In the United States, national service ought to be mandatory (essay, evidence)

This post covers the national novice (beginner) L-D topic established by the National Speech & Debate Association. Most, but not all, novice tournaments will use this topic. You should check with your coach and/or the tournament you are attending to confirm this is the topic that is being used.

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National service is a nation-wide government initiative where citizens are required to serve their country for a specific period of time. Depending on the particular requirements and objectives of the national service program, this service may take many different forms, including military service and/or service to the underprivileged. Whether it takes the form of military service, volunteer work in the community, or any other type of service, national service is a way to request or obligate citizens to make a direct contribution to the welfare of their country.

Most frequently, military service is the main focus of national service, particularly mandatory national service. For instance, mandatory military service is required of all citizens in Singapore, South Korea, and Israel (with some exceptions), and the US has also required it during times of war. In these cases, all eligible individuals are (and were) required to serve in the military for a certain period of time, often ranging from a year to several years.

Throughout its history, the United States has used the draft or conscription on a number of occasions, frequently in response to major military conflicts. President Abraham Lincoln’s administration wrote the first draft while the United States was engaged in the Civil War. The implementation of subsequent drafts occurred during World Wars I, II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam Conflict. Particularly during the Vietnam War, the draft was very divisive and was the subject of numerous protests. All male U.S. citizens and male immigrants, both documented and undocumented, between the ages of 18 and 25, must register with the Selective Service System, which still exists today. But since the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, there has not been a draft.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, there has not been any mandatory national service in the US. To put such a program into effect, considerable political support and legislative action would likely be required.

National service can take the form of civil service. In the United States, proposals for mandatory national service typically include these as options because some people would object to serving in the military and the military does not need that many new employees every year.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which employed young men in rural conservation work, is one of the New Deal programs from the 1930s that has the most direct influence on modern American civil service. The Peace Corps, which sends American volunteers abroad to help with development projects, was founded by President Kennedy in the 1960s. President Johnson founded VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a domestic version of the Peace Corps that aims to fight poverty. In the 1990s, President Clinton established AmeriCorps, a national service program that allows participants to work in various community-based projects throughout the country in exchange for a living allowance and education award. AmeriCorps encompasses a variety of programs, including VISTA and the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a residential program modeled after the CCC.

Additional Definitions

Mandatory. Suggesting it should be mandatory is quite radical, as mandatory generally means legally required. The penalty for failing to follow a law such as this would likely be jail, as a fine would just allow the wealth to escape the service.

Who would have to participate? Proposals vary, but most think it would be everyone ages 18–22 sometime between those years for 18–24 months.

Ought. The word “ought” appears in many L-D resolutions and ordinarily just means that you “should” do something. In Lincoln-Douglas debate, it is often interpreted to mean there is a “moral obligation” or duty to do something, but it doesn’t have to be defined that way. For example, if you say, “I ought to go to McDonald’s to get some french fries,” you probably aren’t thinking there is a moral obligation to do so. Nonetheless, it isn’t hard to find definitions that suggest it expresses duty or moral obligation and synonyms of it such as must, need to, have to, and supposed to.

“Ought” does not require the affirmative to “imagine” that mandatory national service exists; it does not require it to propose a specific policy.

Specific Cases

When L-D first started in 1982, it was all very traditional; it focused exclusively on debating values and the overall truth of the resolution: Should national service be mandatory, generally speaking?

Over the last decade, L-D developed in such a way that people copied the policy debate and started arguing specific plans. For example, Plan: Between their 18th and 22nd birthdays, everyone should be required to spend 18 months planting trees. In this example, the debater would probably claim the action solved climate change. 

Depending on where you debate, you may see specific plans, but the meta-question of the desirability of mandating the program would still be debated. 

Other instances make participation in already-existing national service programs like AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps mandatory for young adults. Similar to this, some have suggested expanding national service to improve the public health system, though these suggestions are not required.

General Advantages

There are some benefits that certain plans may offer in particular (e.g., addressing issues with public health, slowing climate change), but there are also some benefits that any program could point to.

Civic Engagement. A national service program can foster a sense of civic duty and responsibility. Participants can learn the value of contributing to their communities and country, which can lead to increased civic participation and voting later in life.

Skills Development. Depending on the program, national service can provide training and experience in valuable skills. This can range from practical job skills to soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, and adaptability.

National service programs can be tailored to fill gaps in the labor market or address areas of societal need. For example, a program might focus on training teachers (where there is a huge shortage), healthcare workers, or technicians in fields where there are shortages.

Employment Opportunities. For some participants, national service can provide a pathway to employment, particularly if the program includes job placement or education benefits. It can help young adults gain work experience, which can be valuable in the job market.

Personal development. Participants in a national service program often report personal growth and development. This could include a better understanding of their own strengths

and weaknesses, improved self-confidence, a sense of purpose, and a broader perspective on the world.

Participation in national service, particularly programs that involve physical labor or outdoor work, can lead to improvements in physical health. In addition, athe sense of purpose and community connection can contribute to improved mental health.

National service can connect people from diverse backgrounds, fostering friendships and professional connections that can last a lifetime. This networking can provide personal, social, and professional benefits.

Depending on the nature of the program, participants might learn practical life skills such as budgeting, cooking, time management, or even home repair and maintenance.

Social Cohesion and Unity. National service programs often bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds. This can promote understanding and unity among different social, economic, and cultural groups. We often hear about how America is divided, so this is a common theme in the literature. The importance of building these connections is one of the primary justifications for the programs being mandatory.

Reduction of Social inequalities. Well-designed national service programs can help reduce social inequalities by providing opportunities for education, training, and social mobility to individuals who might not otherwise have these opportunities.

Community Development. National service programs can directly benefit communities, particularly if they involve service projects like building infrastructure, providing social services, or addressing environmental issues. These projects can improve community resources and quality of life.

Response to National Challenges A national service program can mobilize large numbers of people to respond to national challenges like natural disasters, public health crises, or environmental threats.

Fostering a Culture of service By normalizing the idea of service, it can encourage a culture where giving back to the community and helping others is a common and valued activity.

Military Readiness. If a component of the national service program involves military service or training, it could potentially improve military readiness by providing a large pool of citizens with basic military training. This could expand the number of individuals who could be called upon in times of need. 

Recently, the military has had trouble meeting its recruiting goals. Flourishing economic conditions, while generally beneficial, have inadvertently set the stage for a conundrum: abundant opportunities in the civilian sector often eclipse the appeal of military enlistment. Furthermore, the military’s escalating demand for higher educational attainment and more stringent qualifications erects additional barriers for potential recruits. The societal milieu also weaves its own threads, with pervasive public perceptions and familial influences often casting a shadow over the noble pursuit of military service. Health concerns, particularly the rising tide of obesity and related ailments, have rendered a significant portion of the population ineligible due to failure to meet health and fitness prerequisites. The requirement for recruits to commit several years to service poses an intimidating prospect for those wavering on the brink of such a substantial decision. The specter of deployment and the grim reality of casualty rates in times of conflict add a chilling deterrent. In response to this intricate constellation of challenges, the military has been compelled to rethink and revamp its recruitment strategies, introducing incentives such as enlistment bonuses, educational perks, and more flexible options to capture the interest of potential enlistees, but even with these efforts, the military struggles to recruit.

Furthermore, it could broaden the skillset of the general population by providing training in areas like first aid, survival skills, and logistics.

Reduced adventurism. Mandatory national service can potentially reduce military adventurism by fostering a more profound understanding of the costs and consequences of war among the populace. This is due to the wide exposure of citizens to military life, leading to heightened public debate and scrutiny of military decisions. The shared responsibility and risk of military action, distributed across society rather than concentrated within a small professional military class, could induce caution in engaging in military conflicts. The potential involvement of policymakers’ and influencers’ children in combat could also lead them to reconsider the cost of military actions. Countries with mandatory national service might prioritize diplomatic resolutions to international disputes, given the societal understanding of the repercussions of war. Furthermore, the education and training provided during national service can enhance understanding of military strategy and international relations, fostering more sophisticated decision-making regarding military interventions. 

Economy. A national service program could benefit the economy in several ways. It could provide jobs and income for individuals who might otherwise be unemployed, boosting consumer spending. The program could also help develop the skills and experience of the workforce, which could increase productivity. Furthermore, the program could stimulate economic activity by increasing demand for goods and services related to the service projects. Finally, the program’s projects themselves (like infrastructure improvements, public health initiatives, or environmental conservation) could enhance the country’s economic potential.

Promoting patriotism and national identity. A national service program can foster a shared sense of patriotism and national identity. By working together for a common cause, participants may feel a stronger connection to their country and fellow citizens.

Volunteering habits. Studies suggest that people who have participated in service programs are more likely to volunteer later in life. A national service program can, therefore, help foster a culture of volunteering and community service.

Public health. A national service program could improve public health in several ways. For example, service members could be trained to respond to public health emergencies, provide basic health services in underserved areas, or conduct public health education campaigns. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, national service members could have been mobilized for tasks like contact tracing, vaccine distribution, or public education about virus prevention measures.

Climate Change.  A national service program could help combat climate change by involving service members in environmental conservation projects, clean energy projects, or climate change education initiatives. For example, a modern equivalent of the Civilian Conservation Corps could involve planting trees, restoring habitats, improving energy efficiency, or working on renewable energy projects. These initiatives could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration, thereby mitigating climate change.

Global development. This advantage would stem from the opportunity for individuals to choose the Peace Corps as a service program. Established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps is a U.S. government-run volunteer program with a mission to promote world peace and friendship. The organization achieves this through three primary goals: assisting the people of interested countries with their need for trained individuals, fostering a better understanding of Americans among the peoples served, and enhancing the understanding of other cultures among Americans. In practice, the Peace Corps dispatches American volunteers to work on grassroots initiatives in low-income countries across a diverse range of areas, such as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, environment, and agriculture. Volunteers commit to a 27-month term of service, which includes three months of training in the host country. By living and working directly within these communities, often in remote areas, volunteers not only contribute to development efforts but also facilitate cultural exchange by representing American society and learning about the cultures they serve.

Philosophical Values

As discussed, the L-D debate started with a focus on philosophy, so what are some underlying philosophical values that support mandatory national service?

Civic Duty. This is the belief that citizens have a responsibility to contribute to their society and country. The concept of mandatory national service is rooted in the idea of reciprocity, where citizens give back in exchange for the benefits and protections they receive from their country.

Common Good. The idea of the common good suggests that actions should be taken with the benefit of the community or society in mind. Mandatory national service could be seen as a way to promote the common good by addressing societal needs and challenges.

Equality. Mandatory national service could promote equality in several ways. First, by requiring all citizens, regardless of their background, to serve, it underscores the principle that all citizens are equal. Second, it can help reduce social inequalities by

providing opportunities for skill development, education, and social mobility for all participants.

Unity and cohesion National service can promote a sense of national unity and social cohesion. By bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds to work towards common goals, national service can foster understanding and shared identity among different social, cultural, and economic groups.

Personal Development. The belief in the importance of character development, resilience, and self-efficacy underlies many national service programs. These programs can help individuals grow, develop new skills, and realize their potential.

Stewardship. The idea of stewardship, or taking care of the resources we have, can apply to different types of national service. This could mean taking care of the environment, maintaining infrastructure, or looking after vulnerable individuals in society.

Mutual Aid. This principle suggests that individuals have a responsibility to help each other. Mandatory national service, especially programs focused on addressing social or environmental challenges, can be a form of institutionalized mutual aid.

Major Philosophers and National Service

While I do not believe any major philosophers specifically wrote about national service, there are a number that have relevant ideas. Many of these philosophers will come up in debates on other topics, so as a beginner, it makes sense to start familiarizing yourself with their ideas.

John Rawls. Rawls’ Theory of Justice, particularly his idea of ‘justice as fairness’, might lend support to mandatory national service. Rawls emphasizes that every individual should have an equal right to the most extensive total system of basic liberties, and social and economic inequalities should be arranged so they are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, a principle known as the difference principle. A national service program, particularly one that offers skills training and educational opportunities, could be seen as a way to promote this form of justice.

Finally, Rawls emphasized the importance of what he called ‘fair equality of opportunity”—that everyone should have a reasonable opportunity to aspire to any social position. A well-designed national service program might help promote this kind of opportunity by providing all participants, regardless of their background, with valuable skills, experiences, and networks.

Of course, Rawls strongly believed in liberty, so while there is a good chance that he’d support national service, we don’t know if he’d support mandatory national service.

Immanuel Kant. Kantian ethics, with its focus on duty, obligation, and the categorical imperative (the idea that we should act only in ways that we would want to become universal laws), might be invoked in support of national service. If one believes it is a moral duty to contribute to the betterment of society, then a system like mandatory national service could align with a Kantian framework. 

Kant also placed great value on the autonomy and dignity of the individual. In line with this, a Kantian view would likely insist that a mandatory service program respect the individual rights and dignity of its participants. It would need to treat them as ends in themselves, not merely as means to societal goals.

Kant’s philosophy also emphasizes the idea of the “kingdom of ends”—a community in which all individuals respect each other’s dignity and autonomy. A national service program, by fostering a sense of mutual responsibility and shared effort, could be seen as a step toward this ideal.

However, the coercive nature of a mandatory program might pose challenges to a Kantian perspective, which places high value on freedom and autonomy. A Kantian might therefore argue that any system of national service should be voluntary, not compulsory.

Like Rawls, it gets tricky when we talk about the mandatory nature of the program.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau’s political philosophy is grounded in the concepts of the social contract and the general will. He believed that citizens have a duty to submit to the general will for the common good, even when it conflicts with their personal desires. From a Rousseauian perspective, mandatory national service could be seen as a manifestation of the general will in service of the common good.

Rousseau also believed in the idea of civic virtue—the notion that citizens should be willing to put the interests of the community above their own. Mandatory national service can be seen as an embodiment of this principle, as it requires individuals to contribute their time and effort to the broader community or nation. Furthermore, Rousseau argued that participation in civic life is a key aspect of individual freedom. By this logic, participation in a national service program could be seen not as an imposition but as a form of active civic engagement and an exercise of individual freedom.

However, Rousseau also emphasized the importance of ‘moral freedom—the happiness and freedom to obey laws that one has had a part in making. If a mandatory national service program were implemented without broad public support, a Rousseauian might object that it infringes on this moral freedom.

Again, the “rub” is with the “mandatory” nature of the program.

John Stuart Mill. Mill’s utilitarianism, which suggests the moral course of action is the one that maximizes overall “happiness,” could be used to argue for national service if one believes that such a program would lead to a greater overall societal good.

John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of utilitarianism holds that the right course of action is the one that maximizes overall happiness, or ‘utility’. If one believes that mandatory national service would lead to greater overall societal good, perhaps by addressing pressing societal needs or fostering a more engaged citizenry, then a Millian argument could be made in its favor.

Mill also believed strongly in the importance of individual liberty, arguing that the only legitimate reason for interfering with someone’s liberty was to prevent harm to others. This principle, known as the harm principle, could provide another argument for national service: if failure to contribute to addressing societal problems is seen as causing harm, then requiring service could be justified.

However, the mandatory aspect of national service could be seen as conflicting with Mill’s emphasis on individual freedom. Mill argued for the importance of experiments in living and warned against the tyranny of the majority. From this perspective, compulsory service could be seen as an undue imposition on individual liberty.

Moreover, Mill emphasized the importance of quality, not just quantity, in considering happiness. He distinguished between higher and lower pleasures, arguing that intellectual and moral pleasures are of a higher kind than physical ones. A utilitarian analysis of national service would therefore need to consider not just the amount of happiness produced but also its quality.

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen Both Nussbaum and Sen have advocated for a capabilities approach to justice, which focuses on what individuals are able to do and be. If a mandatory national service were designed to enhance individuals’ capabilities (for example, by providing education, training, or meaningful work), it could align with this philosophical perspective.

Remember that these are interpretations and extensions of these philosophers’ ideas, and it’s uncertain how these thinkers would feel about mandatory national service in a contemporary context. Also, each of these philosophies contains principles that could be used to argue against such a program. For example, Mill’s emphasis on individual liberty could be invoked to argue against the coercive aspect of mandatory service. Similarly, Rawls might have concerns about mandatory service if it infringed on basic liberties or did not primarily benefit the least advantaged members of society.

Political Support

As noted above, the resolution asks if national service “ought” to be mandatory, not if it would become mandatory. But, regardless, it is useful to look to see what politicians support it in order to improve your keyword searches and get additional ideas. It’s also useful to research what these politicians think of national service.  

These are a few that support national service, if not mandatory national service.

John McCain. During his 2008 Presidential campaign, Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, proposed an expansion of national service programs. He was a strong supporter of AmeriCorps and advocated for increasing the size of the program.

Barack Obama. President Obama was a strong proponent of national service. During his presidency, he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, which aimed to triple the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 members by 2017 and established new service programs focused on different areas such as education, public health, and clean energy.

Pete Buttigieg. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Buttigieg proposed a national service program that would create a network of 1 million national service members by 2026. He argued that this program would help to bridge social, economic, and political divides in the country.

Seth Moulton. Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has been a strong advocate for national service. He has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at expanding national service programs.

At least two politicians support mandatory national service.

John Delaney. Former Maryland Representative John Delaney, who ran for president in 2020, proposed a plan for a mandatory national service program as part of his platform. Delaney’s plan would have required all Americans to complete a year of national service after they turn 18.

Charles Rangel. Former Representative Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York, repeatedly introduced bills in Congress to reinstate the draft and establish a mandatory national service program. Rangel argued that if all Americans had a personal stake in the nation’s wars, decision-makers would be less likely to engage in military conflict.

Values and Criterion

Before moving to the negative, I want to highlight two critical parts of the L-D debate: values and criteria The value is the overall principle a person wants to defend, and the criteria are what are used to determine if the value is achieved.

So, for example, the affirmative may say the value is morality, and the criteria to achieve it are utilitarianism—the greatest good for the greatest number of people. They might then argue that deterring war accomplishes the greatest good. The negative may also say morality, but may defend deontological ethics for determining if the value is achieved, arguing that mandatory service is a deontological rights violation that can never be accepted.

Each debater may debate the other side’s value and criterion, arguing in favor of their own, or they may concede the other side’s value and criterion and argue that their own argument supports victory in that framework. For example, the negative may concede that utilitarianism is the best approach but then argue that the greatest good for the greatest number proves the judge should vote against it because mandatory national service may cause some disaster.

The Negative


While there are potential benefits to implementing a large national service program, there are also several potential disadvantages.

Cost. Establishing and maintaining a large-scale national service program would be expensive. It would require significant government funding to pay for stipends or salaries, training, administration, equipment, and other related costs. Implementing a large-scale mandatory service program would be a complex logistical challenge. Decisions would need to be made about who serves when, where they serve, what kind of work they do, how they are trained, and how their work is overseen and evaluated. Coordinating these logistics for potentially millions of participants could be very difficult and expensive.

Given the many other demands on public resources, it might be challenging to secure sufficient funding without cutting other important programs, raising taxes, or simply borrowing more money. In fact, it might be so expensive that all three could result.

Negative debaters might argue that borrowing more money hurts the economy and that raising taxes hurts the economy. They might also argue that funding a large national service program could be traded off with funding other programs, including those that help the poor.

Worker displacement. There’s a risk that national service members could end up displacing regular workers, particularly in sectors like education, the environment, and public health, where service members often work. This could lead to job losses and wage suppression in these sectors.

Inequity. There’s a risk that a national service program could be implemented in an inequitable way. For instance, wealthier individuals might be able to secure more desirable service positions, or some participants might receive more valuable training and networking opportunities than others.

Opportunity Cost for Individuals. Mandatory national service could delay or disrupt other important activities like higher education, career advancement, or family responsibilities. For some individuals, the time spent in service could have been more productively spent on other pursuits.

Family support. Many individuals have to support their families, especially families of limited means. If individuals who are 18–22 have to care for younger siblings or older grandparents, this could increase poverty.

Coercion/slavery. Mandatory national service might be seen as an infringement on personal freedom. In a country that values individual liberties, compelling individuals to participate in national service could be viewed as overreaching by the government.

Moreover, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Involuntary servitude refers to forcing an individual to work for another’s gain without the worker’s consent.

When it comes to mandatory national service, there are arguments that it could, in some forms, be construed as involuntary servitude. 

Lack of consent. The primary argument is that if national service is mandatory, individuals are required to participate regardless of their personal desires or career plans. This might be seen as a form of coercion that could arguably fall under the definition of involuntary servitude.

Restricted Personal freedom. During the period of mandatory service, individuals’ personal freedoms are often significantly limited. They may have restricted control over where they live, their daily schedules, and the type of work they do.

Limited Compensation. While national service programs typically provide some form of compensation, it’s usually less than what participants could earn in a regular job. Some people argue that this, combined with the mandatory nature of the service, could be seen as a form of exploitation.

Lack of Choice in Service. If individuals cannot choose the type of service they are required to do, they might be compelled to perform work that is against their principles, beliefs, or interests.

However, it’s important to note that the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the constitutionality of conscription (mandatory military service), distinguishing it from involuntary servitude. The Court held that the powers to declare war and raise armies granted to Congress by the Constitution implicitly permit conscription.

The legal precedent was set by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1918 case Arver v. United States (the Selective Draft Law Cases). The court ruled that the military draft was not a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on involuntary servitude. They concluded that the draft was not “involuntary servitude” because it was a civic obligation.

But the draft was specifically related to military service in a time of war, and it’s unclear how this precedent would apply to a mandatory civilian national service program in peacetime. There are good arguments that the government’s power to require service might be more limited in a civilian, peacetime context. 

It’s also worth noting that the Thirteenth Amendment does have an exception for involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. According to some legal scholars, court-ordered community service may qualify as a form of involuntary servitude that is constitutionally acceptable.  However, this is a different issue from mandatory national service for all citizens.

A common negative approach to this topic will be to argue that  mandatory national service is a violation of freedom and that a violation of freedom should never be accepted. We saw some of the reasons why in the discussion of how philosophers may approach this topic.

Statism and service to the “nation state are bad. In the introduction to this piece, we talked about how “national” service is service done for the purpose of supporting the country. Obviously, this service could have additional objectives (reducing poverty, reducing climate change), but the idea of it being “national service” is that it is service to the “nation.” 

For many years, there was a popular argument in debate called “statism,” which basically took the position that it was bad to increase the power of the government, the “state.” There will be some different “spins” on this argument on this topic as well.

If this were a varsity topic, debaters may argue for an alternative of supporting the service the affirmative defines as valuable without necessarily arguing in favor of “national service” or service in favor of the state.

Voluntary service. Voluntary service could be presented as an alternative to national service, though presenting alternatives in the L-D debate is controversial, at least on most circuits. Regardless of the desirability of arguing for an alternative, however, negative debaters could argue that mandatory service trades off with voluntary service. If up two two years of service are required by the government, it is obviously less likely that people will choose to participate in service.

Voluntary service respects individual freedoms and allows people to make their own choices about how they contribute to society. In a nation that highly values individual freedom, mandatory service could be seen as an infringement on these liberties.

Moreover, volunteers typically choose to participate in service activities because they are motivated and committed to the cause. This can result in higher-quality service because the individuals involved are passionate and engaged in the work they are doing. On the other hand, those who are required to serve might not be as motivated, which could potentially impact the quality of their work. Voluntary programs can also be costly but are generally less so because they’re typically smaller scale and do not have to provide for every eligible citizen.


Kritiks are not popular (or even encouraged) on all L-D circuits, but they are also quite common on some. 

“Kritik” (often abbreviated as “K”) is a type of argument used in policy debate that challenges a certain mindset, assumption, or discursive element inherent in the resolution or in the opponent’s case. This term comes from the German word “Kritik,” which means “critique” or “criticism.”

Unlike other arguments in debate that generally focus on the practical implementation or consequences of the resolution, a kritik tends to focus more on philosophical, theoretical, or ideological issues. It might question the language used in the debate, the underlying assumptions of the arguments, or the societal norms and structures that the resolution or the other team’s case upholds.

For example, a kritik might argue that the opponent’s case reinforces harmful power structures, relies on flawed assumptions about human nature, or uses language in a way that marginalizes certain groups.

In the instance of this topic, common kritiks include the idea that national service in the US will perpetuate the myths and values of capitalism in a way that reinforces capitalism. National service can reinforce capitalism in various ways. It can instill attributes such as a strong work ethic, discipline, and a sense of responsibility, which are highly valued in a capitalist society and can increase an individual’s productivity and employability. National service programs often offer skills training that can be transferred to jobs in the private sector, thereby providing a trained workforce that supports a capitalist economy. By fostering a structured environment for young people, national service can contribute to social stability, which is crucial for the seamless operation of capitalist systems. It also allows for networking opportunities among individuals from diverse backgrounds, which is beneficial in a capitalist economy where connections often influence career advancement. Post-service, individuals might have increased income to spend on goods and services, driving demand in a capitalist economy. Lastly, national service can assist with resource allocation in a capitalist system by guiding individuals into fields with high demand but a low supply of workers.

Anti-blackness and afropessimism. There are various manifestations of this argument, but all include the idea that national service and/or supporting civil society are anti-black. 

Civil society and national service programs can inadvertently perpetuate systemic anti-Black racism through various mechanisms. They may foster exclusion by systematically barring Black individuals from participation due to overt discrimination or subtler entry barriers. These entities often lack diverse representation in leadership roles, leading to policies and practices that do not adequately cater to the needs of Black communities. Unconscious biases and stereotypes can be perpetuated, influencing focus areas and decision-making processes that could disproportionately impact Black individuals. Disparities in resource allocation can exacerbate the issue, as organizations led by or serving Black individuals often receive less funding, limiting their effectiveness. Operating within the broader societal context of structural racism, these organizations can inadvertently perpetuate systemic inequalities if they do not actively work against these societal forces. Thus, even though civil society and national service programs have the potential to challenge and dismantle systemic racism, there is a good chance they will unintentionally reinforce anti-Black racism.


The mandatory national service topic is a good novice topic, as it introduces some of the key issues in L-D debate (morality, individual freedom, obligations of citizenship) as well as common issues that come up (climate change, economic growth, US military power projection and leadership). 

The pros and cons of service itself will trigger some debate, but the big issue surrounding the topic focus on the mandatory nature of the service. Negative debaters should challenge the idea that it needs to be mandatory and Affirmative debaters will have to defend that it does need to be mandatory.