Remembering Rush, and paying tribute to libertarian lyricist Neal Peart’s democratic individualism

By Michael Grossberg

Rush, the Canadian art-rock group, stopped touring in 2015 and retired three years later, but still has legions of admirers around the world.

Many are science fiction fans, who appreciate their sf- or fantasy-themed songs (“The Trees”) and albums (2112). And quite a few are libertarians, who appreciate their themes affirming individualism and individual liberty (such as “Free Will” and “Tom Sawyer.”)

Those and other Rush fans should appreciate a recent Law and Liberty article paying tribute to Neil Peart, Rush’s late great drummer.

“Early on, Peart’s lyrics reflected a devotion to individualism, and his protagonists in songs such as “2112,” “Red Barchetta,” and “Tom Sawyer,” are driven primarily by their desire for free expression,” Jordan T. Cash writes in his essay.


Rush in performance (Creative Commons license)

Such libertarian and individualist themes have sparked LFS members to nominate Rush’s music quite a few times for the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

After all, several Rush songs and their 2012 theme album qualify as both liberty-loving and within the sf/fantasy genre, making them eligible for Prometheus recognition.

“The Trees,” a 1978 song on Rush’s “Hemispheres” album, was selected by LFS judges as a Hall of Fame finalist in 2020, 2021 and 2022 – and is nominated again for next year’s competition.

Poetically and concisely, “The Trees” conjures a fable of envy, revolution, and coercive egalitarianism that threatens the survival and individuality of different kinds of trees that make up a forest with a “noble law” that keeps the trees “equal by hatchet, axe and saw.”

Meanwhile, Rush’s fourth album “2112” – an anti-authoritarian sf-themed album set in a totalitarian society where evil priests keep everyone under their thumb until a young man finds a guitar and learns to make music – was nominated for the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2018.


“It is this focus on individuality and freedom that led Peart to address the tensions between liberty and equality, reflecting Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that democratic societies place limits on individual greatness, as there “one encounters less brilliance” and “fewer great actions” as well as a greater tendency to bow to majority opinion,” Cash, a Michigan State University professor, writes in his Law and Liberty article on “Neal Peart: Lyricist of Democratic greatness.”

“Peart… is justly hailed as one of the greatest drummers of all-time. Yet Peart was also a profound and insightful writer who served as the band’s primary lyricist. In his lyrics, Peart explored a wide variety of subjects, but one prominent theme emerges over the course of his career: the pursuit of human greatness,” Cash argues.

Analyzing a variety of Rush songs written by Peart, including on the albums A Farewell to Kings and Clockwork Angels, Cash observes how Peart explores the potential tensions between individual merit, achievement and excellence, on the one hand, and the leveling pressures of a democratic age on the other.

Among the other songs that libertarians cherish is “Something for Nothing” (from the flip side of their 2012 album), which includes these lyrics: “You don’t get something for nothing. You don’t get freedom for free.”

In the end, Cash makes the case that Peart understood and embraced the pursuit of personal excellence – a goal and value that many libertarians embrace and personally affirm as individualists – within a broader context of respect for the hidden values and achievements of everyday life.

“For Peart, anyone can become great in their own life so long as they are committed to personal excellence, and that this can be readily observed by the esteem shown by others,” Cash writes.

“…Peart’s lyrics serve as a reminder that even in a democratic society where greatness might be rare, it is not unachievable. Ironically for a rock star, Peart highlights that greatness need not be limited to those actions which attract fame and glory but can found in any walk of life. Yet he also points out that regardless of where we seek greatness, the road to it is the same: the consistent and persistent pursuit of excellence.”

P.S. In researching and editing this blog post, I came across a treat for Neil Peart fans: Neil Peart: The Illustrated Quotes, billed as the first – and only – official collection of illustrated quotes from the Rush drummer and lyricist.

Here’s how the book is described:
“Before his untimely death in 2020, Neil Peart was considered to be one of the greatest drummers to have ever lived. As the drummer and primary lyricist for the multi-platinum selling rock band, Rush, Neil charmed the world with his introspective and eclectic writing. Heavily inspired by science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, and his many cross-country trips on his motorcycle, Neil crafted universal lyrics that encapsulated the social and humanitarian issues of the time.”

* Read the Prometheus Blog tributes to Rush and Peart, including the initial 2020 news note about his death and the more in-depth follow-up tribute, “Rush songwriter-drummer Neal Pert widely remembered for his libertarian idealism, individualism.”


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, end slavery and war and achieve universal liberty, respect for human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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