Can Country Music Help Renew The Spirit Of America?

The intersection of music and politics has been one of the most striking features of modern culture. Almost all of the nation-building movements that swept through the West after the […]
Published on September 5, 2023

The intersection of music and politics has been one of the most striking features of modern culture.

Almost all of the nation-building movements that swept through the West after the American and French revolutions owe some of their energy to the emotional appeal of patriotic composers.

Popular music captures the spirit of a people. Anthems, songs, operas, and symphonies celebrate national struggle, solidarity, liberty, and love of country.

In the wake of Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquests, composers such as Germany’s Richard Wagner, Poland’s Frédéric Chopin, and Italy’s Giuseppe Verdi inspired legions to cherish their nation. It has been said that in Chopin’s concertos, Poles imagined the sound of cannons defending their homeland.

Over centuries, patriotic music has touched the hearts of people in Russia, Hungary, Scandinavia, Spain, the UK, Latin America, and the United States. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States, was composed after the Republic’s successful defense against a resurgent British Empire in the War of 1812.

In 1939, while Hitler and Stalin prepared to conquer Europe and invade Britain, Welsh boy soprano Glyn Davies sang: “There’ll always be an England/And England shall be free/If England means as much to you/As England means to me.”

In the salad years of free and independent states, patriotic music helped to hold nations together.

Singing Along on the Road to Socialism

In the 1960s, anti-American political activists accelerated their long march through the formative institutions of the West.

Intellectual tastes swung left, and musicians were at the forefront of the liberal-progressive zeitgeist. From Baby Boomers to Millennials, artists adopted a post-nationalist outlook that was enormously influenced by cultural Marxism.

By the mid-20th century, dozens of communist folk singers such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Agnes Cunningham were inspiring new generations of music lovers.

Writing in 2020 for People’s World, socialist author Tony Pecinovsky asserted that such artists weren’t just musicians, “they were political radicals. And their political, satirical, and witty working-class music and lyrics provided food for thought for millions of activists throughout the 20th century.”

Over the past 70 years, neo-Marxist themes have been enormously influential in popular music circles. Even Country Music Television performers have been singing the lyrics of the left.

The political message of socialist artists is unmistakable. John Lennon’s 1971 Fabian classic “Imagine” summed up the anti-nationalist, anti-faith, pro-socialist vision foisted on the United States and the West: “Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/ … Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too/ … I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.”

The Tragic Rhythms of Self-Loathing

After some seven decades of humming along with the left, U.S. elites are disinclined to love their own country.

The dream of “making America great again” put forward by President Donald Trump in 2016 is ridiculed in the nation’s concert halls and corridors of power.

But the rhythms of self-loathing haven’t served ordinary Americans well.

A majority is convinced that their country is headed in the wrong direction. Pleasant U.S. towns and cities have succumbed to blight and disorder. Criminal mobs roam the streets and loot shops.

Some are in the grip of psychological despair. Others have become addicted to welfare benefits and drugs. Too many have lost faith in God and country.

Hardworking families face huge personal challenges, while establishment authorities prepare to imprison their last best hope for patriotic leadership.

The Spirit of Liberty in Country Music

Over the past few years, a cultural counterrevolution has emerged from the world of U.S. country music.

In the summer of 2021, Los Angeles Times columnist Nicholas Goldberg expressed concern about country music fans who are beginning to wear their politics on their sleeves.

Mr. Goldberg pointed to the success of a song called “Am I the Only One,” by Aaron Lewis of Worthington, Massachusetts. Mr. Lewis’s assault on woke cancel culture asks, “Am I the only one here tonight/Shaking my head and thinking something ain’t right.” The song went to the top of the charts. Conservative talk show host Andrew Wilkow still plays it on his Patriot Radio show.

A comment on a YouTube video of Mr. Lewis by an immigrant from the former USSR said it all: “This song epitomizes everything we dreamt about, admired, respected, strived for. … we didn’t fight in war, but we left everything behind to come here. We will stand with patriots to protect the true value of this beautiful country.”

Early this summer, Jason Aldean, from Macon, Georgia, released “Try That in a Small Town.” He wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that his song represents an unspoken country rule: “We all have each other’s backs and we look out for each other.”

Mr. Aldean sings about crimes that occur regularly in U.S. cities, such as sucker-punching someone on a sidewalk or carjacking an old lady at a red light. Then he goes to the chorus: “Well, try that in a small town/See how far you make it down the road/Around here we take care of our own/You cross that line, it won’t take long/For you to find out, I recommend you don’t.”

Woke critics say that the song is racist and violent. Mr. Aldean insists that it’s about the feeling of community that he experienced growing up, “where we took care of our neighbors, regardless of differences of background or belief.”

In August, Oliver Anthony of Farmville, Virginia, released ”Rich Men North of Richmond.” The song amounted to a blue-collar anthem, and within days, it led the streaming charts.

While Rolling Stone wrote off Mr. Anthony as just another “right-wing influencer,” Epoch Times columnist Roger Kimball wrote that “art matters” and “’Rich Men North of Richmond’ is a moving cri de coeur.” Everyone knows what powerful urban district is “north of Richmond.” Mr. Kimball asserted that the song is “a warning shot across the bow of the self-satisfied managers of the uniparty that controls us.”

Each in his own way, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Aldean, and Mr. Anthony oppose woke mobs, globalist corporations, and deep-state politicians who have become infinitely more influential than family, faith, town, and nation.

The songs of these country artists bring to mind one of the most famous patriotic ballads ever written in America. It was penned by Pennsylvania assemblyman John Dickinson in 1768, three years after the British passed the Stamp Act and set in motion the groundswell of resistance leading to the American Revolution.

The lyrics first appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal: “Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all/And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty’s call/No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim/Or stain with dishonour America’s name/In freedom we’re born and in freedom we’ll live/ … Not as slaves but as Freemen our money we’ll give.”

Much of this same spirit of liberty still lives in the hearts of ordinary Americans.


Bill Brooks is a Senior Fellow at Frontier Centre For Public Policy. This commentary was first published in The Epoch Times here.

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