Songs to Co-Opt for Libertarian Ends

Libertarians are on occasion accused of trying to steal entertainment for their own ends. From The Hunger Games to Shindler’s List to  just every dystopian tale of government run amok, sometimes folks — sometimes even other libertarians! — think we’re trying too hard to stick politics into pop culture where it just doesn’t belong.

But music is a big deal to people, almost as much so as political philosophy. Yet, if you want to put the two together for a soundtrack to state smashing, your choices are limited.  You can either have to pick unsubtle, sugary-sweet ballads about Ron Paul, or you can have punk odes to leftist utopias or country odes to righteous warfare.

Or, you can always pretend Objectivism is the same as libertarianism and go listen to some Rush.

But let’s get a little looser with the definitions. Maybe whatever song makes you feel like smashing the state in whatever way you do everyday, maybe that counts.

So here is my short list of some of my favorite songs, none of which were written by anyone who has ever read any Mises (I assume), and definitely none of which are rap battles between Hayek and Keynes. But that’s okay, damn it. You don’t need it to contain lessons in sound monetary policy to  feel like a song speaks to something libertarian.

  • “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers; sample lyrics to sing loudly, but extra loudly during G-20 or other jackbooted thuggery life moments are “they take away our freedom/in the name of liberty/why can’t they all just clear off/why can’t they let us be? they make us feel indebted/for saving us from hell/and then they put us through it/ it’s time the baaaaaaaaaastards fell”
  • “Riot Squad” by Cock Sparrer; “he’s in the riot squad/the shoot on sight squad”. Not so nice to the police.
  • “Ain’t No Nobody’s Business If I Do” sung by Bessie Smith (and other folks); it’s pretty libertarian: “If I should take a notion, to jump into the ocean/Ain’t nobody’s business if I do.” Hell, it was even borrowed for the title of a book.
  • “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle; libertarian fantasy lyrics we shouldn’t admit: “now the DEA’s got a chopper in the air/I wake up screaming like I’m still over there/I learned a thing or two from Charlie don’t you know/you better stay away from Copperhead road”
  • “Ain’t It Enough” by Old Crow Medicine Show; if only for “let the prison walls crumble and the borders all tumble”
  • “See How We Are” by X; for “there are men lost in jail/crowded 50 to a room” and other problems of prison lyrics.
  • “Ruby Ridge” by Peter Rowan; non-racist, non-heavy-handed look at that real human tragedy; “I got a wife and kids on Ruby Ridge/ please don’t shoot me down”
  • “For An Old Kentucky Anarchist” by Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew and The Orphans; Just… do your own thing: “I never cared much for any government/ I got my Jesus for me when the time is right”
  • “Fuck Tha Police” by NWA; shame about the sexism and homophobia, but: “searchin’ my car/lookin’ for the product/Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics” gets to the heart of what keeps lots of libertarians up late nights.
  • “Washington Bullets” by The Clash; it scorns the U.S. and wretched lefty regimes with “N’ if you can find a Afghan rebel/That the Moscow bullets missed/Ask him what he thinks of voting Communist/Ask the Dalai Lama in the hills of Tibet/How many monks did the Chinese get?”
  • “Holiday in Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys; slanders fashion rebels in the U.S. and also tries to point out the heinousness of the Khmer Rouge: “Well you’ll work harder/ With a gun in your back/For a bowl of rice a day/Slave for soldiers/Till you starve/Then your head is skewered on a stake”
  • “Minority” by Green Day; your basic I am me and I rule: “I don’t need your authority/Down with the moral majority/Cause I want to be the minority”
  • “Bye Bye Policeman” by Jim Jackson, well covered by the Carolina Chocolate Drops: I am never sure if the narrator kills the policeman or just shoos him away from his gambling: “He said, ‘Stop there, boy! I’m the law, I command you!’/I said, ‘I ain’t thinkin’ ’bout that law you’re tryin’ to hand me/Lord, I was pickin’ ‘em up, layin’ ‘em down/Curvin’ in and curvin’ ’round/Policeman, bye-bye'”

When I asked this question earlier, Jesse Walker, Senior Editor of Reason suggested three different Kinks songs. Another Reason Senior Editor, Brian Doherty, commented:

My three favorite libertarian songs, whenever this comes up (not in order):

“1 %”–Jane’s Addiction (recognizes govt as criminal gang to which people give fealty for the benefits it grants them)

“Beehive State”–Randy Newman (cold-eyed and sadly funny summation of what representative democracy is really like, and for)

“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”—War (bizarre series of non sequitors that manage to be anti-CIA, anti-welfare state, and anti-authority in an economic sense all in one song that most people don’t notice is any of those things)

Tom Clougherty of the Reason Foundation recommends  “Simple Song of Freedom” by Bobby Darrin. Other answers can be found over here.

Are there more? Or is it a waste of time to try to punk pop culture and libertarianism anywhere in the same room together? Is it enough for a song to simply suggest a vaguely anti-authoritarian feeling?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Cult of Personality (Living Color); Support your local Emperor (Blues Traveler); We’re only gonna die (Sublime did a cover)

    A list~

  • I like Civil War by Guns N Roses. One of the only anti war songs I’ve heard that does a blanket condemnation of all wars in general.

    • I kind of loath Guns n Roses, but maybe I will check that out!

      • Well that’s a shame; it’s a great rock band. I really like the lyrics in that song, one or two might be misplaced from a libertarian perspective, but I think the overall message is a lot more powerful than other antiwar songs.

  • FYI see my posts More Peace Music: White Flag Warrior and Justin Gaffrey Peace Art, listing some pro-peace art and music.

    • I will! Thanks!

  • Another song for you: Deify by Disturbed. A song about about the folly of hero worship, mainly of politicians. Written during the Bush era (and starting with some Bush sound bites), and just as relevant today.

  • Iron Maiden also has some pretty good songs that are antiwar. The Legacy and 2 minutes to midnight are good examples.

  • While almost certainly written by an economically ignorant anarcho-syndicalist or socialist (redundant I know) but nevertheless observant. Catchy toon also, you probably have heard but not noticed as the accent makes in less than obvious she’s singing in English.

    Ping Pong by Stereolab

    “it’s alright ‘cos the historical pattern has shown
    how the economical cycle tends to revolve
    in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
    a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

    bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
    huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

    there’s only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
    there’s only millions that die in their bloody wars, it’s alright

    it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
    it’s only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing”