Aff or Neg?

This card sparked an argument on the Emory team back in the day and I saw a recent discussion of the same issue, so I pose the question:

If the neg reads a security K vs an aff about hegemony, is this an aff answer card or a neg response to realism?

Neufeld 1994 (Mark, Department of Political Studies at Trent University, “Critical Reflections on International Relations”, Beyond  Positivsm: Critical Reflections on International Relations, 1994, page 25-26)

Highlighting the links between paradigms and specific socialpolitical agendas is one of the ways in which Stance II adherents demonstrate a clear advance over those of Stance I in terms of reflexivity. The treatment of the realist paradigm in international relations theory serves as a good example. As Smith has argued, because’ international relations theory, as primarily an “American discipline,” has been so closely identified with the foreign policy concerns of the country, it is not surprising that the assumptions of Realism have proven to be so difficult to overcome. This is because the focus of Realism, namely how to maximize power so as to manage international events, fits extraordinarily well with the needs of a hegemonic power. The three key elements of Realism’s account of world politics, the national interest, power maximization and the balance of power, are particularly well suited to the requirements of a foregin policy for the U.S. (Smith, 1987: 198-199) In short, from the perspective of Stance II, realism is understood not as a neutral description of the world as it truly is, but rather as a coping vocabulary of a specific community (e.g., U.S. state managers) designed to address certain problems or to satisfy particular needs and interests. Furthermore, the assessment of realism as a coping vocabulary can be undertaken only in relation to the problems defined and the needs and interests identified. Consequently, the success of realism has, with due respect to Holsti, had less to do with its alleged accuracy in grasping the facts of international politics than with its demonstrated utility for guiding state managers in their activities of state-and nation-building. That is to say, the realist paradigm has validated its truth claims by demonstrating its ability  to guide state policymaking.

19 thoughts on “Aff or Neg?

  1. Lulu

    "the realist paradigm has validated its truth claims by demonstrating its ability to guide state policymaking."

    So although it might be elitist, it works…

  2. Tom Tom

    I see it as an Aff card – even though realism has assumptions or isn't a neutral depiction of the facts, it works. The fact that the author goes from those points to say that it is "designed to solve certain problems," and has successfully demonstrated its utility despite its inaccuracies makes it seem an "even if realism is flawed, it's still good" argument, especially in the absence of any reason articulated why those assumptions are bad.

    Even though threat construction may be flawed in its depiction of the actual state of the world, it still solves the problems it claims exist – especially in the context of hegemony.

    However, the article title/context of the card makes me feel like this may not be a complete picture of the author's argument on the subject.

  3. Nate

    I see this as a neg card.

    Even though the author says that realism is useful in guiding state policy, he means that in the sense that realist assumptions allow policymakers to justify their own agendas of nation-building. (Which he seems to imply is bad.) He also implies that this utility has little bearing on the real world. I see this card as concluding that realism sucks, but it is extremely popular amongst the elites of the world because it justifies their policies.

  4. Will Thibeau

    Whatever side this card supports, it serves about zero utility in a debate. At best for the aff, it functions as "realism key to heg". Which is not only given but already establishes a link to an argument the neg is already impact turning.

    That being said, it would be useless to read in the 2NC for that same reason.

  5. Scott Phillips

    I think people have gotten at the heart of the issue- the evidence I think clearly says realism works, even though the reasoning behind it is wrong. So the question is- is that a positive or negative thing? What does it work for?

    The usefulness in the debate would be something like, "even if they win…"

  6. Antonucci

    I sort of agree with Will – it's too equivocal to matter much.

    If anything, neg. Realism "works" – but it "works" for something bad and isn't accurate. According to the terms of this evidence, realism doesn't accurately describe IR and reinforces a bankrupt system of policymaking.

    Reading this card would be neutral-ish for neg and pretty bad for aff.

  7. Whit

    Aff. It says that using realism works to promote hegemony. Sure the Neg can say heg bad, but then we're having a heg good/bad debate with none of the "your aff is a lie" K shenanigans. …and that is a debate I feel most affs (who would read this card in first place) would be more comfortable having.

  8. AMiles

    the aff is in the best position if they can say realism inev and heg good — this ev takes out hte aff's ability to say realism inev – the neg would obviously be ready for the heg debate, but this card makes the alt debate way easier for neg

  9. Tom Tom

    I don't see why this precludes the aff from saying realism inevitable – to me, it seems like a more complex version of the mearsheimer "behind closed doors policymakers are still realist" arg.

    Not only does he claim that "the assumptions of Realism have proven to be so difficult to overcome," but the last part of the article indicates a utility to realism that draws policymakers to it even in the face of its inaccuracies, and thus they tend to act in a way that conforms to realism.

  10. gulakov

    perm- even if realism's assumptions are inaccurate, we still need to use its discourse as a starting point to appeal to how policymakers currently think and to change institutions from within. even if reality is socially constructed, it is possible for there to be limits on how policymakers construct their realities- the 1ac discourse should be read as a reform from within these limits. the aff is not an blind endorsement of the discourse of hegemony but a recognition that it is the only type of discourse that can appeal to policymakers who are guided by a concern for national interest. like a KGB double agent, we can learn the language of the CIA and work within it while ultimately hoping to subvert it.

    also, what is the warrant why realism guides US policymaking? I think neo/liberalism guides Obama's foreign policy.

  11. Scott Phillips


    I think it is saying historically, since it is from 1994 when obama was still "community organizing". Also- Obama is a liberalist? I think you meant communist.

  12. schmitz

    I think that gulakov is right here that it is good for the perm, I think that it is a reason why realism's truth claims are true (ie, not artificially constructed).

    In the end it would probably come down to how it is spun in the round, and the judge(s)' interpretation of it after they read it. The warrants of the card could be applied to either the K or the aff effectively, but I think that associating it as perm solvency would take less spin than reading it on the neg somewhere.

    The only way I can see this as really being spun by the neg is to say that Realism is just a set of vocabulary, not a preset view of the world, proving it isnt inevitable, but the flip side is then that it does provide a good Realism k/t hege warrant, and answers to the truth claims, so I think that it is risky for the neg to read.

    On a side note, I think that Obama's foreign policy is more of a hybrid neoliberal/realist mix. And Scott, you are thinking domestic policy, not foreign policy.

  13. Antonucci

    I'm going to assume that no one went ahead and browsed the rest of the article, by the way?

    This is a straw person. It's a summary of "Stance II" – which is later refuted.

    schmitz, you may actually be so wrong that you're right. Stance II is described as a warrant for paradigmatic incommensurability. That means "not the perm." However, the author is refuting Stance II – so may actually agree with you.

  14. TimAlderete


    Michael is spot-on here. This part is presenting a criticism of an author, Holsti, who is a realist, and that criticism is itself criticised later. The book is about the "Third Debate" – a period of "paradigm wars" in international relations, and about what to do about a multitude of compatible and incompatible paradigms. The realists, represented by Holsti, should react to this multitude by trying to choose the theory that most clearly reflects the actual facts of the real world. This Linking of Theory to Facts is positivist. (very roughly, positivism as a philosophy or method emphasizes observable, verifiable, empirical fact.) So, for realists, realism is the most appropriate theory because it most accurately represents the way states act in the real world. It is Fact-Based. This card says that, according to Stance II authors, Realism fails its positivist test – that it doesn't accurately reflect the actual Facts of the world; rather it reflects how the policymakers in a hegemonic power see the world, which is positional, not positivist. That it would be difficult to get American policy makers to consider different paradigms because they believed that "realism reflected fact" because it coincided with what they wanted to believe are facts because they are in a hegemonic position. An example; it would be difficult to convince American policymakers that Chinese growth isn't a threat because seeing it as a threat justifies the policies that they had already decided on. Now, it could be debated whether this meant "inevitability" or not, but it is not really an Aff inevitability card (it doesn't say that is justified). But that is irrelevant, because Stance III more clearly reflects the author's intent (Michael's point) That incompatibility (incommenserability) of paradigms is a strength and a sign of potential change. Here is the book summary at the end:

    "In this book, Mark Neufeld argues that the predominance of the positivist approach to the study of international politics has means that theory committed to human emancipation remains poorly developed. He suggests that International Relations theory must move in a non-positivist direction, and takes recent developments in the discipline (including Gramscian, postmodernist, feminist and normative approaches) as evidence that such a shift is already under way. In a comprehensive treatment, he argues that the critical theory of the Frankfurt School can be used to reorient the study of world politics. Drawing on recent work in social and political theory, as well as International Relations, this book offers an accessible analysis of recent developments in the study of international politics."

    So, I think that this is clearly negative – it says both that realism fails as a positivist theory, that it should change, and it concludes (later) that it realism is not inevitable.

  15. Scott Phillips


    I don't know that anyone made an argument about the intent/conclusion of the author. The question is more is "coping" a positive or negative concept/attribute.

  16. TimAlderete

    @Scott Phillips

    Unquestionably negative attribute – the card refers to a "coping vocabulary" to describe the way in which "US state managers" justify to themselves that the real world facts as they see them conform to hegemonic policies that they have already decided. This is a negative Criticism because Realism, as a positivist paradigm, assumes that a theory must be judged by how accurately the theory describes empirical and observable fact. If it fails to accurately comport to facts, and instead comports to "positional facts," then it fails its own core test. Which is why it is important to know the intent/conclusion – to know whether Neufeld meant "coping" as positive or negative. Either way, I don't think that it means that "realism can guide policy even if it isn't accurate" which seems to be how other people were interpreting it.

  17. Scott Phillips

    A bit more background- this piece of evidence was crucial in the 2000 NDT final round, which was a 3-2 decision(in which, interestingly, one Tim "the K hack" Mahoney voted negative on the K, the source of his moniker). You can check out some discussion of it here:

    While in my opinion this is indeed a negative card, I will say the following:

    1. I do not agree with the characterization that this is a "straw man". A straw man argument is typically one set up and then demolished. I have read this article a few times, and while the author is clearly a "neg" author, I do not believe he ever specifically refutes the usefulness of realism as a "coping vocabulary" which is I think the weakness of introducing this argument on the neg. Furthermore, his criticism is of the "you don't go far enough" variety, which it is very difficult to tie the aff to in a lot of instances. Many of the subtle nuances made in the article are simply not useful in the way most IR debates play out where teams are heading to the margins, and so I think the affirmative could easily characterize the permutation as being closer to what the article is describing than the alternative.

    2. Depending on the aff advantage, it may not be a neg card. The argument seems to be "we assume things are one way, act as if they are, and the result is desirable if you are a fan of US hegemony/imperialism". So against an aff that boosted the end strength for example, I do not think this is a particularly useful negative card.

    3. One of the reasons I think this is such a useful example is that I have noticed that "coping" is a particular rhetoric that is becoming more and more prevalent in affirmative K answers. On last years college and high school topic there was a lot of environment k answers read that would draw a distinction between say, management of the environment (done solely for instrumental, human oriented reasons) and "coping" – which was characterized as an attempt to deal with damange humans have already done to the environment. A similar vocabulary is employed in literature about human rights and humanitarian intervention which I think will figure prominently into debates next year about the legitimacy of US forward deployment.

    One final thing- this discussion should serve as a wake up call to all debaters out there- one simple card was read to either suck, be awesome, be strongly aff or strongly neg by several very intelligent people in debate- many of whom could judge you. It is very important that you be selective about what evidence you read and how you explain it- you don't want to leave interpretation of evidence up to the judge. If this was a panel and the debate came down to this card it would be a split decision- don't leave things up to chance.

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