In a recent article, David Frum strolls close to an insightful interpretation of the Chick-Fil-A incident but then struts off down a superficial path. His conclusion is that the American political system is ill-equipped to “…solve real-world problems.” That is not the proper role of any political system.
Chick-Fil-A is the 1600-outlet restaurant franchise started by the Cathy family whose members openly support Christian causes. This offends many who are willing to use the iron hand of government to mollify their hurt feelings.
The Chick-Fil-A story—allegedly pitting gays against Christians over same-sex marriage—indicates a turning point to Mr. Frum. He starts with an observation that, “Once…victim status was the reserved property of a few minority groups.” With this episode, he says, “Americans have opened the doors of self-pity to all.” He laments the apparent vying of competing parties for the role of—as he puts it—“America’s Next Top Victim.”
Free Speech and Threat of Force
On the surface, the Chick-Fil-A issue is more about free speech than gays vs. Christians. An already politically agitated conflict over same-sex marriage was exacerbated by the intervention of mayors from Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. These mayors urged the restaurant company to stay away from their cities, threatening to deny building permits and business licenses. They did this because they disagreed with the freely articulated views of the Cathy family. (More recently, the mayor of Santa Barbara took a more rational stance.)
In other words, government force would be used to block the building of private business thereby trumping free speech. The justification was summed up by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel who alleged that Chick-Fil-A did not represent “Chicago values.”
These politicians chose sides in the matter while wielding the threat of force rather than reasoned argument. Incidentally, one question I’d want addressed is: what is a “Chicago” value?
Social Conflict and Civil Unrest
While many think the conflict centers on gays, Christians, free speech or perhaps fried chicken, it is really about handling social conflict and avoiding civil unrest.
Conflict is unavoidable because people are different from one another. Competing interests in a culture will co-exist peacefully as long as force or the threat of force is not brought to bear on behalf of one side or the other.
The proper role of government includes protecting property rights, adjudicating contractual disputes and prosecuting breaches of the no-force caveat. In such an environment, Chick-Fil-A sells chicken sandwiches to anyone who wants them. Homosexuals aware of and offended by the Cathy family’s Christian views need not patronize or go near Chick-Fil-A.
However, when the political hand replaces the invisible hand, the conflict society is institutionalized. Groups and other collectives continuously compete for government favour, pitting all against all. Ultimately this leads to violence when some collective, led by a spokesman for the lowest common denominator, draws society into more intense civil strife.
Civil wars, revolutions and dictatorships have emerged from the slightest provocation.
The Better End
Frum is correct if he means the American political system can’t solve social problems. That isn’t saying much. No political system can perform that role since its fundamental resource is blunt force.
Such problem-solving is the role of private individuals in society using their reason and voluntary action to achieve a better end.
©Copyright 2012 Edward Podritske