Photo of the Tennessee Capitol and an illustration of hands in fists with protest sign

Chaos and Timidity at the State Capitol

The chaos we’ve read about in other states has now descended on Tennessee. It appears that loud, intentionally disruptive demonstrations are going to become the norm in Tennessee. And there is, I think, a reason we can expect it to continue.

On Monday, a bill opposed by LGBT activists was to be heard on the Senate floor. Protestors stood outside the doors to the Chamber and yelled like 2-year-olds.

On Wednesday, two Tennessee legislators tried to hold a press conference to talk about two bills, one related to natural marriage and one related to privacy and security in places of undress. Almost as soon as the press conference started, it was shut down by the shouts of LGBT protestors. Then the protesters hounded the legislators through the halls when they tried to return to their offices.

State troopers stood and watched.

Democratic leaders at the Capitol seemed to approve and called for more “open” government, a nice way of saying, “Keep up the great work” to the shut-down-the-government protestors.

The Proposed Solution

The proposed solution is to reinstate a policy that requires those entering the Capitol to wear a nametag patterned after their driver’s license. Based on what I saw, I don’t think those folks would care. This solution is like suggesting that the folks in Sevierville fight the recent fires with their water pistols.

Why is there such a tepid response—from D.C. to Nashville—to actions designed to shut down our ability to govern ourselves?

The Reason We Respond So Timidly

I believe our collective response is so timid and weak to the chaos around us because we no longer have any theological or even philosophical ground upon which anyone can assert any authority over anything anymore. We have a crisis of authority.

I recently read the book The One and the Many. The author wrote something that so rang of truth to me that I was shaken to the core:

Much of the present concern about the trends of these times is literally wasted on useless effort because those who guide the activities cannot resolve, with the philosophical tools at hand to them, the problem of authority. This is at the heart of the problem of the proper function of government, the power to tax, to conscript, to execute for crimes, and to wage warfare. (emphasis supplied)

Nametags are, to me, an essentially useless effort because nametags don’t get at the underlying problem—the lack of respect the protestors have for authority and their disdain for being subject to any authority higher than themselves.

Society, as a whole, and most of its leaders have given up the belief that there is any Creator with authority over us who, by virtue of His authority, has imposed any law over us to which we are subject. Having given up this theological basis for authority, we now are left only with “philosophical tools.” And here is why those tools can’t “resolve the problem” of authority.

‘Sez’ Who?

The late Yale Law professor Arthur Leff, in a brilliant and insightful Duke University law review, rephrased the issue this way: “[W]hen would it be impermissible to make the formal intellectual equivalent of what is known in barrooms and schoolyards as “the grand sez who”?”

In other words, if we are our only source of authority, no one is allowed to say to anyone else, “You can’t do that. Stop!” without the other saying, “Says who?”

To make the kind of statement that needs to be made relative to these protestors (or relative to any other asserted command), one must have authority to make the statement, one must have authority over those to whom the statement is made, and those to whom the statement is made must recognize and respect that authority.

No such cultural or political authority exists anymore.

What Are We to Conclude, Then?

Refusing to reconsider the possibility that there is a Creator with authority who delegates that authority to mankind subject to His rules for its proper use, professor Leff closed his article with this solemn statement:

All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. . . . God help us.

Cain is showing up everywhere. Even at our state Capitol. God help us, indeed.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your event