Conservative Scholar Takes a Deep Dive into Rush Excellence Book
Bradley Birzer, a professor of history at Hillsdale College in Michigan who is on a one-year visiting scholar appointment at the University of Colorado at Boulder, took time out of his teaching schedule to write a thoughtful review of my book Rush: Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Excellence. Birzer is a conservative humanist, probably not unlike Neil Peart, and is the author of well-received books on Charles Carroll, one of our country’s lesser known founding fathers but an inspirational man who exemplified the ideal of Republican virtue, and on Christopher Dawson, the eminent Catholic historian.
I’m grateful Birzer gives the book a thumb’s up. He knows his history and his philosophy and he knows his Rush as well as anyone. So, I feel like the main idea of my book—that Aristotelian individualism is at the root of Rush’s lyrics—passed a big test.
Birzer’s main critique is that I neglected Stoicism, which he says is deep in Rush’s lyrics. I did indeed give Stoicism short shrift (no shrift whatsoever, actually), and Birzer isn’t the only one to make this point. Chris McDonald, a musicology professor at Cape Breton University and the author of Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class (Indiana University Press: 2009), also pointed out this omission in his review of the book.
Stoicism is the idea that happiness grows out of integrity, and integrity grows out of living in harmony with the world. Thus, you can be happy even if you’re subject to a terrible fate, like being wrongly imprisoned, if you maintain your integrity and deal rationally with the reality before you.
In hindsight, the book would have benefited greatly from a Stoic connection, because it fits seamlessly with Aristotelian virtue ethics. Living well means living with integrity, which you can only do if you take responsibility for yourself, which is what Peart in his lyrics says repeatedly. Birzer believes Peart is someting of a Stoic himself, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Peart agreed with that.
Birzer’s review comes at the end of an essay he wrote on Progarchy called “The Saving Grace of Neil Peart.” Here’s an excerpt from it:
“Freedman offers not so much a biography of the band, but rather a map of their intellectual influences and expressions. Freedman possesses a great wit in his writing, and the book—relatively short at 164 pages—flows and flows, time standing still until the reader reaches the end. For all intents and purposes, Freedman’s book serves as an intellectual thriller, a page turner.
“As a lover of Rush, I have a few (very few) quibbles with Freedman’s take. Mostly, from my not so humble perspective, Freedman gives way too much space to such charlatans as Barry Miles of the English New Music Express who claimed Rush promoted neo-fascism in the late 1970s. Freedman, while disagreeing with Miles, bends over backwards defending Miles’s point of view, as it did carry immense weight in the 1970s and wounded the band deeply. From my perspective, there is no excuse for Miles. He maliciously manipulated and twisted the words of Peart—using his lyrics and a personal interview—which were as deeply anti-fascistic as one could possibly imagine (paeans to creativity and individualism) and caused unnecessary damage to the reputation of three men, two of whom who had parents who had survived the horrors of the twentieth-century ideologues, as noted above. Miles’s take on Rush is simply inexcusable and no amount of justification explains his wickedness and cthluthic insensibilities toward three great artists. Dante best understood where such “men” spent eternity.
“I also believe that Freedman underplays the role of Stoicism in his book. The venerable philosophy barely receives a mention. Yet, in almost every way, Peart is a full-blown Stoic. In his own life as well as his own actions, Peart has sought nothing but excellence as conformable to the eternal laws of nature. This is the Stoicism of the pagans, admittedly, and not of the Jews or Christians, but it is Stoicism nonetheless. Freedman rightly notes that Plato and, especially, Aristotle influenced Peart. But, so did Zeno, Virgil, Cicero, and Seneca. This comes across best in Peart’s lyrics for “Natural Science” (early Rush), “Prime Mover” (middle Rush), and in “The Way the Wind Blows” (recent Rush). In each of these songs, Peart presents a view of the world with resignation, recognizing that whatever his flaws, man perseveres. Erik Heter and I have each attempted to explore this aspect of Peart’s writings at progarchy. Heter has been quite successful at it.
“As the risk of sounding cocky, I offer what I hope is high praise for Freedman. I wish I’d written this book.”—Brad Birzer
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From Amazon . . .
Great book, read slowly to fully enjoy it
“A very in depth conversation from Rush’s start to the present. It is not a lot read. You probably won’t rifle through this in a single sitting, and the author will likely challenge a lot of your interpretations of many of the songs. But more than worth considering the impact on Rush lyrics far beyond Rand and Aristotle. Pick it up.”—Alan L. Emery