Islam, Plato, and Aristotle on the Dangers of Music; Or, Marilyn Manson on Music as the Strongest Form of Magic
I thought that Islam’s prohibition of listening to music was inhumane. But then Plato and Aristotle changed my mind on that matter.
Each of those philosophers wrote about the dangers associated with music, and wanted it strictly controlled in the best regime. Plato warned against innovation in music, and Aristotle wanted certain instruments banned. The reasons why they were so concerned about music has everything to do with the power of music to derail a society from its properly ordered goal, namely the good.
Now I am not claiming that I agree with Plato, Aristotle, or with the Islamic tradition on this matter. But I at least look at the Islamic prohibitions against music, as codified by the four schools of law, to be in large measure sensible.
Looking at the issue from the opposite end of the spectrum, it was Marilyn Manson who said that “Music is the strongest form of magic,” in which he was using the word “magic” in the sense of Aleister Crowley, who was to magic what Schleiermacher was to theology.
Just as Schleiermacher took the supernatural out of theology and made it about man’s feeling of absolute dependence, so too did Crowley take the supernatural out of magic, which he intentionally spelled as “magick.” Crowley reinvented magick as an exploration and application of the mysterious power of the human will. To that end, he reimagined the purpose of magical rituals, making them instead into psychodramas, ones whereby the practitioner manipulates his consciousness to such a degree so as harness the full powers of the human will.
This brings us back to Marilyn Manson and his statement that music is the strongest form of magic. Manson is using the term in the same way as Crowley did, namely to signify the practices and rituals that can animate and awaken latent powers in the will. Manson is probably familiar with Crowley, but there is little doubt that Manson was influenced by the ideas of Crowley. And that is because Manson was influenced by the thought of Anton Szandor Lavey, the founder of the Church of Satan.
Lavey did for Satanism what Crowley did for magick. Lavey was an atheist, and he believed that the biblical figure of Satan did not exist. Lavey believed, however, that the will of man was essentially Darwinian, and that the proper application of Crowley’s teachings was in a more scientific and Darwinian form. Life was fundamentally adversarial, Lavey believed, and the human will belonged to the things which evolved to compete for survival. Lavey therefore oriented his magical rituals in a way that was conducive to overcoming the oppression of society, to triumphing in the competition for mates and jobs, and to soaking up happiness in the midst of this adversarial world.
Manson’s understanding of music fits into this mold of Crowley and Lavey. Manson sees his music to have that adversarial, or “Satanic”, quality, in that it disrupts the norms of society and turns everything on its head. His music is aimed at a radical self-liberation from the mores of society, such that his hearer is set free to live fully according to her desires, regardless of what society thinks. The hearer is even encouraged to flaunt his unique identity in the face of those who promote conformity. The choosing of the icon of Satan for Manson has nothing to do with Devil Worship, since he doesn’t believe in the Devil. It rather is a symbol chosen to represent rebellion and non-conformity, the exaltation of the self rather than submitting to God or to the mores of society.
Within that matrix, Mason came to see that music was the most potent ritual and practice for unleashing this apocalypse of non-conformity. Music was the most powerful type of psychodrama, especially when that music was brought together with the pageantry of his concerts. This power of music to disrupt society from pursuing the unified vision of the good was what concerned Aristotle and Plato. Whether or not Marilyn Manson is correct about music being the strongest form of magic, Aristotle and Plato would most likely agree with him that music is a force that is capable of bringing about great effects in society, and therefore it must be regulated in every way, just as it is in Islamic law.