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Bob Marley is probably one of the most influential artists of the last century. Amazingly, a man born on a small Caribbean island with Rastafarian beliefs managed to penetrate the minds of millions of people around the world and take his message to the farthest reaches of the earth.
I was recently watching a documentary on Netflix about Marley’s life, called Who Shot the Sheriff, and was impressed to note that, unlike many contemporary artists—who love to raise their fists and advocate socialism—the great Jamaican star was a person to whom the government and politicians (of any nation) generated no sympathy whatsoever and truly yearned to promote freer societies.
It is true: Bob Marley did not like to get involved in politics. In fact, he never declared himself as a Marxist, capitalist, or a libertarian, but analyzing the lyrics of his songs and some of his statements, we can conclude that the Jamaican composer certainly shared many of the libertarian values and believed in a world with fewer politicians and more power for individuals.
The composer lived in a very particular time with determining events that would change the course of humanity: the Vietnam War; the Bretton Woods Agreements; the Cold War; the assassination of Martin Luther King; the Cultural Revolution in China and the arrival of man on the moon, that, among others, shaped a generation and turned the Jamaican into an anti-war protester who spoke out against the police states in his songs.
Get Up, Stand Up
One of his most famous songs, Get Up Stand Up (1973), which has become a worldwide protest anthem, calls on people to fight for their rights, and of course, has a very clear message for politicians: you can fool some people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time; this Marley phrase has been repeated throughout history over and over again.
“You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light (What you gonna do?)
We gonna stand up for our rights! (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!).”
The song Revolution (1974) by Bob Marley & The Wailers is probably one of the Jamaican composer’s most rebellious and libertarian songs, in which Marley employs one of the fundamental premises of those who believe that the state shouldn’t govern our lives.
This little phrase of Marley’s is also a fervent criticism against socialism or political models based on collectivism, asking people to distance themselves from politicians and their favors, leave aside the redistribution of wealth and the empty promises of the left.
“Never make a politician grant you a favour,
They will always want to control you forever.”
Along with No Woman No Cry; Is This love?; and Jamming; Redemption Song (1980) is on Bob Marley’s list of universal songs, in fact, Rolling Stone placed it at #66 among the 500 best songs of all time.
In this piece of music, the Jamaican asks people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, something that would undoubtedly go down very well with so many people who currently feel that they need politicians to survive. Marley was absolutely clear that human beings should fight for their individual freedoms and that there was no reason to grant more power to the state, something that unfortunately very few people understand.
“Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.”
How much did Bob Marley get involved in politics?
The musician always showed his antipathy towards politics. In fact, in his native country he always tried to stay away from the two-party blocks that made life in Jamaica, the socialist People’s National Party (PNP)—which governed during those years—and the conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). Both blocks tried to show that Marley supported them, but the truth always marked distance and was neutral saying that he only wanted to unite the nation.
In an interview in New Zealand in 1979, he is asked if he thinks a man of his position should get involved in politics. He replied, “Man, you say, ‘dabbling in politics,’ I don’t know what that is. To stand up and talk for my rights, I know what that is. See? … Because my rights are my rights, you know? All I have is my life. … When I check it out, the biggest man was a baby once. So, I don’t know where he gets these big ideas, wanting to be rulers of our people.”
Bob Marley was anti-war, opposed to the great vigilante states. He was, perhaps unknowingly, a promoter of libertarian ideas wherever you look at him, who left us other great thoughts to appreciate, such as “better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life”; “I will never be a politician or even think political. Me just deal with life and nature. That is the greatest thing to me” and “Herb? Herb is a plant. Herb is so good for everything. Why these people who want to do so much good for everyone, who call themselves government and this and that, why them say you must not use the herb? You see, them say you must not use the herb because it makes you a rebel. Against what?”
Emmanuel Rincón is a lawyer, writer, novelist and essayist. He has won several international literary awards. He is Editor-at-large at El American // Emmanuel Rincón es abogado, escritor, novelista y ensayista. Ganador de diversos premios literarios internacionales. Es editor-at-large en El American