-final of 2015 on taxing products or cars that emit a
lot of carbon, OG set about that model as a means of fighting climate change and safeguarding the
environment. OO simply agreed with OG’s goal but disagreed with the means by proving how one
must not monetize harm and hence an outright ban is a better response measure. OO qualified first.


This is less common because that is what most teams spend time doing especially in these parts as
mechanics are argued out a lot. There’s currently an on-going debate as to whether mechanistic
arguments should be given much weight in prioritization of issues. However If you do not want to be
on the wrong side, it is still very much reasonable to argue out the practicality of your plan especially
for the context set in the debate. This most likely when engaged sets up another clash that keeps you
as a team relevant in that debate.

In the cashless debate motion, one argument CO analysed on was technological readiness and
reliability given that a cashless society was hinged very much on that. Examples of technological
failure in huge organizations such as the British Airways etc I believed elevated the argument to real
importance. It is bad debate practice to use worst case scenarios to counter a policy. For example it is
wrong to use Nigeria to prove why free trade is bad when there are larger success stories that you can
still counter to prove your case.

So argue practicality but use the right examples and elevate your analysis.

Like every system or model, unless it’s so novel, there always exists pretty good stats and examples of
successes/rates. It is key to take advantage of these examples and prove their significance to your case
while ignoring counter examples. The prudent thing to do is to pick up counter examples and show
why the reasons which led to their failure do not exist in the context you have set your debate in.
Painting out different circumstances can do a great job for your case.

What most people fail to recognize however economics is not an exact science, so for every example
of free trade successes, there are many counter examples of failure. Same for protectionist economies.
Hence a major key in economic debates is to argue which would provide the best fall back plan for
people since all economic models are susceptible to failure. For example in a debate on a cashless
society, Opposition can easily point out why there can be massive failure bad on technological
shortcomings and other factors while Government can easily point to various where societies built on
cash have failed through counterfeits and poor monetary policies that led to astronomical inflation in
Zimbabwe for example. It is exigent therefore for a very reasonable team to argue why beyond
success, when failure occurs, people can still get the best form of your system because it has a more
reliable fall back plan.

In a debate about economic nationalism as against free trade, one can easily win by proving how one
model provides a better fall back plan. For example, how interconnectivity of economies under free
trade ensures that when a country’s system fails, other states come to their aid because of the
interdependency that exists. Example is EU’s support of Greece and a myriad of other examples

Another route to a fall back plan is which model helps facilitate the recovery process and seek out the
best alternatives because ultimately countries would recover from failures. However proving a faster
rate of recovery with less damage makes it easier to win. So although China recovered from the
economic meltdown it suffered as a result of Mao Zedong’s economic policies, you can easily trump
their example by arguing out how America recovers from financial meltdowns with less damage,
unlike the case of China where they faced massive decades of famine and instability, other free trade
countries have proven to recover faster post meltdowns.

Ultimately in a debate where a team has done a great job on proving the need for their model, it may
not just be enough to argue that it is bad without providing useful alternatives that can be considered.

Conclusion: This is not everything you need to know about economics, the universities can provide
that. Also if you think this is a lot, you can try out Monash methods of evaluating economic motions
on fairness and efficiency. Maybe you can score a few points.

a) Four years debating experience

b) Four tournaments with Prince Asamoah
c) All my specimen (KarTel, FKunb, Ejim, Derrick, Aurelia etc)