“Almost everything appertaining to the circumstances of a nation, has been absorbed and confounded under the general and mysterious word government. Though it avoids taking to its account the errors it commits, and the mischiefs it occasions, it fails not to arrogate to itself whatever has the appearance of prosperity. It robs industry of its honours, by pedantically making itself the cause of its effects; and purloins from the general character of man, the merits that appertain to him as a social being.”
But we are so much wiser now than Thomas was. The champion of liberty paved the way, we're told, for the progressive view of government. Indeed, the very men who promote the idea of governmental good see Thomas as their man - a man of the left.
So when a grungy folkie pops up speaking, in his own way, the language of Thomas Paine, the left are shocked - not quite to silence unfortunately:
Browsing on a music messageboard earlier today, I came across a thread devoted to Frank Turner, which linked to an interview he gave last year. Turns out his libertarianism and belief in the power of the people to resist oppression aren't of the leftist sort. They're of the rightist sort.
How dare this man be in such a trendy profession as folk music and not be left wing! How dare he say such things as:
"What I think we should do instead is concentrate on ways of minimising the impact on ordinary people's lives and allow them to get on with their lives and not be bothered by the state. Then you've suddenly got a range of things to talk about that are achievable. Like everything from not having ID cards and trying to dismantle the surveillance system we've put together in this country on the one hand, trying to remove government from peoples lives, social services. Letting people be freer, health and safety, whatever it might be."
Perhaps Frank lacks Thomas Paine's eloquence but he's saying the same thing. Government isn't a good thing but, at best a necessary evil, something to be tolerated at the fringes of our lives not the centre of everything.
Regardless the whole episode cheered me - a particular fan of folk music despite its reputation for leftiness. And in the comments to that Guardian piece I found a still more curious comment about folk music:
I've said this in other threads before but there is something horrifying, fascist and awful about this neo-folk music that is like the worst of Nazi return-to-origins propaganda. The Mumfords and the horrifying affectation of a pastoral netherworld with their neo-folk clothing. Even if the musicians themselves were lefties, the music has such a strong conservative streak that it cancels out any progressive views. In a way it's easier to pick on this one musician but conservatism in music is a bigger subject than his tweeter views.
I must admit to a little grin at this observation as a right winger who likes folk music. And who recognises that, in the end, the idea of land, soil and the national culture are (unlike national socialism but that's a different story) distinctly conservative in feel and sentiment. Kipling would have loved the sentiment, if not the sound of grungy folk music:
His dead are in the churchyard—thirty generations laid.
Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made;
And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.
Not for any beast that burrows, not for any bird that flies,
Would I lose his large sound council, miss his keen amending eyes.
He is bailiff, woodman, wheelwright, field-surveyor, engineer,
And if flagrantly a poacher—'tain't for me to interfere.
"Hob, what about that River-bit ?" I turn to him again,
With Fabricius and Ogier and William of Warenne.
"Hev it jest as you've a mind to, but"—and here he takes command.
For whoever pays the taxes old Mus' Hobden owns the land.