Barry Miles’ Big Mistake

Probably the most infamous article written on Rush was the one by Barry Miles in the March 4, 1978, issue of the New Musical Express, called, “Is everybody feelin’ all RIGHT? (Geddit . . . ?),” in which he recounts his conversation with Neil and Geddy while the band was in London on tour and concluded that the band’s focus on individualism and Neil’s conservative economic views (a relative rarity back then, at least among the young) and admiration at the time for Ayn Rand amounted to a kind of right-wing Nazism, a “proto-fascism” he called it.

The seminal moment in the piece is when he interprets Neil’s espousal of private property rights and preference for a capitalist organization of society over a socialist one to mean “work makes us free.” He certainly chose a loaded phrase, because it’s the slogan that the Nazis kept over the entrance to some of their concentration camps, most notoriously Auschwitz. “Shades of the 1,000-year Reich,” Miles says.

In using the phrase, he appears to be trying to tie Neil’s stand in support of capitalism to Nazism, a leap of association that many would question. It would be equivalent to calling presidents in the United States Nazi because in their rhetoric they praise American capitalism. One wonders if Miles was aware that the Nazis adopted the phrase from the Weimar Republic as a cynical justification of their brand of socialism, not because of their support of right-wing capitalism. In any case, both Geddy and Ayn Rand are Jewish, so the allusion to Nazism is certainly of questionable taste.

The Weimar Republic in the 1930s advanced the slogan “Work makes us free” in support of their public works program—that is, state-sponsored make-work projects—to try to offset the economically punitive effects of the Treaty of Versailles. That’s about as far from laissez faire capitalism as you can get.

When the Nazis assumed power, they retained the phrase and used it in support of their own economic priorities, which was a mish-mash of socialism and capitalism. Plenty of scholars have said the Nazis never had a coherent economic philosophy. They mixed state-sponsored make-work programs with what was left of the hybrid capitalist-socialist economy under the Weimar republic. Whatever the Nazis were, they were not laissez-faire capitalists.

When Miles conducted his interview with Neil and Geddy, it was the inflationary late-1970s and throughout the West economies were in or just coming out of recession. The United States by some measures was faring better than England and other Western European countries, where the public sector played a far more prominent role in the economy, with national airlines (British Airways is a vestige of that), railroads, communications (the BBC), major industrial companies, and a far-greater hand of government in healthcare. And the unions were far stronger. In just another year, Margaret Thatcher would be elected prime minister and the whole movement to the right, both in England and in the United States, with the election of Ronald Reagan, was about to begin.

Miles was clearly coming from what would be considered a far-left position (at least by today’s standards) on economic issues when he conducted the interview, and Neil was coming from what today would be considered a right-of-center position. There’s nothing that could be considered radical in Neil’s position. He’s saying societies should aim for laissez faire capitalism as their economic ideal, with governments focused on defense and public order, leaving room for the private sector (private insurance, unions, charities) to provide the social safety net. By today’s standards, he’d be a Republican, possibly a moderate one given his stance on unions, among other things.

In the many years since that interview, Neil has said that he considers himself a left libertarian, if he’s anything, and he also dismisses his earlier views as those of a young person (he was 25 at the time) caught up in the enthusiasm of his developing beliefs. Well, that’s Neil’s excuse. What was Miles? He was 35 at the time, hardly a young man still trying to figure things out. Yet he appears to be mistaking capitalism for Nazism.

—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Read an excerpt from the article.

 More This and That.

~ by rvkeeper on July 27, 2011.

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