This might be a pretty unnecessary blog post, so far as sharing Virginia singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” goes. The song of lament went viral yesterday on Twitter (I’m a conservative, and will not call it X dot com, at least for a long time). Like everyone else with so-called New Right populist instincts, it seems, I found Anthony’s performance and lyrics an affecting distillation of what and whom this political realignment is all about. Watch it:
Hearing this song for the first time, the second or third thought that came to mind was “revolutions have started on less.” Anthems are supposed to be rousing, but even a sad song can be an anthem in troubled times, something to sing together and in the singing forge a people.
I am reminded, as I think about this, of the expulsion of the poets suggested by Socrates to Glaucon in Plato’s Republic, the poets who tell dangerous stories that might undermine the story of the regime. And I remember a brief interaction in Robert E. Howard’s first Conan the Cimmerian story for Weird Tails, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which professes the power of art to cause kingdoms to rise and fall.
“Rinaldo is largely responsible,” answered Prospero, drawing up his sword- belt another notch. “He sings songs that make men mad. Hang him in his jester’s garb to the highest tower in the city. Let him make rimes for the vultures.”
Conan shook his lion head. “No, Prospero, he’s beyond my reach. A great poet is greater than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo’s songs will live for ever.
Something for the rich men north of Richmond to consider.