As a former high school debater, my eyes had to light up at this Steve Sailer post using high school debate resolutions to track changes – and continuities – in intellectual fashions. So I wondered: what would we see if we looked at the complete list, from 1928 down to the present?

1928 Resolved: That a federal department of education should be created with a secretary in the president’s cabinet.

1929 Resolved: That the English cabinet method of legislation is more efficient than the committee system is in the United States.

So far we’re still in the Progressive Era – worrying about how to make our government more effective and efficient.

1930 Resolved: That installment buying of personal property as now practiced in the United States is both socially and economically desirable.

1931 Resolved: That chain stores are detrimental to the best interests of the American public.

Strangely disconnected from the catastrophe of the Depression, but not for long.

1932 Resolved: That the several states should enact legislation providing for compulsory unemployment insurance.

1933 Resolved: That at least one half of all state and local revenues should be derived from sources other than tangible property.

1934 Resolved: That the United States should adopt the essential features of the British system of radio control and operation.

Hello – wonder what that one was about.

1935 Resolved: That the federal government should adopt the policy of equalizing educational opportunity throughout the nation by means of annual grants to the several states for public elementary and secondary education.

Education is perennially interesting to high school students – and, more to the point, teachers, who are also debate coaches.

1936 Resolved: That the several states should enact legislation providing for a system of complete medical service available to all citizens at public expense.

Fascinating how we’re still talking about the “several states” enacting legislation to tax something other than real property (presumably means: enact an income tax), enact compulsory unemployment insurance, and provide medical service. It’s already 1936 – the New Deal is in full swing. Why aren’t we debating whether the Federal Government should do these things?

1937 Resolved: That all electric utilities should be governmentally owned and operated.

There – now we’re talking.

1938 Resolved: That the several states should adopt a unicameral system of legislation.

Still obsessed with Progressive-era government reform.

1939 Resolved: That the United States should establish an alliance with Great Britain.

War looming. But also just another bit of Anglophilic sentiment (see 1929, 1934).

1940 Resolved: That the federal government should own and operate the railroads.

1941 Resolved: That the power of the federal government should be increased.

Not to do anything in particular. Just increased, for the sake of increasing it.

1942 Resolved: That every able-bodied male citizen in the United States should be required to have one year of full-time military training before attaining the present draft age.

We’re definitely at war now.

1943 Resolved: That a federal world government should be established.

1944 Resolved: That the United States should join in reconstituting the League of Nations.

Guess the negative won too many rounds in 1943, so they watered down the sentiment for 1944.

1945 Resolved: That the legal voting age should be reduced to eighteen years.

1946 Resolved: That every able-bodied male citizen of the United States should have one year of full-time military training before attaining age 24.

Cold War looming. Time to dust off 1942 for another round of debate.

1947 Resolved: That the federal government should provide a system of complete medical care available to all citizens at public expense.

1948 Resolved: That the federal government should require arbitration of labor disputes in all basic American industries.

And we’ve definitely stopped talking about the “several states” enacting legislation.

1949 Resolved: That the United States now be revised into a Federal World Government.

More appealing in 1949 than in 1943?

1950 Resolved: That the president of the United States should be elected by the direct vote of the people.

These Progressive government-reform resolutions keep coming back.

1951 Resolved: That the American people should reject the welfare state.

Birth of the conservative movement.

1952 Resolved: That all American citizens should be subject to conscription for essential service in time of war.

1953 Resolved: That the Atlantic Pact nations should form a federal union.

1954 Resolved: That the President of the United States should be elected by the direct vote of the people.

I’m sensing a real lack of creativity here in the 1950s.

1955 Resolved: That the federal government should initiate a policy of free trade among nations friendly to the United States.

1956 Resolved: That governmental subsidies should be granted according to need to high school graduates who qualify for additional training.

1957 Resolved: That the federal government should sustain the prices of major agricultural products at not less than 90% of parity.

I’m guessing the coach of the Ottumwa high school team chaired the resolution committee that year.

1958 Resolved: That United States foreign aid should be substantially increased.

1959 Resolved: That the United States should adopt the essential features of the British system of education.

You have got to be kidding. Anglophilia + obsession with education = parodically indefensible resolution.

1960 Resolved: That the federal government should substantially increase its regulation of labor unions.

1961 Resolved: That the United Nations should be significantly strengthened.

1962 Resolved: That the federal government should equalize educational opportunity by means of grants to the states for public elementary and secondary education.

1963 Resolved: That the United States should promote a Common Market for the western hemisphere.

We keep coming around to various formulations for how to embed the United States in a larger, supra-national structure, whether a World Government or a federation based on the Atlantic Alliance or a Common Market for the western hemisphere.

1964 Resolved: That Social Security benefits should be extended to include complete medical care.

1965 Resolved: That nuclear weapons should be controlled by an international organization.

1966 Resolved: That the federal government should adopt a program of compulsory arbitration in labor-management disputes in basic industries.

Isn’t it quaint, how once we worried about the power of industrial unions?

1967 Resolved: That the foreign aid program of the United States should be limited to non-military assistance.

Good morning, Vietnam.

1968 Resolved: That Congress should establish uniform regulations to control criminal investigation procedures.

The age of Miranda.

1969 Resolved: That the United States should establish a system of compulsory service by all citizens.

We’re still in Vietnam, so we’re no longer debating whether we need compulsory military service, but rather compulsory “service.”

1970 Resolved: That Congress should prohibit unilateral United States military intervention in foreign countries.

We are definitely still in Vietnam.

1971 Resolved: That the federal government should establish, finance, and administer programs to control air and/or water pollution in the United States.

The birth of the environmental movement.

(1971–1972) Resolved: That the jury system in the United States should be significantly changed

(1972–1973) Resolved: That governmental financial support for all public and secondary education in the United States be provided exclusively by the federal government

(1973–1974) Resolved: That the federal government should guarantee a minimum annual income to each family unit.

Steve Sailer notes how ’70s this resolution is, but it’s worth recalling that Milton Friedman favored a GMI as an alternative to welfare, as did Hayek before him, and that Charles Murray wrote in favor of such an approach within the last few years.

(1974–1975) Resolved: That the United States should significantly change the method of selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

I hate these “significantly change” resolutions. Give us a direction, at least!

(1975–1976) Resolved: That the development and allocation of scarce world resources should be controlled by an international organization.

Sailer finds this one “from Mars” but it is just the latest in a long line of resolutions to create institutions of global governance, going back to 1943.

(1976–1977) Resolved: That a comprehensive program of penal reform should be adopted throughout the United States.

(1977–1978) Resolved: That the federal government should establish a comprehensive program to regulate the health care system in the United States.

You can tell we’re in the late ’70s because we’re no longer trying to provide health care, we’re just trying to regulate it.

(1978–1979) Resolved: That the federal government should establish a comprehensive program to significantly increase the energy independence of the United States.

And now you can really tell it’s the late ’70s.

(1979–1980) Resolved: That the United States should significantly change its foreign trade policies.

(1980–1981) Resolved: That the federal government should initiate and enforce safety guarantees on consumer goods.

(1981–1982) Resolved: That the federal government should establish minimum educational standards for elementary and secondary schools in the United States.

God, these were boring resolutions. Wasn’t anything interesting happening in the world around 1980?

(1982–1983) Resolved: That the United States should significantly curtail its arms sales to other countries.

(1983–1984) Resolved: That the United States should establish uniform rules governing the procedure of all criminal courts in the nation.

(1984–1985) Resolved: That the federal government should provide employment for all employable United States citizens living in poverty.

I’ve got a soft spot for this one, because this was my freshman year resolution. But it’s also useful for showing how radical the disconnect can be between where the debate world is and where the real world is. This resolution sounds like it’s from 1937. But it’s actually from 1984, the high tide of the Reagan revolution. I can’t imagine where this came from, honestly.

My debate partner and I proposed employing the poor fixing the roads and bridges, so that we could debate the importance of infrastructure to economic growth rather than the validity of guaranteed public employment as an approach to poverty reduction.

(1985–1986) Resolved: That the federal government should establish a comprehensive national policy to protect the quality of water in the United States.

This year, our arch-rivals came out with the greatest debate case ever. They banned Ice Nine, the fictional form of ice from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Cat’s Cradle. We thought they were cooler than the Ramones.

(1986–87) Resolved: That the federal government should implement a comprehensive long-term agricultural policy in the United States.

And so, the next year, we responded with our own effort at awesomeness: time capsules. We first argued that human civilization was doomed: climate change, nuclear war, AIDS – something was going to wipe out civilization as we knew it, and there was no way to prevent the cataclysm. The only hope was to not make the same mistakes next time around. So: we would conduct a comprehensive study of agriculture, and the conclusion of the study would be that agriculture was a mistake and that we should remain hunter-gatherers. And we would bury this study in multiple locations across the United States deemed most likely to survive the various cataclysms, and hope future generations would not make the same mistakes we did.

It was way big fun.

Actually, we only rolled out that case at the Tournament of Champions at the end of the year. For much of the year, our case was to adopt a new rule whereby all agricultural policies needed to be pre-cleared through negotiations with our NATO allies, so as to prevent tensions over agricultural subsidies from leading to a break in the alliance, which would lead to a Soviet invasion of Iran through Turkey and World War III.

As you can see, we loved debating agricultural policy.

(1987–88) Resolved: That the United States government should adopt a policy to increase political stability in Latin America.

Remember the Contras?

(1988–1989) Resolved: That the federal government should implement a comprehensive program to guarantee retirement security for United States citizens over age 65.

You mean, something like this? Another resolution displaced from the ’30s.

(1989–1990) Resolved: That the federal government should adopt a nationwide policy to decrease overcrowding in prisons and jails in the United States.

Penal reform has been bubbling beneath the surface for a couple of decades in the debate community, but the resolutions are always framed in a liberal direction, even as, out there in the real world, the trend has been toward tougher policing and, especially, tougher sentencing. All through the high-crime ’70s and ’80s, there was never a resolution that we should take more stringent action to fight crime, even though this was a huge topic of debate in society at large.

(1990–1991) Resolved: That the United States government should significantly increase space exploration beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

The Cold War has officially ended. It’s time to integrate our former enemies into a new world order, and boldly go where no man has gone before.

(1991–1992) Resolved: That the federal government should significantly increase social services to homeless individuals in the United States.

(1992–1993) Resolved: That the United States government should reduce worldwide pollution through its trade and/or aid policies.

(1993–1994) Resolved: That the federal government should guarantee comprehensive national health insurance to all United States citizens.

A Democrat has been elected President!

(1994–1995) Resolved: That the United States government should substantially strengthen regulation of immigration to the United States.

I am amazed Steve Sailer didn’t notice this one. Back in the mid-1990s, immigration was a legitimate topic for debate, with pro-union Democrat Barbara Jordan and moderate Republican Pete Wilson both in the restrictionist camp.

(1995–1996) Resolved: That the United States government should substantially change its foreign policy toward the People’s Republic of China.

Delayed reaction to Tiananmen Square, and the first evidence that the liberal hawkish outlook has replaced the post-Vietnam outlook among the people who frame debate resolutions.

(1996–1997) Resolved: That the federal government should establish a program to substantially reduce juvenile crime in the United States

Midnight basketball.

(1997–1998) Resolved: That the federal government should establish a policy to substantially increase renewable energy use in the United States

(1998–1999) Resolved: That the United States government should substantially change its foreign policy toward Russia.

Interesting how many foreign policy resolutions are cropping up in the ’90s, isn’t it? We debaters always preferred to change the topic to foreign policy (see my comments on the 1986-1987 agriculture policy resolution above), but the debate resolutions rarely complied – and when they did, they often talked about embedding America in global institutions. Not so much, anymore. The folks in debate land are feeling bored, and itchy to do something in the world.

(1999–2000) Resolved: That the federal government should establish an education policy to significantly increase academic achievement in secondary schools in the United States.

Note the change in tenor of education resolutions. We’re not resolving to increase resources. We’re resolving to get better results.

(2000–2001) Resolved: That the United States federal government should significantly increase protection of privacy in the United States in one or more of the following areas: employment, medical records, consumer information, search and seizure.

I have a funny feeling this new topic won’t be going away any time soon.

(2001–2002) Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Compare with the resolution of 1965, and you see how much the world has changed with the end of the Cold War.

(2002–2003) Resolved: That the United States federal government should substantially increase public health services for mental healthcare in the United States.

(2003–2004) Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish an ocean policy substantially increasing protection of marine natural resources.

(2004–2005) Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish a foreign policy substantially increasing its support of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

We’re not feeling so good about where the resolution of 2001-2002 has gotten us.

(2005–2006) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially decrease its authority either to detain without charge or to search without probable cause.

I told you that new topic wasn’t going away.

(2006–2007) Resolved: The United States federal government should establish a policy substantially increasing the number of persons serving in one or more of the following national service programs: AmeriCorpsCitizen CorpsSenior CorpsPeace Corps, Learn and Serve America, and/or the Armed Forces.

This also appears to be a perennial topic, basically the combination of 1946 and 1969.

(2007–2008) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its public health assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa.

(2008–2009) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase alternative energy incentives in the United States.

(2009–2010) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase social services for persons living in poverty in the United States.

Once again, a sense of exhaustion of creativity. And I’m surprised we haven’t seen a serious climate change resolution by now. It’s a strange omission.

(2010–2011) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South KoreaJapanAfghanistanKuwaitIraqTurkey.

Hello! A pretty rapid and massive turnaround from the tenor of late-’90s and early 2000s resolutions. In fact, the last time we had so clear a resolution to reduce America’s military presence abroad was 1970.

(2011–2012) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

(2012-2013) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

Hey – we can roll out our old case from 1984-1985!

(2013-2014) Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement toward CubaMexico or Venezuela.

I don’t have any brilliant conclusions to draw. Education and poverty are perennial topics, and the resolutions are drawn more sharply sometimes and more vaguely at other times. Environmentalism emerged in the 1970s and never went away (which is why I think it’s so weird there’s never been an explicit climate change resolution). By contrast, I think it’s ideologically telling that there was no resolution about fighting crime all through the 1970s and 1980s.

But the most obvious trend is away from world-government-ism and towards American hegemonism. Especially in the 1940s, but continuing all the way down to the 1970s, you would get resolutions about America embedding itself in global or at least supra-national institutions – establishing a world government, reviving the League of Nations; merging with our European allies in a new federation, or forming a common market with other western hemisphere nations; handing over nuclear weapons or vital natural resources to a global authority. Whereas, with the end of the Cold War, you start getting more and more foreign policy resolutions that assume American “leadership” over the whole globe: we should “change” our foreign policies towards other major powers (China and Russia), presumably in response to their behavior, and our national policies should reduce global pollution, protect the oceans, prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, improve health in sub-Saharan Africa, and, through the United Nations, keep the peace.

We’ll see whether the resolution of 2010-2011 presages yet another new direction on that front.