Summary: Music can motivate individuals to join a political movement, and build support for it among the people. Here we look at music that might spark not specific policy change (eg, about the environment), but broad reform of our political system.
- The role of music
- “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine
- “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine
- Why music has power
- It’s about choice
- The futility of protest without vision of a new order
- For More Information
(1) The role of music
Profound political reform at some point becomes a revolution, if society resists change — and sufficient people will pay the price. It’s a small “r” revolution, if the society eventually adapts to the new forces unleashed. If the society resists and the conflict escalates it might become a large “R” revolution, but the price paid becomes very high. What music can motivate that kind of change?
(2) “Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine (1999, lyrics here)
(3) “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine (2000, lyrics here)
For our conservative readers, here’s an endorsement of Rage Against the Machine: it’s Paul Ryan’s favorite band!
(4) Why music has power
From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind:
The power of music in the soul—described to Jessica marvelously by Lorenzo in the Merchant of Venice—has been recovered after a long period of desuetude. And it is rock music alone that has effected this restoration.
… Plato’s teaching about music is, put simply, that rhythm and melody, accompanied by dance, are the barbarous expression of the soul. Barbarous, not animal. Music is the medium of the human soul in its most ecstatic condition of wonder and terror.
Nietzsche, who in large measure agrees with Plato’s analysis, says in The Birth of Tragedy (not to be forgotten is the rest of the title, Out of the Spirit of Music) that a mixture of cruelty and coarse sensuality characterized this state, which of course was religious, in the service of gods. Music is the soul’s primitive and primary speech and it is alogon, without articulate speech or reason. It is not only not reasonable, it is hostile to reason. Even when articulate speech is added, it is utterly subordinate to and determined by the music and the passions it expresses.
(5) It’s about choice
“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.”
— The Merovingian, in The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Music can arouses passions, but political movements require more. Not just rocking and dancing. Revolutions require individuals to pay the price of opposing the existing political regime — and risk the consequences. It’s this commitment that gives power to those standing together outside the ruling elites — if in sufficient numbers.
(6) The futility of protest without vision of a new order
“We can never see past the choices we don’t understand.”
— The Oracle, ibid
Anger provides the fuel for action, but goes nowhere without a vision of a something to replace the existing political apparatus.
“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.”
— Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased)
Under the pressure of government opposition sometimes political movements mature, developing from people protesting to vent frustration to people seeking reforms (often vague in nature) to people offering an alternative to the existing system. At that point they become a they might become an existential threat to the ruling elites — or even the existing regime. Then things quickly get interesting.
“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
— Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odyssey (1997)
(7) For More Information
About heroes as inspirations for the American spirit, the American soul:
- A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009 – The Law of Equivalent Exchange
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 2 November 2010
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011