July 3, 2022

3 Bob Marley Songs That Show His Sneaky Libertarian Streak

Bob Marley hated politics, but he sure loved freedom.

“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life,” Bob Marley once said. 

The Jamaican singer is 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.” Unlike many contemporary artists, who love to raise their fists and advocate socialism, the great Jamaican star was a person who showed little sympathy for the government or politicians—of any nation.

Bob Marley did not like to get involved in politics. In fact, he never declared himself a Marxist, capitalist, or a libertarian. But analyzing the lyrics of his songs and some of his statements, it’s clear the Jamaican composer held many libertarian values and believed in a world with fewer politicians and more power for individuals.

The composer lived during a time when determining events 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 man’s first voyage to the moon. These events, among others, shaped a generation and turned the Jamaican into an antiwar protester who spoke out against the state 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. 

“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!).”

Revolution

The song “Revolution” (1974) by Bob Marley & The Wailers is probably one of the Jamaican composer’s most rebellious and libertarian songs. In it, 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 and 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.”

Redemption Song

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, the Jamaican asks people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, good advice for the many people who feel 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
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds.”

‘All I Have Is My Life’

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 is he always kept his distance and  maintained neutrality, saying that he only wanted to unite the nation.

In an interview in New Zealand in 1979 he was asked if he thought 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.”

Marley was antiwar, opposed to the great vigilante states. He was, perhaps unknowingly, a promoter of libertarian ideas wherever you look at him.

Here are some of his other  great thoughts to appreciate.

“Better to die fighting for freedom then 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”

“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?”

A version of this article was published on El American. 

This article, 3 Bob Marley Songs That Show His Sneaky Libertarian Streak, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.