Neil Peart, Champion of Individualism

The late drummer left behind a legacy of unparalleled musicianship and freedom-celebrating lyrics.


Neil Peart, the longtime drummer for the Canadian band Rush, died last week of brain cancer, leaving behind a legacy as one of rock's most technically accomplished percussionists and perhaps its most articulate libertarian lyricist. The 67-year-old songwriter regularly championed individualism, choice, and freedom over soul-crushing conformity.

Early Rush songs are saturated with such messages. The song "Freewill," released on 1980's Permanent Waves album, puts self-determination at the root of the human experience: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

In "The Trees," released two years earlier, Peart tells a fable about a forest where the maple trees demand to be made equal with the taller oaks. It doesn't go well:

So the maples formed a union
and demanded equal rights.
"The oaks are just too greedy.
We will make them give us light."
Now there's no more oak oppression
for they passed a noble law.
And the trees are all kept equal
by hatchet, axe, and saw.

Sometimes Peart's individualism could be compressed into a single line, as in Rush's 1981 hit "Tom Sawyer": "No, his mind is not for rent/to any god or government."

Rush's 1976 album 2112, which Peart dedicated to the "genius of Ayn Rand," tells the story of a futuristic theocracy that outlaws individualism and creativity, including the electric guitar. Rand's novel The Fountainhead had a particularly heavy influence on Peart, who described the affinity he felt for the book's protagonist in a 1997 interview with Scott Bullock for Liberty magazine:

Howard Roark stood as a role model for me—as exactly the way I already was living. Even at that tender age [18] I already felt that. And it was intuitive or instinctive or inbred stubbornness or whatever; but I had already made those choices and suffered for them.

As Bullock notes, the driving force here wasn't Rand's full-throated endorsement of commerce; it was her defense of individual will and artistic integrity against corrupting conformity, whether the pressure to conform comes from the government or from soulless corporate executives.

As time went on, Peart distanced himself from Rand and some of her more radical policy notions. The Liberty profile mentions that Peart supports a government safety net. By 2015, he was telling Rolling Stone: "For a person of my sensibility, you're only left with the Democratic Party….The whole health-care thing—denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?" Rush even sent libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) a cease-and-desist letter in 2010 to get the then-candidate to stop using its songs at rallies and in videos, although the band's lawyers insisted that this was a solely a copyright issue.

So went Peart's ideological journey. Meanwhile, the music he made will continue to have a life of its own, inspiring people with its defense of individual freedom for decades to come.

Bonus link: Matt Kibbe on Peart and Rand.

NEXT: Indian Prime Minister Modi's Lawless Reign of Terror

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110 responses to “Neil Peart, Champion of Individualism

  1. So, when he got his ... his defense of freedom disappeared.

    1. He moved to Santa Monica. Even introverts need friends, it was practically inevitable that he's start to toe the leftist line.

    2. His defense of individualism never wavered. And individualism is the root of liberty.

      1. but with safety nets provided by coercive taxation?

        "For a person of my sensibility, you're only left with the Democratic Party….The whole health-care thing—denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?"

        Sorry, this is just intellectually lazy. As we've all heard before, it's like suggesting that someone who is against government provided groceries is against eating.

        How do you go from Rand to this kind of overly simplistic moralism?

        1. Yeh, he failed there.

        2. He's a drummer, not a philosopher. He wrote about things he found interesting at the time.

        3. He grew up, he traveled and gain new perspectives, and he lost his dogmatic adherence to a single-minded philosophy. And he was still a better champion of liberty than most on the right or left.

          1. Traveling and gaining new perspectives leads one to think that coercion and theft are good things?

            1. In a vacuum of course they are.
              But unless you have a solution for human nature then they will ALWAYS happen in every society that grows larger than the family unit. The adults in the room understand this and seek to maximize liberty while minimizing the theft part. I’d consider Peart’s bleeding-heart libertarianism a palatable compromise.

              1. Your basic premise is that people aren't charitable or giving unless government holds a gun to their head. That's bullshit. Who is denying mercy to suffering people? Is he referring to rationing? Is there a healthcare system which doesn't involve some type of rationing?

    3. I wanna take this opportunity to do a shout out to Pro Libertate. I hope you are still out there, buddy.

      1. I was just thinking the same.

  2. Moving Pictures was my first cassette I was 10. Tom Sawyer sold me but I think Red Barchetta is still my fave. I saw Rush in 4 different decades. Thanks for the drop.

    xm27 is playing all Rush

    1. YYZ for me.

      1. "y'all like my lyrics, huh? check this."

      2. The Necromancer.

    2. Fly By Night and Red Barchetta are my faves.

  3. The retarded millennials at Reason are too retarded and millennial to say anything about libertarian rock god Neil Peart!

    1. Yeah, after reading this article I feel the same way too.

      1. Sparky is being sarcastic, as there was much bitching from certain people about there not immediately an article about Neil Peart's passing.

        1. Oh, I know what he was getting after.

          What I was getting after is: Given the choice between leaving it that way, and this stub of an afterthought, maybe they should have just left it that way.

          1. Nah, it's good. We just needed a place to talk about Rush.

            1. Can't argue that.

        2. I was one of them. I wasn't asking for much. Just a link because they always cover the deaths of iconic musicians.

    2. That's because Christian's old enough to know what's right and young enough not to choose it.

      1. don't make me break out the hatched, axe, and saw.

          1. Well, while you're looking for your hatched, I'll be wreathed in smoke in Lebanon.

            1. The hatchet may be beneath, between or behind something....

            2. Lebanon, what's next Bangkok?

              Cities full of hatred, fear, and lies

      2. Did you mean young enough not to care too much about the way things used to be,
        and young enough to remember the future,
        the past has no claim on him?

    3. Danny Carey is number one!

  4. OK, Rufus, happy now?

    1. Rufus better apologize like a good Canadian.

      1. There's no need for him to say he's soarry.

    2. Sorry!


  5. This may make me a weirdo, but I think my favorite Rush album is Grace Under Pressure. Hard to decide, though. The harder rocking 70s stuff is all great.

    1. For me it comes second after Hold Your Fire.

    2. it is hard to decide. Signals.

      1. Yeah, when viewed as a complete album Signals is tops for me as well.

      2. Interesting, neither of those have been big favorites of mine.
        I'm curious, are those the albums that were new when you discovered the band? I find that what I am first exposed to from a band often remains my favorite. For me with Rush it was Roll The Bones. But, breaking the pattern, it did not remain one of my favorites.

        1. a buddy's older brother was playing 2112 & Fly By Night & Farewell to Kings around us when I was like 8. got Moving Pics in 6th grade I was 10. Signals was next. I dunno? I love it all. I took my brother to the Roll the Bones tour he was finally old enough to come along

          1. I think I need to give some of the 80s albums I've neglected another chance. Been a long, long time since I listened to all of Signals or Hold Your Fire or Power Windows.

            1. My favorite is Chronicles.

              1. That's cheating.

            2. In my opinion, Second Nature, Prime Mover, and Mission, which are all from HYF, are the best three Rush songs of all time.

              1. YYZ, Freewill, Red Barchetta

                1. Closer to the Heart, Entre Nous, YYZ

                  1. La Villa Strangiato.

          2. Yeh for us in the 80s it was Moving Pictures but for those of us who had older siblings, we were exposed to those mentioned.

            I like Caress of Steel.

            Admittedly I'm not the biggest Rush head but boy were my buddies. I think they've gone to five or six of their concerts that I know of.

        2. First exposed? Probably heard Working Man, and Fly by Night in '77 or '78, bought All the World's A Stage in a mall in Tallahassee while on a sixth grade trip to the state capitol in 1978 specifically because I recognized those tunes. Don't think I had heard any of 2112 up to that point. After getting home and wearing that record out I next got Farewell to Kings and went on from there.

          Signals was not my favorite when it was released. Even though Subdivisions was entirely apropos to my then current high school state of existence and Analog Kid just flat out resonated with me and my childhood in upstate NY. Overall I was not as enamored with the new age direction of their sound.

          Looking at it now, and seeing how it all fits together so well - the sonic compositions, the lyrical juxtapositions, and the overall movement of the album it is just the total package.

          1. I should also add, I got Farewell to Kings as a conscious effort to go backwards, since at the time Permanent Waves was getting routine airplay and friends had the whole album.

            1. And, IIRC the opening act for our show on the Signals tour was Rory Gallagher.

              Wish I could go back in time to that day.

          2. Subdivisions is an audio time machine.

            1. Subdivisions is a good example of how the message of individualism in Rush goes beyond politics.

              1. absolutely

    3. Hands down: A Farewell to Kings. Best song: Xanadu.

    4. Moving Pictures. But that's the album that introduced me to them, so it may be that it simply stuck that way. Thought they went downhill after that.

      1. It was probably their peak in a lot of ways.

        But as I say above, I find that often in my mind the last album a band released before I got into them is great and it's downhill from there. I suspect a lot of it is the personal significance to me. Or it's just been too long since I've taken LSD and gotten some new stuff burned into my brain.

        1. I find that often in my mind the last album a band released before I got into them is great and it’s downhill from there

          Yeah - hence the caveat. You're unaware of their ticks and habits when you first hear them, so if you start with newer stuff and work backwards, the older stuff doesn't sound as fresh. If you started with the older stuff and moved forward, you're more prone to noticing them repeating themselves.

  6. And the men who have high voices
    Must be the ones to start...

    1. I laughed.

  7. Rush was a much better band <a href=""when John Rustsey was the drummer.

    1. He's the Postrel of drummers.

    2. Of course you'd say that. Weirdo.

    3. lol the best Genesis tour was w/Bill Bruford on sticks.

      1. Now that I can believe.

      2. If you want hear Phil Collins at his peak, get the Brand X album "Unorthodox Behaviour". Not the most inspired music but the performance by the rhythm section of Collins and bassist Percy Jones make it worth listening to.

        1. yes! i have Unorthodox Behaviour and love Phil ... "Lamia" live kills me every time, he goes bananas ... i have the studio release of the live Lamb and a bootleg from a different show in London 1975

    4. Yeah, can't agree on that one. Rush was a completely unremarkable band without Peart.

  8. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

    My condolences to the Peart family, especially his teenaged daughter.

    1. I thought she's 10?

  9. I really dig Rush but The Trees is a dumb song.

    1. forced lyrics, yes. was waiting for you to say it.

    2. Everything after 2112 pretty much sucked. I did enjoy Rush live on the Hemispheres tour but we had much better drugs back then.

    3. Yeah, maples naturally outcompete oaks up in Canada.

      1. Yes, the song did not display a good understanding of forest ecology or timber management.
        It's a cute, somewhat goofy and heavy handed allegory. Certainly not his best writing.

        1. I always assumed it was a somewhat klutzy retelling of one of Spenser's eclogues about the underbrush being envious of the grandeur of the trees and conspiring to take them down, only to find they can no longer live without the shade of the larger trees. I don't remember which one it was though, so you'll have to read the whole thing ;).

  10. "For a person of my sensibility, you're only left with the Democratic Party….The whole health-care thing—denying mercy to suffering people? What? This is Christian?"

    Merciful Christian health care means forcing doctors to spend 99% of their time doing administrative work and the remaining 1% trying to fit in helping the suffering people as well as the people who want plastic surgery or people who have a cold but think it might be ebola because the visit is free, so why not? Also, death panels and no more drugs but at least those pharmaceutical companies aren't greedily hording all of the profits anymore. Compassion!

    1. He's Canadian. Canadians have rolled over and played dead for public health like no other country in the West. Even Europeans look at us and think it's unhealthy to be that reliant on the government for health. So absurd it has become a dominant symbol of our identity among nationalists.

      Our system is the most rigid in the Western world and it shows.

      1. I think the most ridiculous part of the "socialized medicine = compassion" idea is the assumption that there is no compassion, by default, in healthcare and government needs to introduce it. What about all of the people who are making it their life's work to treat and prevent illness? Can't we assume that they want to help people?

        I assume they do and therefore I propose we should make their jobs EASIER not harder. But no, politicians assure me that is a terrible idea and we will only help patients by forcing doctors to work more for less pay on a model that prioritizes a crazy homeless hypochondriac patient the same as a patient who is dying from cancer. However, politicians and other federal workers need their jobs to be as easy as possible so they can take our money and work their miracles to stop us all from somehow dying in the gutter.

        1. So what the fuck does that have to do with the passing of a great musical artist?

          1. Well, a lot of people seem to want him to have been a hard core libertarian. Which I don't think he ever was. He read Anthem and Atlas Shrugged and thought they were cool.

      1. We shouldn't let his personal political beliefs get in the way for sure.

      2. RIP isn't really appropriate wish for atheists like me, or "linear thinking agnostic(s)" like Peart, is it?

        Condolences to his family, friends and fellow musicmakers.

  11. I think this is just a token 'say something because Rufus is annoyed' article.

    My Lord, talk about low balling his influence. And his mad skills:

    1. Rufus

      I have been fooling around on drums since I was 12 year old lad. So when I listen that is what I am hearing when the groove is there.

      I cannot say enough about him. I got to see and meet Buddy Rich. I was there and saw John Bonham on his last tour with Zep. Others who are legends in the drumming world. One thing about getting a bit older is I was there for all the cool bands. Great awesome drummers.

      Niel Peart went so far beyond any boundaries you could add them all up and would still not get there.

      1. Danny Carey.

        Can't decide who I think it more awesome, him or Peart. I think they could both play anything they could think.

        1. seeing my 17th TOOL in two Wednesdays...

          1. Fucking lucky.

            Danny is better because tool is better.

            1. Danny is just fucking unreal. The drum part from any Tool song would be an awesome drum solo for any other drummer.

              1. The drum part from any Tool song would be an awesome drum solo for any other drummer.

                Any drummer?

                Never listened to Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl or Antonio Sanchez? I could list more, but that's just off the top of my head.

            2. tool shows hit on a molecular level and stay with you forever.

  12. As time went on Peart, [sic] distanced himself from Rand and some of her more radical policy notions.

    If you're not an objectivist at 65, you've staved off cancellation.

  13. If you haven't seen the documentary "Beyond the Lighted Stage," do so.

    1. What is that? Canadian Zeppelin?

      Great documentary.

  14. He was the best!!! You'll be missed, Neil!

    Thanks for all the music and great lyrics ("The Trees")!!!

  15. So when is Reason going to honor the greatest Canadian progressive rock power trio:


    (Actually I don't give a shit. I don't care for either that much.)

    But at least we still have Bowie......

  16. Peart was not a libertarian and that's fine. He's another example of why celebrities should not be placed on a political pedestal.You'll hear things you like, run with it only to fail to see the flaws or become disappointed when you discover them.

    This is especially true when it comes to libertarian philosophy. Some are so desperate for celebrity acceptance. They latch onto the slightest bit of hope of a libertarian celebrity.

  17. Bob Dylan had "Trust Yourself" if you want a strong Objectivist song.
    As for the best futuristic novel about outlawing of individualism, read Rand's "Anthem"; buy the graphic novel.
    Learning philosophy is best done by reading it, as in "The Virtue of Selfishness". Did Pearl do this? Probably not.

  18. RIP Neil Peart.

  19. I only saw Rush without Peart at my high school in what was then Willowdale at GS Vanier HS. Peart was a late comer.

  20. I can't figure out the praise for this poseur. Great drummer if you like that sort of music, but hardly an intellectual and not very libertarian. Seems like a clinger and would fit in with this crowd.

  21. "Free Will" should be the National Anthem!

  22. I saw them live in ‘92. I’ll never forget the chills I got during YYZ.

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