Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives: Hynes on Counterplan Competition

Digging Into The Debate Theory Archives is a series highlighting “old” debate theory articles that are particularly thought-provoking, influential, or illuminating and that active debate students would benefit from reading.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I recently revisited Debating Counterplans: Modern Theory and Practice. Written in 1987 by University of Louisville Director of Debate Tim Hynes, this short book offers a valuable intellectual history of the counterplan as it had developed from the early 1970s through the late 1980s. As far as I know, it is not currently available online; this post (and future posts in this series) will remedy that.

The first chapter that I will share is the fourth chapter of the book: “Counterplan Competition.” In it, Hynes explains the origins and “modern” (1980s) developments of counterplan competition including the six potential standards for determining competition: Mutual Exclusivity, Net Benefits, Redundancy, Philosophical Competitiveness, Resource Competitiveness, and Artificial Competitiveness. After describing each standard (including its strengths and weaknesses), Hynes concludes with a discussion of the two major affirmative strategies that had been developed to disprove counterplan competition: extra-competitiveness and permutations.

At the time, standards for competition had not yet been fully settled; Hynes was describing a set of theoretical concepts that were still in flux. In retrospect, his analysis was quite prescient: Hynes accurately identified the mutual exclusivity and net-benefits standards for determining competition as the strongest, and he correctly predicted (citing Solt) that other standards would eventually be subsumed by the net-benefits standard.

In my view, contemporary students would benefit greatly from reading this history of counterplan competition — especially given how many debates in 2021 are decided by counterplan competition arguments. It is one thing to understand that counterplans compete based on mutual exclusivity or net-benefits because your debate coach or summer institute instructor told you so. It is quite another to understand why these standards were established and how and why affirmative teams developed responses like extra-competitiveness and (proto-) permutations. Students that understand the intellectual origins of these arguments from decades ago will be much better prepared to intelligently debate the extremely complicated counterplan competition issues that dominate today’s tournaments.

The full text of “Counterplan Competition” is below.

Hynes, Thomas J. “Counterplan Competition.” Debating Counterplans: Modern Theory and Practice, Griffin Research, 1987, pp. 22-37.

To say that a counterplan is competitive with the plan is to claim that the counterplan provides reasons for explaining why the plan and thus the proposition should not be adopted. To say that a counterplan is competitive with the plan is to claim that a dispassionate observer of the counterplan would view it as a legitimate alternative to the plan or some portion thereof.1 [Footnote 1: As with other notions of the counterplan, we would suggest that a counterplan could be applied only to particular portions of the plan, if the negative should view those portions of the plan to be non-resolutional. The means for establishing the competitiveness of such a position will be discussed in the text under the net benefits section of competitiveness.] According to Lichtman and Rohrer (1975), “Adoption of the counterplan must be tantamount to rejecting the policy system offered by the affirmative team and hence rejecting the debate resolution as well” (p. 204).

For anyone who has been involved in a counterplan debate, it should come as no surprise that the concept of competitiveness is not as simple as could be assumed from the above discussion. In this section, we will consider some of the explanations given for claiming that a particular counterplan is or is not competitive. We will end the section with a discussion of the concept of permutations, one means by which advocates have tried to come to grips with the growing use of the counterplan as a generic tool in academic debate.

It seems easy to think of the counterplan which cannot exist simultaneously with the plan as competitive with that plan (see Ulrich, 1986, p. 6). Using the language of Lichtman and Rohrer (1975) a counterplan is competitive with a plan if the plan and counterplan are mutually exclusive. As they argue, “Clearly, if it is impossible for the counterplan and the affirmative plan to exist simultaneously, then adoption of the counterplan means rejection of the affirmative plan” (p. 205).

Mutually Exclusive Standard: We will later discuss in some detail some difficulties which have been associated with this particular concept of competitiveness. At this point, we should note that this view of competition is the one generally accepted by debate critics. Take, for example, the debate proposition: “Resolved: that the United States should significantly increase its foreign [end page 22] military commitments to Western Europe.” A counterplan which prohibited the stationing and/or use of U.S. military forces in Western Europe would clearly be mutually exclusive with any plan on that topic.

This example gives rise to a number of questions about the limits of counterplans. For example, must we assume the existence of conditions which give rise to the proposition as a necessary condition for debate. In this instance, the ground rules for debate might be something like: “Assuming that we make any commitment of military forces to Western Europe, they ought to be increased.” The elimination of forces from Western Europe might be an alternative to the plan. We will frequently use an example calling for the curtailment of labor unions on a topic which calls for the curtailment of labor union power. When we do, these same questions about what are the assumptions of a proposition might be even more appropriate. Assuming that labor unions exist, the affirmative advocate might suggest, then their power should be curtailed. Such an affirmative debater might argue that the elimination of labor unions casts very little light on the question of the resolution “if unions exist, then….” The negative position only addresses some other resolution such as: “Resolved: Labor Unions should exist.”

We will finally note that this issue is of particular concern with some strategies, such as the advocacy of anarchy. An affirmative debater might very well argue that a debate proposition which begins with “Resolved: that the United States Federal Government…” assumes the continued existence of the U.S. Federal Government. To provide reasons for why the U.S. Federal Government should not exist, the advocate might say, do[es] not provide reasons for rejecting the affirmative proposal, assuming the continued existence of the U.S. Federal Government. We submit that even in those areas of competitiveness where general acceptance exists, issues have not been fully resolved. Because of the frequency with which these and other strategies have been used, we will later devote a section of this work to these issues.

To summarize this discussion of mutual exclusivity, we want to make a few concepts clear. First, this standard of competitiveness is widely accepted by debate judges. If two programs cannot co-exist, choice of policies is forced.

Second, the standard of competitiveness is subject to potential abuse. The potential abuse [end page 23] rests with the ability of the negative to eliminate conditions under which the plan could exist. We will later consider the implications of this condition. At this point, it should be sufficient to say that this standard is most easily accepted by judges — and in most instances is the preferred standard of competitiveness.

Net Benefit Standard: A second generally recognized standard of counterplan competitiveness has been called the net benefit standard. This standard refers to the negative claim that the simultaneous adoption of plan and counterplan, even if possible, is less desirable than the adoption of the counterplan alone. This standard of competitiveness is not only used with counterplans that compete with the entirety of the affirmative plan, it can be used quite effectively in counterplanning a single affirmative plan provision, which the negative claims will not be topical by itself. It will also claim that the absence of the disadvantages associated with the adoption of other plan provisions would make the counterplan and the present system superior to the plan provision (the counterplan) and the rest of the plan.

The net benefit standard has often been misinterpreted by debaters. In some debates, for instance, the negatives will claim that their counterplan is able to achieve some world-shaking effect, such as the feeding of millions in lesser developed countries. As a result of the magnitude of this advantage, they will argue, the counterplan rather than the plan ought to be adopted. This, of course, indicates that the counterplan has a benefit—and not a benefit net of the plan. Lichtman and Rohrer, borrowing from earlier work in policy making, provide a formula for calculating the concept of net benefit—and also making this competitiveness standard clear.


Ba = benefits of the affirmative plan

Ca = costs of the affirmative plan

Bc = benefits of the counterplan

Cc = costs of the counterplan

Then the net benefits of the counterplan provide reason to reject the affirmative plan if:

(Ba – Ca) + (Bc – Cc) < (Bc – Cc).

[The benefits of the affirmative plan minus the costs of the affirmative plan plus the benefits of the counterplan minus the costs of the counterplan are less than the benefits of the counterplan minus the costs of the counterplan.]

As the calculations make clear, the comparative costs and benefits, rather than [end page 24] absolute costs and benefits serve as the reasons for analyzing plan and counterplan. At least one author (Solt, 1986) has intimated that this standard may be the only acceptable reason to find a counterplan competitive, given some of the difficulties associated with the mutual exclusivity standard.

We should note here that the net benefit standard is unique from other competitiveness standards in one important respect. In many ways, all other standards are descriptive rather than normative. For instance, the standard of mutual exclusivity addresses the question of why the plan and counterplan cannot be adopted at the same time.

It does not directly answer the question of why they should not be answered at the same time—the question which we mentioned as being critical to any competitiveness standard. In many ways, a clever debater can suggest that all following standards collapse to net benefits as long as competitiveness is viewed as an explanation of why the plan should not be adopted. Please keep this position in mind when other standards of competitiveness are examined.

It is true that some normative issues can be attached to other competitiveness standards. For example,    the negative could argue that a counterplan which is mutually exclusive with the plan does answer the should question—we should not adopt the plan, since its adoption will preclude the adoption of a more desirable alternative. Notice, however, that in requiring a comparison of the benefits of the plan and the counterplan—we must do that to prove that the counterplan is more desirable than the plan—we have retreated to a question of net benefits. There is some power to Solt’s off-hand remark.

Some critics have argued that there are some difficulties with the net benefit standard, because it encourages the negative to find as large an advantage as possible—and to avoid any clash with the affirmative problem area. This criticism can be avoided as long as advocates recall that the standard refers to the net benefits of the plan and counterplan combined, rather than the potential benefits of the counterplan alone. Only those benefits which cannot be achieved with the affirmative plan are net benefits.

Redundancy Standard: A third possible standard of competitiveness is redundancy. There are two assumptions to examine before we consider this standard. The first assumption is that the [end page 25] affirmative plan must be shown to be superior to all alternatives. As will be indicated in the section on fiat, this assumption is not a given. If the affirmative must show its position to be superior to all alternatives, then the claim that the counterplan advantages equal the plan advantages provides a reason to reject the plan. On the other hand, if the negative is required to show reasons why the resolution should not be adopted after the plan has been presented, then redundancy will not be a sufficient standard of competitiveness — equal advantages are not a reason to reject the plan.

The second assumption is that stock issues continue to operate as proof requirements for the affirmative in counterplan debate. Others (Ofseyer, 1986; Kaplow, 1981) have considered the effects of the counterplan on stock issues. We present the argument that the affirmative has a burden of proving that a significant reason to change exists after considering the counterplan. This debate has occurred and has been developed in some detail (Boaz, ed., 1982, p. 20). In summary form, with or without a counterplan, the affirmative has the obligation to show that there are significant reasons to adopt the plan and thus the resolution. If a counterplan, which is not the resolution, can duplicate the affirmative advantage the affirmative has failed to meet its significance burden. This burden, the position would state, is not affected by the strategy of the negative.

A usual reply to this standard is that redundant solutions are directed at problems under any number of circumstances (Ulrich, 1986, p. 10). Redundant systems are frequently the ordinary means of operation in some technical areas. Multiple levels of government frequently attack the same problems, and provide overlapping if not redundant solutions to problems. State job programs, for instance, frequently overlap and in fact are often redundant with certain dimensions of Federal job creation efforts. Thus, the position goes, redundancy does not in actual practice provide an explanation of why affirmative programs should not be attempted.

As should be clear at this point, this standard of competitiveness to some extent depends upon the judge’s use of either conservative or liberal presumptions (Goodnight, 1979). In the case of liberal presumptions about the nature of change, overlapping programs would not provide reason why further efforts, i.e., the plan, should be rejected. In the case of conservative [end page 26] presumptions by the debate judge, such overlap may well provide reasons why further efforts should not be directed at the affirmative problem area. The marginal benefit will be negligible if any; there are other efforts directed at the problem even if the affirmative program is rejected; all of these provide reasons why those who would take conservative views would find redundancy sufficient to prove that the proposition should not be adopted.

Certainly redundancy is an acceptable standard of competitiveness when there is a presumption against the resolution (Zarefsky, 1972; Patterson and Zarefsky, 1983 both explain the concept of presumption against the resolution). Conversely, more liberal presumptions would vote on the side of duplication in the assessment of the redundancy competitiveness standard. If we are really concerned about a particular social problem, the more approaches, the better. Without some concrete claim of harm associated with duplication, duplicative efforts only provide greater assurance to task completion. For the critic/judge making such assumptions about the need for government to establish failsafe techniques in its efforts to solve social problems, redundancy will prove to be an inadequate standard for competitiveness.

Philosophical Competitiveness: A fourth possible standard of competitiveness has been labeled philosophical competitiveness. This standard rests on the assumption that people need to seek consistency in the world. (See for example, Heider, 1956 for an explanation of early conceptions of this belief.) This need to seek consistency should be found in policy decisions as well as others. To say that a counterplan competes with the plan philosophically argues that the two policies have roots in different policy assumptions. This lack of consistency alone should be a reason to view the policies as competitive with one another. In a foreign policy arena, for example, an action which appears to be based on different premises may be viewed as competitive, even if the direct connection between the two policies cannot be argued as being directly competitive. John Kennedy, during the deliberations of the Cuban Missile Crisis, did not see that the continuation of missiles in Turkey were competitive with the charge that Soviet missiles must be removed from Cuba. The missiles were not based for the same military reasons. An [end page 27] observer could find philosophical inconsistencies between the demand to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba and retain American missiles in Turkey (Neustadt and May, 1986).

The usual objections to this standard are straightforward and clear. First, the government often adopts programs where there is philosophical tension. The U.S. Federal Government both supports tobacco growth with a tobacco price support program, and funds educational programs against smoking. Many charge that the Department of Agriculture has both encouraged the borrowing of funds for farm expansion and discouraged such farms by increasingly harsh rules for debt repayment. Quite often, government must act to represent a variety of interests in a very diverse country. Such a diversity is often reflected in governmental actions which are quite inconsistent with one another. That the U.S. Federal government has a long history of acting in ways which contradict with one another may be considered evidence that philosophical contradictions are not impediments to change. That the premises of one governmental action contradict with the premises of another action do not give cause to reject the first action.

Whether the drive for consistency can serve as an independent reason why the resolution or plan should not be adopted depends upon the ability of negative and affirmative advocates to support the need for consistency in either decision making or personal life. Much research on the issue of consistency awaits the eager debater who might wish to establish philosophical consistency as a widely accepted standard of competitiveness, or generally provide easy reasons to reject the standard.

Resource Competitiveness: A possible fifth standard of competitiveness could be named resource competitiveness. In this instance, the plan is viewed as requiring a fixed amount of money, manpower, and other resources so that it might be successful. The negative would argue that under the conditions of these limits, any alternative action which the government might initiate would compete with the ability of the affirmative to implement the plan. Say, for instance, that some program of energy development requires the use of personnel     with specialized technical skills. Training of people with these skills takes a long time, and once committed to a project, these skilled people will be unavailable for other energy projects. In this instance, a counterplan [end page 28] advocating some other use of this manpower for an alternate program would compete with the plan for resources.

In discussions of this competitiveness level, the usual resource for which there is competition is funding. Lichtman and Rohrer (1975) suggest that a $20 billion health care program could be construed as competitive with a $20 billion weapons procurement program under conditions where such an additional expenditure of funds would create damage to the Federal budget. That damage, they suggest, would not be created by adoption of a single expenditure option.

Ulrich (1986) has argued that in most instances resource competition cannot be viewed as legitimate. In the instances of funding, there are often alternate funding sources available even if those of the affirmative are not used. In very few instances are personnel limits such that plan and counterplan must come into conflict over the same personnel. As is the case with many other instances, the effectiveness of proof relating to competitiveness depends upon the relative strength of evidence used by debaters in a particular debate.

Artificial Competitiveness: One final form of competition has been called artificial competitiveness. It might also be called structural competitiveness. In this case, the specific structural provisions of the counterplan prohibit the simultaneous adoption of plan and counterplan. For example, the counterplan could include a provision which would state:

“In the event of counterplan adoption, the affirmative proposal will be repealed and prohibited from being given force in law at all relevant jurisdictional levels.”

Or “During the period of time in which the counterplan will operate, provisions of the affirmative proposal will be null and void.”

In general, this form of competitiveness is usually met with disdain. The counterplan is a reason to reject the plan in form only. Other than counterplan provisions, such a counterplan does not contain an explanation for why the plan or resolution should not be adopted. In a sense, such a provision answers a very different question — if the counterplan should be adopted, then the plan will not be adopted.

There are a few issues, however, which make the dismissal of this standard less than routine. First, prohibitive counterplan provisions are [end page 29] consistent with the view of debate which establishes plans, rather than the resolution, as the focus of debate. With such a model, a debater could argue that only the plan and counterplan provisions should be assessed to determine whether the two systems force a choice. Since the choice of any detail in a plan or counterplan is “artificial,” a counterplan provision preventing simultaneous adoption of both proposals is a logical outgrowth of a view of debate as a comparison of policies.

Second, the study counterplan is a special case for artificial competitiveness. This counterplan strategy is discussed in detail elsewhere in this work. Here we will only consider the artificial competitiveness issue. In a sense, the study counterplan does quite simply prohibit the plan from coming into existence while the problem area of the affirmative is researched:

“During a X month period, a negatively appointed study commission will be established. The commission will be charged with conducting research of the affirmative problem area, emphasizing the affirmative program, as well as other possible alternatives, including non-resolutional alternatives.”

While the research/action choice does seem forced, it is forced only if plan action has broad ranging effects on the potential effectiveness of the negative study. Generally, the negative will claim that the existence of the plan will radically distort the effect of the study — institutions habitually discover reasons to justify their own existence; study tends to support rather than question recent institutional changes.

Briefly, it should be clear that the negative which is unable to prove this claim would be guilty of establishing artificial conditions for competition. Unless the adoption of the plan radically affects the outcome of the study proposed by the negative, only specific counterplan provisions prevent the joint adoption of plan and counterplan.

Other than mutual exclusivity, it can be argued that other competitiveness standards collapse to the question of net benefits or mutual desirability. For a redundant program to be rejected, it means that there is some problem associated with duplication of efforts—there must [end page 30] be some reason for directing more resources to attack a problem for which all debaters agree there is a reason to be concerned. For an inconsistent program to be competitive, there must be a reason why people should not act inconsistently. If resources are wasted, there must be a cost to those resources. That cost might be used in the calculation of a net benefit. If the resources of the plan and counterplan do in fact compete for, say, the same technical experts, then the programs are mutually exclusive—they can’t exist at the same time. If the resources should not be directed at the same problem, then it is a question of where the net benefits are greater — as indicated by Lichtman and Rohrer in their initial use of the standard.

To this point in the section, we have considered six different standards for counterplan competition. Other arguments have been advanced as possible standards for competitiveness. As a general statement, we would conclude that any standard of competitiveness must include the reason for explaining why the counterplan provides a reason to reject either the affirmative plan or the affirmative resolution.

Extra-Competitiveness: The next section will consider the legitimate range for a competitive counterplan. Here we will discuss the concept of extra-competitiveness. As noted above, mutual exclusivity has been almost universally accepted as a competitiveness standard. If both the plan and the counterplan could not exist at the same time, it was reasoned, there was a forced choice between plan and counterplan. The benefits of accepting one provided the reasons for rejecting the other. The difficulty with this standard appears only after attempting to establish the legitimate limits for plan and counterplan comparison. What is the extent of action allowed a negative in the effort to establish a forced choice with the affirmative?

To state that a counterplan includes extra-competitive benefits is to claim that benefits of the counterplan are derived from counterplan provisions, or portions thereof, which are unnecessary to render the counterplan competitive. An example will clarify this statement. Take the proposition: “Resolved, that the U.S. Federal Government should establish uniform rules for criminal procedures in all Federal Courts.” The negative argues that the provision of such rules presupposes the existence of government, and thus argues that a counterplan banning all government—[end page 31] anarchy—would be competitive with the plan. The question is: to what extent is this really competitive with the affirmative proposal? Some theorists (Ulrich, 1986) have argued that the portion of the advantages to anarchy which go beyond the elimination of Federal Courts would be extra-competitive. The courts can be eliminated, and thus the courts will not serve as the tool of the government in oppression. Benefits from the elimination of all government in the U.S., however, go beyond that which is necessary to undermine the affirmative advantage.

Another example may further clarify this concept. Take the proposition: “Resolved: that the U.S. should significantly increase its foreign military commitments.” The affirmative calls for an increased American presence in Central America. The negative argues that this would be another manifestation of the evils of American military policy, and calls for the complete disarmament of America. The benefits, the negative suggests, are derived from a competitive counterplan. Hence, benefits from the position are all legitimate. The affirmative could claim that the bulk of the advantage is extra-competitive. They make this claim based on the assertion that only plan provisions which are competitive with the plan per se are legitimate. In this instance, prohibition of American arms for use in Central America might be legitimate. Other weapons which would never be used in that region — nuclear weapons, for example; could not be prohibited by the counterplan. Such a prohibition would apply to portions of the U.S. military not relevant to the plan. The affirmative might assert that this prohibition would be analogous to the prohibition of military disaster relief, which has the effect of propping up populations which should not be supported.

Once again, this issue, like others, is rooted in the plan/proposition priority issue. If the proposition is given priority, then the counterplan would be competitive, and advantages generated from this competitive position would be acceptable. On the other hand, if the plan is given priority—and the area staked out by the plan is assumed to be the legitimate area of discussion—then those areas which rest outside the domain of this area are not legitimate. In this latter case, the concept of extra-competitiveness makes a great deal of sense.

The reader should recognize that extra-competitiveness is an argument available to the affirmative advocate. To advance the argument, the affirmative will need to isolate that portion of [end page 32] the counterplan which they would claim to be legitimately competitive with the affirmative plan. For instance, if the negative were to advance a system of anarchy as an alternative to laws restricting the first amendment, the affirmative should be prepared to isolate those laws which are affected by the affirmative plan. The affirmative could then set the limits for laws which may be legitimately eliminated by the counterplan.

The negative, on the other hand, needs to be prepared to advance reasons for the centrality of the proposition. In this way, the proposition could be established as the basis for competition—it sets the condition of the existence of government, which the counterplan in its entirety seeks to dispute.

Permutations: The concept of counterplan permutations is one final counterplan issue which has received much recent attention. Initially suggested by Kaplow (1981), this notion has evolved as a potential means for limiting the counterplan to a few strictly limited circumstances. Kaplow’s early formulation proposed using permutations to ascertain “whether the counterplan posed a choice concerning the merits of the resolution or merely demonstrated another area of policy, in addition to the resolution, warranting attention” (p. 218).

Herbeck, among others, has advanced the scope of the concept. According to Herbeck (1985), competitiveness issues have suffered from two major deficiencies. First, comparisons between plan and counterplan are based on simplistic bilateral assessments of two proposed policies. Such evaluations are “…based only on static comparisons of potentially dynamic and interactive systems” (p. 13). Second, according to Herbeck, traditional counterplan standards do not address the issue of how the counterplan is a reasonable policy alternative to the plan. Traditional standards, Herbeck laments, “amount to little more than a series of labels distinguishing the plan from the counterplan” (p. 14-15).

To rectify this difficulty, Herbeck proposes a two-step analysis of counterplan competition. First, the plan and counterplan are arranged, or permuted, with the topic providing a limit to this arrangement. The plan cannot be altered in such a way to make it non-topical; it cannot be altered in instances where the plan and counterplan cannot physically exist at the same time. The second step requires the comparison between the permutation and the counterplan. In this way, competitiveness [end page 33] standards such as redundancy and philosophical competitiveness become disadvantages to the permutation, rather than absolute barriers to plan adoption.

It is important to understand the limits which Herbeck places on affirmative permutations. First, Herbeck argues that it is the obligation of the debaters to formulate and to compare the particular permutation—the affirmative must specify the permutation in its initial answers to the counterplan. Rather than suggesting that there are a variety of potential ways in which elements of the plan and counterplan could be combined, the negative must isolate a permutation, and defend its successful comparison with the counterplan initially presented.

Second, Herbeck argues that permutations are a test to determine which parts of the counterplan constitute valid reasons to reject the plan. The permutation is not physically adopted. It is rather considered in some general form, and examined to provide some clear determination of the actual nature of counterplan competitiveness.

As Solt (1985) suggests, permutations developed as an affirmative strategy to react to the nearly endless number of counterplans which were being presented. They were also suggested as a means of combatting the endless list of unexplained “competitiveness standards,” tag lines which very often did little or nothing to explain why the plan (or the resolution) should not be adopted. Solt has expressed concern that in some instances, the permutation tag cure has been as bad in some ways as the counterplan disease. His explanation merits some development.

Solt suggests that there are really three different kinds of permutations. The first he calls a mechanical permutation. It generally responds to a counterplan resting on artificial competitiveness or competitiveness by fiat. Solt’s illustration is a counterplan to a Federal employment program where the negative prohibits Federal employment, and provides food aid to Ethiopia. This, Solt suggests, is clearly abusive. It reflects benefits from portions of the counterplan which have little or nothing to do with the affirmative problem area. The solution is the permutation of the plan and counterplan, with the acceptance of the affirmative claim, as well as the increase in relief to Ethiopia. The mechanical permutation is roughly related to the definition of permutation as “an ordered arrangement of all or some of the elements of a set.” [end page 34]

The second form of permutation isolated by Solt is labeled logical. This form has its roots in counterplans which were born in overbreadth. As a response to minor system variations, the counterplan strategy eliminates an entire system. On a proposition which calls for the government to reform its judicial system to improve the rights of the criminally accused, the negative would respond with a program which would eliminate the government which gave rise to the courts which allowed the criminally accused to have their rights threatened. The appropriate affirmative response to this negative strategy, Solt suggests, is a logical permutation. This refers to the analytical combination of the plan with conceptual elements of the counterplan, including their temporal sequencing. In this instance, the logical permutation would be the adoption of the plan prior to the elimination of government, with the inclusion of protections on the occasion that government might be restored. The problems of time sequencing aside, this is a strategy, like extra-competitiveness, which attempts to respond to generic counterplans which go far beyond the magnitude of change suggested by affirmative programs.

Solt isolates a third form of permutation, although he certainly does not support it. This he refers to as “permutations as intrinsicness argument.” This concept of permutation assumes that counterplan advantages must be a necessary condition of the non-resolution. To translate, this concept of permutation commits the debater to believe that there must be no means other than the counterplan to achieve the counterplan advantage. Any combination of affirmative plan and some available alternative other than the counterplan would mean that the counterplan should not be accepted.

This brand of permutation makes the plan a “moving target.” Any plan provision can be added, as long as that provision explains how the counterplan advantage is not unique in some utopian world. As should be very clear, this view will eliminate virtually any counterplan, since virtually no counterplan benefit is without some conceivable alternate means for achievement.

Solt would claim that the first two conceptions of permutation make a great deal of sense. Counterplans should not claim benefits which are only artificially related to the plan. Counterplans, moreover, should not relate to a plan only because the range of the counterplan is so [end page 35] great that no plan is immune from its application. The third conception of permutations, however, makes the task of applying a counterplan impossible. In Solt’s view of debate, we should encourage the comparison of policies. We should make the conditions under which the policies are compared as fair as possible.

We have considered to this point the general perspective of permutation—what a permutation entails, what implications the concept has to the presentation of a counterplan, what are different ways in which a permutation can be conceived. At this point it is appropriate to suggest a few ideas for negative responses to permutations. Under these general circumstances, it is easy to develop several lines of reply to permutations:

1) Permutations constitute a moving target — Herbeck’s requirement to the contrary, the permutation is usually offered as a potential form of combining plan and counterplan. Moreover, even with limits to permutations, they can still be applied in a way which assures plan variation.

2) Test concept is not legitimate. To provide a legitimate test, a permutation must meet the same traditional standards as an affirmative plan, such as solvency.

3) Permutation theory  is rooted in contradictory assumptions about the focus of debate. It begins by assuming the plan and not propositions must compete. It then allows the affirmative to defend alterations to prove the counterplan to be non-competitive.

4) Time permutations are not legitimate. Any two objects can co-exist as long as they are not required to exist at the same time. A plan could be initially adopted—a counterplan could be subsequently adopted. The nature of choice cannot be considered unless a time element is included.

Remember that some of the limits on permutations must be followed even when the concept is accepted. For instance, Herbeck’s requirement that the specific nature of the permutation must be specified in the second affirmative constructive is not always followed by affirmative advocates. In many instances, affirmatives follow the model of “permutation as intrinsicness,” and thus overclaim the ability of the permutation to respond to a negative counterplan. [end page 36]


In this section we have considered a variety of issues related to the concept of competitiveness. We began with definitions of competitiveness, where we generally stated that the burden of counterplan competitiveness is the negative responsibility to establish that the plan should not be adopted. We further considered a broad array of possible means by which the negative might establish just such an explanation. We began with claims that the plan and counterplan could not be adopted at the same time, through claims that plan and counterplan were rooted in different conceptual assumptions, to positions justifying counterplan restriction of plan adoption.

We also considered two argumentative devices which have been developed to respond to the increasing negative use of the counterplan — extra-competitiveness and permutations. In both instances, we presented a variety of arguments both for and against the acceptance of these positions.

A great deal of time has been developed to a general discussion of competitiveness. This reflects the central position competitiveness has in the understanding of almost all other concepts of the counterplan as an effective debate strategy. In the following section, we will begin a discussion which deserves more attention than it has received — fiat for the counterplan.

Thomas J. Hynes is Director of Debate and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Louisville.