Andy Griffith and Civil Society


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As a child, for reasons I do not recall or understand now upon reflection, I was completely opposed to having to watch any show on television that was not in color. I assumed that everything in black and white was stale, boring and just plain old, and hence not worth my time when I could be watching cartoons on Nickelodeon. One show that my parents watched from time to time was 'The Andy Griffith Show,' which the child version of myself, being what he was, made every effort to avoid. I went through my childhood and adolescence without seeing anything beyond the intro and hearing that familiar whistle.

By the time of college, I had finally managed to completely shed my color prejudiced view of television programs and cinema. College was about the time that I really started to think a lot more about politics. Maybe it's something about that age and the environment? Of course this discovery and transformation period in college led me away from Fox News and towards places like, Strike The Root, and the Mises Institute. Essentially: away from the statist (probably the very worst of them all: the "neocon") towards the libertarian. This road toward liberty led me to be the Rothbardian market anarchist I am today.

Near graduation, I also started to watch shows and movies that I had missed out on through my younger prejudice. At some point I revisited 'The Andy Griffith Show', and through my now radical libertarian-tinted glasses, my Rothbard goggles, I saw something rather wonderful in the show that every man of even a very slight libertarian leaning can appreciate.

Andy Griffith vs. Barney Fife - Market and Man vs. State

'The Andy Griffith Show' centered around two police officers in a small North Carolina town: Andy Griffith and his bumbling deputy sidekick Barney Fife.

Andy was portrayed as always civil and ever courteous gentleman, using his wits in place of violence and the pointing of guns, as Barney was all too quick to do, which rarely turned out to work. It was rare Andy ever arrested anyone who was truly non-violent, and even the violent were treated with a base respect for life. In episode 95: "The Big House," Andy fools two escaped convicts back into the jail instead of turning the streets into a war zone, and to his credit, without hurting the convicts. He often boasted throughout the show that he accomplished a task without firing a shot himself, and in episode 166 ("Off to Hollywood "), even receives $1,000 from the Belmont Film Studio for rights to his story, "Sheriff Without a Gun."

Andy was much more inclined to resolve all problems he encountered in Mayberry peacefully. Much like the theorized and realized anarchist society and anarchistic societies in history, he resolved conflict through peaceful ends. The tendency of Andy to negotiate and peacefully resolve matters is shown in Episode 158: "Opie and the Carnival," where a carnival comes to town and scams Andy's son, Opie. Opie throws away his money trying to win an electric razor in a carnival game. The game is rigged, however, and Andy soon finds out. Andy then sets about to scam the scammers. He cleans the carnival shelves of prizes, much to the frustration of the dishonest carnies, and then shows them his badge. He informs the cheats that when Opie comes to try again, he better walk away with a razor. He did not hurt them or arrest them. He did not start liberally applying pepper spray and throw them in the tank after an embarrassing and dehumanizing strip search. He merely demanded that they make right through a form of restitution or he would take legal actions in response to their obvious fraud. They remained free for a non-violent crime and everyone who was wronged was made happy in the end.

Andy was also opposed to coercively intervening in other people's affairs that he felt was not his legal or moral right to become involved with. In one instance, Opie is being bullied by another boy and Andy does not intervene but chooses to let Opie fight his own battles, believing he must learn to stand up for his rights. Imagine that! In another episode (152: "The Case of the Punch in the Nose"), Barney opens an old case that involved Charley Foley charging Floyd with assault. The whole ordeal took place such a long time ago that no one even recalls how it began. Barney, being the statist busybody and the 'look how important I am!' sort of goon he is, manages to refresh everyone's memory and rekindles the nose punching fire of old. Andy steps in again as the real man--the adult--in the scene and convinces everyone to talk out their problems, and it works. Incredible! Through peaceful discourse and discussion, the two opposing parties, through the use of a neutral third, achieve a peace without more punching. Barney, on the other hand, was more than willing to pull a gun and start making threats.

Andy was always shown as possessed of a smooth and easy going character, as opposed to Barney, who constantly tried to flaunt the fact that he was "in charge here!". Barney was in all actuality a weakling and a coward. This led him put on a show of authority and superiority to compensate for his own insecurities and shortcomings. In episode 94 ("Mountain Wedding"), Andy and Barney visit the Darling family about a man named Ernest T. Bass who has his mind set on marrying Charlene Darling. Barney's immediate reaction to the violence displayed by the quite ignorant and obviously not too mentally healthy family is violence in turn. But Andy sets up a scheme where Barney ends up posing as the bride, and the day is saved without bloodshed. Officer Fife's over-zealous behavior was the constant source of his anxiousness to resort to violence, and ludicrously tyrannical in his treatment towards any man that may be in the small jail. In episode 148 ("Barney Runs for Sheriff"), Barney challenges Andy to a public debate and accuses peaceful Andy of not fulfilling his obligations and duties of being a provider of law. He cites Andy allowing jaywalking (punishable by death I would imagine in the court of Barney), failing to have emergency equipment such as tear gas and submachine guns (necessary equipment for enforcing jaywalking laws), and refusing to carry a sidearm--failing to recognize that the witty southern American Odysseus, Andy, had no need for it.

Barney was grossly incompetent at his job. I would say this is mostly due to his inability to see anything but force as a solution to any perceived problem. In episode 85 ("The Great Filling Station Robbery"), a young man trying to start a honest life after a history of criminal behavior is the primary suspect in a robbery of the gas station he now works at. Barney is more concerned with using the latest new gadgets that he spends the taxpayers' money on than in taking any concern for the life of the young suspect. Andy in contrast spends his time trying to clear the name of the well intentioned man, assuming innocence, not guilt. In episode 95 mentioned earlier, two escaped convicts are being held in the jail while federal officers call and wait for other federally employed officers to arrive. Gomer (Barney's equally idiotic cousin) is deputized to help Barney, and between the two, they manage to let the criminals escape three times. This seems to be a recurring event throughout the series (Episode 50: "Jailbreak" adds yet another instance to this case against Barney). In both episodes, his violent behavior led him to overlook other options than force for use against the criminals. This along with his obsession with being the boss was exploited time and again by the criminals.

Andy: 1 , Barney: 0

Andy Griffith acted like a man. He behaved time and again like a compassionate human being and not as an officer of the state, not as an embodiment of the government, dogma incarnate. No, he was more of a negotiator than a guard or a civil violence figure, a policeman. He tried to settle matters through arbitration and restitution, which often ended in both parties being satisfied or even one admitting his wrongdoing after being reasoned with. He rarely ever arrested anyone who was truly non-violent, and even the violent were treated with a base respect for life.

And for his civil and peaceful behavior, it was he who held the respect of the whole of the community, and as the superior man to the state figure Barney. Andy constantly corrects the mistakes of Barney, who fouls up the absolute simplest of tasks. His incompetence is caused by applying almost childlike bullheadedness and forceful behavior to all scenarios and his need to be everyone's boss.

If 'The Andy Griffith Show' was not meant as a commentary on the state, it certainly showed a vision of small towns in the South and man's preference and reverence for peace, wisdom, and courtesy in all matters (embodied in Andy) over war, ignorance, and incivility (embodied in Barney). For arbitration and settlement, not force and threats. For restitution and not imprisonment or death. I am immensely glad that I decided to revisit my past to give this show a shot. It gives a truly libertarian message of the merits of peace and reason as opposed to ignorance and violence.


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