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The Evolving Libertarianism of Neil Peart

Rush drummer Neil Peart performs during a sold-out show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., July 17, 2004. (Ethan Miller/Reuters)

Like every true rock fan I was saddened to hear of the passing of Neil Peart, the lyricist and virtuoso drummer for the prog group Rush. We all love the band’s key albums, the handful culminating in 1981’s Moving Pictures, and we inevitably have some opinions about the others too. I absolutely loved their 2007 effort Snakes and Arrows, for example, and I can’t stand the really synth-heavy stuff they did in the mid and late ’80s. (Before anyone asks, in my definition that includes Power Windows but not Signals.)

We on the right, of course, have a special debt to Peart for being the rare entertainer to espouse political beliefs other than lefty ones. The incredible first side of 2112 is based on Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and in “The Trees,” from Hemispheres, Peart makes a point about equality: All trees can be the same height . . . if you cut them all down.

But like a lot of us who had strong libertarian tendencies when we were young, Peart saw his views evolve as he aged. “The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum),” from the aforementioned Snakes and Arrows, is a heartfelt meditation on the “different fortunes and fates” human beings find themselves subjected to. And in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012, Peart identified as a “bleeding-heart libertarian” rather than the Randian kind:

For me, [the work of Ayn Rand] was an affirmation that it’s all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of libertarianism as an ideal — because I’m an idealist. Paul Theroux’s definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I’ve brought my view and also — I’ve just realized this — libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we’re all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that’s when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding-heart libertarian. That’ll do.

May he rest in peace.

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