We Have Met the NME and It is Capitalism
Shortly before Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of the United Kingdom, on May 4, 1979, ushering in with Ronald Reagan an age of conservatism that both the U.K. and the United States are dealing with to this day, a left-right battle of another kind was going on in Glasgow.
Neil was sitting down with John Hamblett, a contributor to the New Musical Express (NME), to get to the bottom of a controversy stirred up a year earlier by one of Hamblett’s colleagues.
In that earlier incident, Barry Miles of NME (“enemy” if you sound it out) called Rush “proto-fascist.” He had been struck by Neil’s philosophical opposition to economic equality as an ideal. In Miles’ view, equality is an unassailable virtue, and socialism, the political expression of economic equality, the unassailable political philosophy.
Miles was in good company. Throughout the West at the time, and particularly in the the U.K., far-left politics was the political ideal of the intellectual class. In Europe intellectuals were aiming for socialism; in the U.S., they were aiming for liberalism (socialism being too close to communism even for liberal Americans’ taste).
As it was, British socialists and the U.K.’s more moderate Labour party had been remarkably successful in smoothing down the hard corners of capitalism. Health care was state-sponsored; big industries like transportation and communications had big government players; and unions were powerful.
But now the shoe was on the other foot. The U.K., like the rest of Europe (and the U.S. to a lesser extent), was in recession, and the years of left-wing hegemony were under assault. Thatcher and her conservatism was on the march. Indeed, she would become the country’s prime minister on May 4, the day before Hamblett’s interview with Neil came out.
Into this political war zone walked Neil when a year earlier he and Geddy had sat down with Miles for what they thought was an amiable conversation about music and philosophy. Neil talked favorably about laissez faire capitalism, private property rights, and philanthropy. But what Miles took away from that was “right-wing extremism” and “shades of the 1,000-year Reich.”
“All the classic hallmarks of the right-wing are there,” he said.
For Neil the interview a year later with Hamblett was a chance to set the record straight.
“That was a very dishonest article,” Neil said. “I was under the impression that Miles and I had gotten on very well. I even gave him my address in New York and told him to stop by any time he was in the neighbourhood. All that so-called political dialogue took place after the interview had finished; we were just chatting, really amenably, I thought, and he twisted it all round. I just feel that it was basically dishonest.”
But Hamblett wasn’t that much more sympathetic. He recited a few stanzas of “The Trees” and challenged Neil to show that the song wasn’t a thinly disguised diatribe against labor unions, what he called “a definite and resolute dictum against trade unionism and organized labour.”
Neil said it wasn’t; it was a critique of the “false ideal of equality. . . I simply believe that certain people are better at doing certain things than other people.”
But Hamblett would have none of it. “Should . . . Neil Peart be allowed to write songs like ‘Trees’ and play them to who knows how many thousands of young (impressionable?) people . . . ?”
In fact, Neil had earlier made it clear to Miles he supported trade unions. What he was against was government-sanctioned trade unions. It’s one thing for workers at a factory to bargain collectively with their employer; it’s another matter when government steps in with support to them.
But for Hamblett and Miles, distinctions like this were beside the point. Neil had gone over to the dark side. He was a capitalist. To Miles, that meant he was a fascist, and thus a Nazi. Hamblett was more charitable. There was no racism, nationalism, or quest for global domination, he said, and so there was no fascism, but there was that darkness, that capitalism. And there was no prettying that up. And just as Miles had ended his piece with a warning for people to keep their eyes open when they attend their next Rush concert, Hamblett left readers with the same warning: “Make sure you see them with your eyes open.”
Looks like there was no setting the record straight with the NME.
Here’s a fun piece of satire on how Rush and other Canadians unleashed Ayn Rand on the United States in an effort to destabilize the country.