The Anti-Conformist, Libertarian Philosophy That Shaped Rush’s Classic Albums

“Throughout their career, Rush have been proudly anti-conformist and anti-authoritarian,” notes the Polyphonic video on recently departed drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, above. “This philosophy is clearly reflected in many of their finest works.” Since the addition of Peart in 1974 after their first, self-titled album, Rush’s philosophy has also been unambiguously Libertarian.

Of course, Peart also turned Rush into the most literary of progressive rock bands. Steeped in fantasy, science fiction, and moral philosophy, he translated his influences into a sprawling sci-fi vision all his own, and one that consistently exceeded the sum of its parts. Yet early Rush was also very much a band that wrote earnest, epic songs about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

Peart drew heavily on her work in the first three albums he recorded with the band, including 1975’s Fly by Night, which included the song “Anthem,” an ode to towering creative geniuses that cribs from Rand’s dystopian novel of the same name. Rush’s breakout masterwork, 2112, released the following year, expanded dramatically on the theme, as you’ll see in the Polyphonic breakdown of its lyrics.

The 20-minute opening title track tells the story of a futuristic, fictional city of Megadon, a place, writes Rob Bowman in the 40th anniversary edition liner notes, “where individualism and creativity are outlawed with the population controlled by a cabal of malevolent Priests who reside in the Temples of Syrinx.” Based on a short story by Peart, he himself credited its inspiration in the original liner notes to “the genius of Ayn Rand.”

These references don’t seem to make Rush fans love their career-defining mid-seventies concept albums any less. But it has meant that a great deal of talk about Rush has forever linked Peart with this phase in his life. Asked about it in Rolling Stone almost four decades after 2112’s release, he disavowed a lasting influence.

Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile…. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian.

The change came about, he says, after he saw how libertarian ideals get “twisted by the flaws of humanity.” Peart, and Rush, however never wavered from their anti-authoritarian championing of individual rights. And denials aside, the Randian influence lingered, especially in songs like “Freewill” from 1980’s Permanent Waves:

You can choose from phantom fears  
And kindness that can kill  
I will choose a path that’s clear  
I will choose free will 

Rush’s libertarian streak—both the early Objectivist and later “bleeding heart” varieties—can broadly be called their guiding political philosophy. But it should not be mistaken for Peart’s sole obsession. His songs are full of huge themes, as well as the “thorny questions” of everyday life, writes Annie Zaleski at NPR. “Like the best songwriting, Peart’s body of work was also malleable enough to grow with its listeners—his songs often mused about aging and the importance of dreaming.”

Sometimes Rush spoke even more directly to their aging fans. “The ominous ‘Subdivisions’ railed against the conformist suburbs that ‘have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.’” Whether or not Rush fans themselves have had an early Ayn Rand phase, all of them identify with Peart’s lifelong desire to seize his own destiny and escape the mundane.

Related Content:

Witness Rush Drummer Neil Peart’s (RIP) Finest Moments On Stage and Screen

Who Are the Best Drum Soloists in Rock? See Legendary Performances by Neil Peart (RIP), John Bonham, Keith Moon, Terry Bozzio & More

Free Audio: Ayn Rand’s 1938 Dystopian Novella Anthem 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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  • William Le says:

    I understand Neil here perfectly for I too was an Ayn Rand fan around the age of 20. Basically shy and insecure throughout high school, her books helped me (at the time) to develop a bit of inner strength and have a little faith in myself by convincing me of my “specialness/uniqueness”, regardless of whether it was true or not. Fortunately I’ve moved away from the Randian model over time.

  • Annoymous says:

    As an anti-conformist and an anti-authoritarian, and a rock musician, it is nice to know there is at least one band/artists at an earlier era with some similar viewpoints and outlooks.

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