The kritik, which is German for criticism, is a policy debate term used to basically describe any non-traditional debate argument. Some debaters may disagree with me on this point, but in my experience pretty much everything that is not classified as a disad, topicality, case, a counterplan, or a theory argument could be considered a kritik. Since I am not a particularly good kritik debater and this term covers the broadest and most arcane area of debate argumentation, this node may be more confusing than other nodes about policy debate. Also, the type of criticism the word “kritik” refers to is not just an expression of disapproval, which the negative should always have with regards to the affirmative plan, but it is closer to the meaning of criticism as used with literary criticism. The idea of the kritik is to challenge the fundamental assumptions contained within the affirmative case, such as fearing death is good.
The parts of a kritik:
A. Link – If you have read the wu on disads, then you know that a disad starts with uniqueness; kritiks do not. Since most of the assumptions made in the affirmative case exist in the status quo as well, uniquness is really not an important issue. This is one of the reasons that a lot of old school judges don’t particularly like kritiks; they consider them to just be non-unique disads. The link of a kritik is just a point that shows how the affirmative case makes the assumption that it does. If one were running the fear of death kritik, then the link would be that the affirmative case weighs its importance merely in terms of lives saved and treats death as something to run away from at all costs (Note: I personally think the fear of death kritik is one of the worst kritiks).
B. Implications – This part is similar to the impact part of a disad. The implications show why the assumption should be rejected. Implications often involve complex concepts such as bio power, from Michel Foucault’s philosophy and sovereignty. The implications to the fear of death kritik would probably involve destruction of the other to save one’s self and the rejection of love.
C. Alternative – This part is optional. The alternative gives a way to avoid using the assumptions being kritiked. If there is not an alternative, debaters and judges usually assume that the alternative is to reject the affirmative plan in favor of acting upon flawed methodology. Other alternatives may be quite vague and merely claim that “rethinking” a particular issue will solve everything. Some debaters use the alternative as sort of a counterplan; they claim it is a way to do the plan and the net benefit is a better set of assumptions. The alternative should probably have some sort of written text if it is going to be used to capture case harms. One possible alterative for the death kritik is to embrace an ethic of love rather than fear. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it reminds me of Donnie Darko.
Answering a kritik:
After hearing a kritik that I have not heard before, I am usually very confused. Most kritiks take a complex, philosophical argument and condense it to a few pieces of evidence extremely fast in less than eight minutes. Fortunately, there are a few affirmative answers that work for most kritiks.
Perm – No, not the hair treatment. Making a perm, short for permutation, for a kritik is similar to making one for a counterplan. The idea is to somehow justify your assumptions with what the negative is kritiking. A few perms, like “do the plan and rethink”, almost always apply, but don’t usually go very far without evidence. Making a perm can almost never hurt though. A decent perm for the death kritik would be to avoid death, but not fear it.
No link – This is pretty hard to do since most kritks will base their link off of the resolution, but you can always try to claim that you do not assume what the negative says you do. Once, before hitting a team that I knew ran the fear of death kritik, I took out all the nuclear war impacts from my case and added a card that claimed war was bad merely because it was dehumanizing. We won the round since we said war is bad because it causes dehumanization rather than saying war is bad because it leads to death.
Link turn – Even harder to do than no linking, this technique tries to prove that the affirmative somehow breaks down the assumptions the negative claims it makes. I suppose one could argue that the affirmative case encourages death in our particular example.
Implication turning – Also hard, but sometimes feasible. Here, one tries to argue that a particular implication is actually a good thing since not all implications are clear cut. Bio power can sometimes be good, as can fearing death. For the fear of death kritik, one could claim that a fear of death is necessary for us to avoid dying in a global nuclear war.
Claiming the kritik is non-unique – This usually won’t get you very far unless the round is operating in a fiat framework (more on that later). Claiming the kritik is non-unique will almost never hurt you, though, and the other team will still have to answer it. A simple non-unique to the example is that people already fear death.
There are more strategies for battling kritiks that I am too unfamiliar with to post, but most kritiks can beat on a combination of perms, no links, and advantages outweigh. Having certain advantages with moral obligations also helps because it is easier to weigh something like genocide prevention against the fear of death than it is nuclear war to fear of death since the fear of death kritik is kritiking the mentality of the nuclear war advantage.
Fiat is an interesting concept in debate, and if you are unfamiliar with it, you should go read the wu on it. Most kritiks operate in a non-fiat framework, meaning that debate is just a game and it is more important than anything else to learn about the particular implications of certain assumptions and, therefore, the policy advantages of the case should be ignored until those assumptions can be justified. If this is the case, then the kritik basically operates on its own level and the affirmative is forced to debate only the kritik without access to any advantages. The affirmative team would probably argue for a fiat framework in this case, meaning that the judge assumes the plan will get passed. If they win this framework then the judge has to weigh the full weight of their advantages, which probably involve a nuclear war, against something that may seem minor in comparison, like one policy that may provoke a tiny bit of fear in death. The difference between treating the plan as a real bill and an educational tool in round can change everything so this is an extremely important debate for both sides. Usually, the winner of this debate will win the kritik.
Like I said in the introduction, kritiks take many forms so the section explaining the parts of the kritik should merely be a rough outline of how some will appear. For an example of a kritik that does not take that form, consider the “Jumanji” kritik. This kritik is written like a topicality shell, but criticizes the notion of consequentialism that justifies merely counting up the bodies for both sides to see who wins. The idea is that debaters allow the game to start playing them and begin to enjoy destruction. For instance, if I search for something on the Darfur and see an article saying that thousands of people die there, I do not feel sad; rather, I get excited because I just found a great new card for my case.
Also, due to the nature of the argument, affirmatives can run kritiks on negative teams that only run case arguments and disads in their first speech. Entire affirmative cases can ignore the notion of fiat and can be considered critical affirmatives that try to win based only the fact that their assumptions are superior to the status quo.
Most kritik literature comes from philosophers and literary critics. Popular kritik authors include Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, and Slavoj Zizek.
Kritiks are among the most advanced and confusing arguments in debate. I think some of them are totally worthless and are poor attempts to win a round based on confusion, but many have great educational value. They can win a round entirely on their own, unlike most disads, but take significantly greater amounts of explanation. Some judges outright hate kritiks and they tend to go over poorly with lay judges. I must admit, though, that the most interesting debate rounds to watch have been between two good teams arguing in great depth about a single kritik. They are probably not good for beginners to run, but are certainly exciting to learn and, if you master them, they will give you many, many wins.