First Thought: The Politics of Folk Music
Robert George '77, a native of West Virginia and grandson of immigrant coal miners and railroad workers, was raised in an environment that supported the union and celebrated the working man -- social conservatives who supported the New Deal, valued hard work and personal responsibility and believed in the integrity of family. According to George, their music reflected that.
In a recent essay for First Things, a publication by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, George reflects on the role of folk music and the politics it conveys.
"I grew up among coal miners and union men -- their songs condemned unfairness and exploitation, and were often, and justly, critical of the coal companies -- but it was not until I arrived at Swarthmore that I heard my first communist anthem," he writes, noting that the working men of his family were "devoutly religious men (whose) faith ... gave them a powerful immunity against Marxist ideology and propaganda."
He continues: "Some songs, such as Billy Ed Wheeler's haunting 'Coal Tattoo,' were critical of the union, at least implicitly, as well as the companies. Very many of the songs I heard, and later played, while growing up were hymns. My favorites were those of the Carter Family. 'I'm Going to Take a Trip on That Old Gospel Ship,' 'Hold Fast to the Right,' and, of course, 'Will the Circle be Unbroken?'"
George, a leading conservative public intellectual, serves as director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. In 2009, he was featured in the Bulletin article, 'A Mind on the Right: In a Strident Sea of Liberal Opinion, George Has Found a Happy Home.'