Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics and philosophy lacking

Editor’s note: This column contains explicit lyrics.

I was in my car the other day when “Down Rodeo” by Rage Against the Machine came on the radio. There’s no doubt these guys are talented musicians, but their philosophical consistency is lacking.

There were some lines in the song that made me chuckle: “A thousand years they had the tools/ We should be taking them/ Fuck the G-ride! I want the machines that are making them.”

OK, not the funniest lines you’ve ever heard in a song. But what happens when we bring in another RATM song? “Fuck the Police,” for instance. (Always with the F-word, these guys). I imagine you get the gist of “Fuck the Police” without me having to quote it extensively. The reason I chuckled at the line above is because this band, more than anything else I’ve come across, typifies the paradox of antiauthoritarian leftism.

In one song we hear lyrics blasting the police for exercising their brutal authority. In others, RATM gives prescient critiques of the established corporatist state that has infected U.S. government for a long time. They identify a callous and violent authority among us, and they reject it. This happens nowhere more clearly than in their song “Killing in the Name,” another song aimed at police authority, where lead singer Zack de la Rocha shouts repeatedly, “Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!” (Again with the F-word).

And yet their answer to excessive authority is, rather ironically, socialism. I’m not sure where they got the idea, but it’s clear they suppose that government, once it seizes the means of production and distribution, will no longer squash resistance with violence. This is the great irony of the way leftists see themselves – as the enemy of the police state and a friend to the little man; yet, they seek to supplant a system of force and coercion with a more forceful system with even more authority over the lives of people.

Leftists crave authority. They would cast a net over all society. Do they really suppose it would not snare them with the rest? Police are only the most visible manifestation of that authority. If socialism comes, violent force must be its vanguard and the prison will be its citadel.

Does RATM actually suppose that they can put a government in control of the livelihood of its citizens and at the same time eschew the violent control on which the system counts for its existence? How will the central planners respond to “Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!”? Something tells me it will not be with patient ratiocination.

Indeed, there is only one tool in the government’s box – violence – and it is worn out with use. How does RATM propose we institute socialism? It must be with the pistol and the taser. It will be force-fed to us down the gun barrels of the boys in blue. Under no circumstances can one promote socialism or interventionism without validating the striking batons of the police and the violent crackdowns that will inevitably fall on dissenters with total indifference for suffering.

Sorry, RATM, but socialism and the police state are two sides of the same authoritarian coin.

Matt Palmer is a rhetoric and composition graduate student from Phoenix.