Posted by Lexington Green on January 15th, 2007 (All posts by Lexington Green)
If you are in the grip of a crazy revolutionary vision, it can be expressed artistically, even if the practical application will be a disaster.
I can sing every word of Billy Bragg’s version of The World Turned Upside Down, and I get a tear in my eye and chill every time I hear it, even though I know it is utter, destructive nonsense.
Nationalism is the other great source of songs, of course, for similar reasons. You can calmly and sanely tell the Irish that being part of the UK would be better for them. But if you sing The Minstrel Boy and have tears in your eyes, and sing O’Donnell Abu, about making the proud Saxon feel Erin’s avenging steel, such sane arguments turn to dust. You join the IRA.
No one can make a great song about how the world is better if there are secure property rights, and people make mutually advantageous contracts, etc., etc. Even the anti-Corn Law League had to sing about the evil lords stealing the people’s bread. There will always be songs about Joe Hill, but there will never be songs about entrepreneurs who take risks and create jobs.
It cannot be done. Why? I think our emotional natures were formed in the millennia before modernity and we still respond to sentiments of solidarity which served us well on the savannah fighting saber-tooth tigers. We are hardwired for Paleolithic conditions.
Good governance cannot be sung about. But people need things to sing about.
This is a real problem for people who love freedom in a sensible, empirical, small-l libertarian kind of way. It has no songs. It does not grab the heart. Our enemies will always be more powerful in this department as a result. Too bad. But I see this as a condition to be worked with, not a problem which can have a solution.