A Brief History of Conservative and Libertarian Punk Rock


The heavy metal magazine Decibel recently announced a new inductee to the "Decibel Hall of Fame," an honor reserved exclusively for "extreme music's most important albums." That inductee was Cause for Alarm, the breakthrough 1986 album by the New York City band Agnostic Front.

It's a good choice. Although Agnostic Front is best known for playing hardcore, a caustic musical offshoot of punk rock, on Cause for Alarm the band added a massive dose of thrash metal to the mix. The resulting sound combined the best of both genres and left its mark on punks and headbangers alike. The record deserves the kudos.

Courtesy of Relativity Records

But Agnostic Front made more than just musical waves in its heyday. As Decibel notes, the band would also "outrage P.C. talk show hosts with its controversial lyrics." Foremost among those hosts was daytime kingpin Phil Donahue, an outspoken liberal who denounced the lyrical content of "Public Assistance," a song where Agnostic Front attacked the welfare state. (Sample lyric: "Uncle Sam takes half my pay so you can live for free.")

Nor was that the band's only brush with political controversy. In fact, Agnostic Front was at the center of a heated debate over whether right-of-center views should even be allowed in the '80s punk scene in the first place. For their part, Agnostic Front's members saw no crime in voicing the occasional word of support for Ronald Reagan's anti-communist foreign policy.

To say the least, that ruffled a few mohawks. For example, when Agnostic Front's first album, Victim in Pain, hit the shelves in 1984, the leading punk zine at the time, Maximum RockNRoll, attacked the "extremely hot-sounding thrash album" as the work of dangerous extremists, blaming the band for "much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene." (Agnostic Front, and the scene it "destroyed," are both still alive and kicking.)

If Maximum RockNRoll had its way, Agnostic Front would have been excommunicated from punk for political heresy. But of course that was never an option since punk was never the sole property of the left in the first place. After all, no less an icon than Johnny Ramone, guitarist and founder of the Queens, New York, outfit that arguably got the whole punk thing started, was a self-described "Nixon Republican." Yes, plenty of punks spent their time raging against "Maggie" Thatcher and "Reaganomics." But plenty others were focused on beer, skateboarding, and astro zombies. All sorts of misfits went slam dancing under the same big tent.

Finally, since we're talking about the politics of punk, allow me to leave you with my nominee for the greatest libertarian punk song. It's a number called "Legalize Drugs" by the great L.A. band Fear. What makes it libertarian? Check out the lyrics: "When you take away the profit, then you destroy the black market." It reads like an article at Reason.com.