Liberty in the Volunteer State

by Grant A. Mincy

Tennessee (1)(photo credit:

There has been a lot going on in the Volunteer State the past few days. For instance, state senator Brian Kelsey has introduced his “turn the gays away” bill. This bill would allow businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community. According to the bill no “persons” will have to provide services “related to the celebration of any civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the state, if doing so would violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the person or religious or denominational organization regarding sex and gender.” The bill is supported by big government conservatives and is being met with resistance from a number of advocacy groups and political liberals.

The labor movement is making headlines too. Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee are looking to join the United Automobile Workers union. Tennessee Republican’s (especially senator Bob Corker – the former mayor of Chattanooga) are pressuring workers to reject unionization. Volkswagen management has remained neutral, noting full support for the worker’s decision. Unions are a big part of Volkswagen culture, but Tennessee is a “right to work” state, so big government conservatives are squaring off against the vote.

Also in the news, Tennessee Republican governor Bill Haslam is aiming to make community college free. The plan is to use roughly $300 million in surplus funds from the state’s lottery to send students to college. This is being cheered by most but there is fiscal dissent. It is argued money will be wasted on folks who won’t graduate and that it could take money from students at University who are dependent upon lottery scholarships. The proposed program is also all about jobs, jobs, jobs – more Tennesseans trained for jobs. Jobs are indeed important, but education is also about cultivating the interests of individuals. Learning is a means to enhance inclined labor – inclined labor is very different from a job.

There is much more occurring in the state, of course, but these stories are making national headlines. Tennessee tax dollars at work, political arguments summed up simply as “what laws should they support or reject in Nashville.” And that is the fundamental problem with our political discourse. Our rhetoric is stuck in the vertical.

May I propose the radical ethic of liberty? In liberty social power is greater than state power. Instead of looking to the vertical structure of governance, may we instead look horizontally to one another. If we switch our thinking, the mutualist political economy will develop. We should dismantle all illegitimate authority and turn to social power in the free(d) market.

The market is the true public arena. In the market we labor to exchange goods and services, develop federations, create institutions and progress our societies. The market is the ultimate commons – as such it is only truly free in the horizontal. In the vertical we face power structures and centralized institutions that are all too often hurdles to democracy. Let us instead turn to good ole liberty.

Sit-ins, boycotts and mutual exchange will run regressive business practices out of the market. Rejection of big government labor laws will empower workers and re-dedicate unions to the working class. Education, learning and inclined labor are so fundamental to liberty that our market mechanisms will render them continually in demand and readily accessible.

Legislation that serves to marginalize the GLBT community, restrict workers rights, set goals for what should be our labor and so on finds its power in big government. Time to put the commons back in charge. The individual labor of human beings can build society. Institutionalized power that halts social progress is a dying creed – good riddance.