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"The Nihilist Liberation Front: (Intellectual) Terror and Academic Debate."

Steven Andrew Ellis, California State University- Long Beach


Academic debate embraces the concept of the "critique" not only as a strategic argument, but also as an acceptable alternative to status quo policy options. While this acceptance has allowed many otherwise excluded critical ideas into the community, it has excluded a certain kind of criticism. Criticism without an alternative is routinely demonized as bad for debate, anti educational, nihilism. "Winning" the nihilistic critique becomes difficult because critics are persuaded that the negative violates the rules of engagement that allow the affirmative and negative to fight (rhetorically of course) a fair fight. If the nihilistic critiquer accepts the rigged rules of engagement then they have already lost. Thus the nihilist must look to a set of tactics that circumvent and critique the rules of engagement..

Modern academic debate has witnessed a sea change in argumentative form over the last decade. Critique arguments have moved from the borderlands of acceptability to the forefront of many strategies. The critique has in fact become so important that a new realm of debate theory has been constructed to more easily explain the role the critique should play in the debate. This paper will argue that the emergence of K theory has betrayed the goals of criticism through its exclusion of certain arguments and its implicit privileging of others. Specifically K theory has opened up critical and deconstructive space for criticism that seeks to change the discourses of our world, however this space has been opened up at the expense of criticism which nihlistcly negates the systems of power and deterrence. The main tool for achieving this exclusion is the "critique provides no alternative" answer. This paper will attempt to problematize

This aspect of K theory, by illustrating the terrorist qualities of the nihilistic critique. I will suggest that there are no acceptable alternatives to these dominant discourses, I will further argue that the only response to such discourses is the nihilistic terror of a criticism which offers no emancipation, yet masks its violence in a language of liberation.

K theory constructs its house

As critiques have become more and more prevalent in the strategic planning of academic debate, Debate has responded by constructing a theory, which seeks to set ground rules for how the criticism implicates the decision. In the construction of this theory such concepts as the link and the impact have been borrowed from other aspects of debate theory, however other theoretical tools have been developed which are meant to provide the affirmative a reasonable ability to enact the resolution.

The no alternative answer serves as the perfect insulation for the house of k theory. In the simplest form this answer simply claims that the criticism is valuable, but cannot help to solve the harms of the plan. This constant and recurring defense of governmental policy is integrated into k theory on both a practical level and a theoretical level. Practically the deployment of this answer insulates the affirmative from the political/real impact of the criticism by allowing the harms the plan claims to solve, to be weighed with at least equal value in a rational consequentialist decision calculus. Theoretically this answer delegitimizes the criticism and its implications without consideration of the arguments.

These insulating gestures serve as a critical gatekeeper for what is considered good criticism. The effective deployment of this gesture, forces the focus away from the claims of oppression made by the criticism and to the claims of policy made by the affirmative. This move alone defines the nature of the majority of effective affirmative responses because when seen through this lens, the link is more critically evaluated, the permutation seems the best viable option, and the impact has to be evaluated through fairness. This further allows the affirmative to determine which criticism to debate and which to reject on face. It also further allows the affirmative to essintialize criticism, because it provides each affirmative with at least one commonality to define the criticism.

It would be misrepresentative to say that no alt is the most important component of k theory.

It would not however be wrong to say that problematicizing the functioning of the no alternative answer would problematize the functioning of the entirety of k theory.

The betrayal of acceptance

The no alt answer does not exclude all criticism, if that where its function, it would quickly fall under criticism itself, and become to much of a liability to the respondent. Instead, the answer seeks to provide a fair division of critical ground, the affirmative can reasonably predict to encounter some criticism, but to make it fair the criticism must provide an alternative and a solution.

Much like many post cold war states have offered systematic power to what where once terrorist/liberation organizations, k theory has offered power to those critiques that provide an alternative, to criticism that is willing to work through the system. The widespread acceptance has given the appearance that the community has entered into a new phase in which all criticism is accepted, or at least debated.

This however is a simulation of critical acceptance, achieved by essintializing a wide variety of arguments as "critiques".

Debate arguments are typically categorized along similar lines though not entirely representative; a widely accepted categorization is disadvantage, procedural, counterplan, case arguments and critique. These categories can provide similar problems to all negative arguments, but prove especially problematic when applied to the critique.

When the critique is essintialized and categorized a wide variety of arguments are grouped together and treated as a whole. For example critique describes the following two arguments similarly:

  1. HE/MAN Language opresses and subjugates womyn
  2. Language Shapes Reality
  3. Must reject all He/man language to liberate the discussion from oppressive sexism


  1. Acceptance and reproduction of Statist Borders destroys nomadic identities
  2. Nomadic Identities are the only hope for challenging African States
  3. Statist system in Africa ensures perpetual slavery, war, famine, and death.

These arguments have very little in common, yet many second affirmatives would read several of the same answers.

If you where to run either of the positions above you are likely to encounter at least the following answers:

  1. Permutation-Do the plan and the kritik-juxtaposition of plan and criticism best allows the functioning of the criticism in a postmodern world-
  2. No Alternative- The criticism can do nothing to help the harms of the plan, it provides no alternative to the plan or the status quo and paralyzes pragmatic progressive policy making.
  3. No link- The criticism does not directly link to the affirmative, rather it is a criticism of the status quo.

With these three answers the affirmative can define how the criticism functions, even if the functional design of the criticism exists against or more commonly separate from such functional definitions. This is the betrayal of acceptance.

Nihilists At the gate

"Rejection of plan is just nihilism, that leads to policy paralysis"

With this the game becomes rigged, once the criticism/movement agrees to play a policy focused game, they are playing a game of compromise and political pragmatism which cannot succeed unless it willingly agrees not to succeed. Minor victories can be achieved within the political system but the absolutist ideals inspiring the criticism/movement can never be achieved.

Nihilistic critiquers realize this, they realize that there is no place in the political landscape for criticism which meerly calls for nihilistic destruction. These critiques target the systems of domination, privilege, and meaning obfuscation, through which policy operates, precisely because they provide no hope. These critiques have no desire to reform capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, legal normativity, realism, democracy, development, racism, or statism. They speak to stand in the face of these systems and say no.

But no is not a good enough reason to reject. It doesn’t do anything or it does nothing.

The No alternative gatekeeper will not permit these criticisms to enter the house of k theory, they become the excluded other of critique.

The Nihilists can argue with the gatekeeper, they can say for example that "alternatives are excluded by the plan" or "the critique opens up alternatives" they can even say that "the critique is the alternative". The decision however about the legitimacy of the alternative and thus the criticism is still evaluated by the gatekeeper through a pragmatic political lens.

These deceptions of the gatekeeper are successful, only in deceiving the gatekeeper. The house of K theory uses the answers that deceive the gate keeper to give legitimacy to the permutation, and thus the potential subversion that nihilists might achieve by acceptance are coopted.

Here is how it works. The permutation argues that pragmatic policy solutions are needed to pragmatic policy problems, however by somehow combing and juxtaposing the political solution with the criticism the flaws of the plan are exposed but the benefits still achieved. When faced with a critique that provides no alternative the permutation must bridge a commensurability gap between the criticism and the policy. However when the negative agrees that there are alternatives the affirmative can use the permutation to coopt the criticism by utilizing the alternatives provided by plan and the critique as anchors in a commensurability bridge.

K theory seeks to answer the question what should we do, The Gatekeeper marginalizes criticism that says not your plan. That’s not to say the nihilists do not win sympathy and victories in its battles against the house of k theory. Just to say that the base of k theory within the CEDA/NDT community is based on a political pragmatism which delegitimizes and seeks to exclude nihilistic rejections of plan.

Doing Nothing

If the gatekeeper can successfully keep the nihilists at bay by winning the no alternative argument, then they can argue that the performance of the plan does something and the critique does nothing. In this case doing nothing implicitly means, no political action, no real effort at social change, and no real compassion for real people. If the affirmative can win this argument with its implicit implications they will likely win the debate.

The nihilistic critiquer must unpack the language of doing nothing, and expose the politics of rejection and destruction. They must argue that doing nothing when faced with a choice is different than doing nothing when not faced with a choice. When faced with a contested choice there is politics in anti-politics, ethics in anti-ethics, etc. Rejection is not passive acceptance.

Rejection instead, is an active political decision, it is the utilization of liberalism’s most valued tool, the ability to say no. Turned against the system that empowers it, rejection hijacks the language of liberation and holds it hostage to a new poetics of anti-political post-critical debate.

Rejection says that oppressive systems surround us and privilege entrenched power. Each actor and emblem of that system is an enemy of its oppressed.

Each instance is thus a potential target for rejection.

Simple critical rejection critiques contest that all instances are always targets:

A.Each Action through the state is evil

B. Must always reject the state or die a terrible evil death of enslaved dehumanizing capitalist californication.

. The affirmative can usually defend against these all out attacks simply by focusing on the link and the uniqueness and the permutation. The all encompassing nature of such critiques has allowed k theory to reduce their implication, and a trend in specification and critical complexity has left much of this criticism behind.

The nihilistic critiquer takes the politics of rejection and applies them to specific well chosen targets, this is the politics of destruction. Like the black block anarchists who targeted McDonalds and Starbucks in Seattle. The Animal Liberation Front attacks on chicken farms in Ohio, the zapatista’s seizure of Mexican curriculum schools in chiapas, and the unabombers war against technocapitalism.

These specific targets are chosen not because of their tactical value but because of their sign value, targets perceived by power as benevolent are problematized by direct action against them. The critique serves as the justification for the destruction.The rejection of plan serves as the direct action. The affirmative is the target,

The affirmative will still contend that this does nothing, but destroy, that rejection is just destruction and that the only real politics is the politics within the system.

To this the nihilist critiquer can turn to baudrillard:

Jean Baudrillard-Simulacra & Simulation

"Melancholia is the brutal disaffection that characterizes our

Saturated systems. Once the hope of balancing good and evil, true

and false,indeed of confronting some values of the same order,

once the more general hope of a relation of forces and a stake has

vanished. Everywhere, always the system is to strong: hege-


Against this hegemony of the system, one can exalt the ruses of

desire, practice revolutionary micrology of the quotidian, exalt

the molecular drift or even defend cooking. This does not resolve

the imperious necessity of checking the system in broad daylight.

This, only terrorism can do.

It is the trait of reversion that effaces the remainder, just as a

single ironic smile effaces a whole discourse, just as a single flash

of denial in a slave effaces all the power and pleasure of the


The more hegemonic the system, the more the imagination is

struck by the smallest of its reversals. The challenge,even infini-

tesimal, is the image of a chain failure. Only this reversibility

without a counterpart is an event today, on the nihilistic and

disaffected stage of the political. Only it mobilizes the imaginary.

If being a nihlist, is carrying, to the unbearable limit of

hegemonic systems, this radical trait of derision and of violence,

this challenge that the system is summoned to answer through its

own death, then I am a terrorist and nihlist in theory as the

others are with their weapons. Theoretical violence, not truth, is

the only resource left us."

The only real politics of change are those politics of rejection and destruction which problematize a hegemonic system by destroying its emblematic enactment’s. Otherwise the critique and the affirmative are just playing politics. It is not likely that the debate round will change the world or even the minds of the people involved, nor is it likely that the rejection of Tanzanian debt relief on a critique of development could spur social change. The majority of the targets of critique will never be solved.

However the probability of the rejection serving as real politics is infinitely larger than the probability of real change by voting affirmative. The politics of the affirmative require them to at least defend systematic reform and within that a displacement of real political responsibility. Only the rejection embodied within the critique can provide the possibility that the debate matters.

The Death of Innocents

"if plan isn’t done people will starve, the perm feeds them and deconstructs development the kritik just lets them starve"

Does the kritik really just let them starve? No.

Does the kritik textually endorse letting them starve? Probably.

Does the Perm really feed them?. No.

Does the perm textually endorse feeding them? Probably.

The space of contestation need not be whether there is actually a solution to starvation, neither text can achieve that goal at their own admission. Rather the contested space is the textual competition of the criticism and the affirmative.

The affirmative will attempt to argue that the negative is willing to kill innocent civilians in order to destroy the system. They will argue that the ballot is an endorsement of one idea or the other, and that an affirmative ballot is the only thing endorsing compassion for others. Pragmatic Progressive Politics.

If the affirmative can sell the story this way with out the lives of the innocent becoming contested, then the plan is likely to be passed.

The critiquer must then recast the relationship between the plan and the innocents. The innocents are not saved by the affirmative but held hostage by it, an affirmative vote is not a solution it is the ransom paid to free the innocents. The critique is an attempt to free the innocents without paying the ransom, a negative ballot endorses this action.

If this recasting is not successful the permutation can be a successful strategy however if the negative can problematize the innocents then the critique makes the affirmative even less viable because it admits to the harms the critique implicates but imposes its will anyway, the hostage analogy becomes even more apt at this point because it shows the desperation the affirmative must turn to in order to back up its pragmatic progressive politics.

Call To Arms

It is time for a resurgence of nihilistic critiques. Critiques that say no more. Critiques that strike down the plan in solidarity with movements of refusal. Critiques that destroy. Critiques that attack one representation at a time. The house of K theory is not on the verge of collapse, there are no signs that the growing wave of acceptable criticism is diminishing. But the no alternative answer is at the forefront of the affirmative weapons and problematizing and attacking it, make it less effective. It is time to attack the no alternative answer not in order to be allowed into the house of k theory, but because it is a tactical tool in an exclusionary machine.

Overwhelming no alternative or causing it to implode through its own contradictions does not in itself open k theory to a new politics of nihilism. It can however undercut one of the most functional defenders of pragmatic progressive politics, in one round, in several. If consistent and successful it can engrain itself in the praxis and the text of new debate theory.

Defend critiques that make no attempt at reconstruction.

Defend critiques that will accept no reforms.

Use the critique to justify striking down systems of domination.

Use the ballot as direct action against an emblematic target.

Think locally act locally.