The moral and political propriety of musical pleasure constituted one of Charles Burney's continuous lines of thought from the 1770s to the 1790s. As a public figure, the music historian found himself called upon to state why music matters – in a preface, a dedication or an essay. Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Burney read in musical performances symptoms of contemporary society and politics, but, unlike Rousseau, he perceived in modern music signs of civilization's progress. Musical excellence, according to Burney, required both freedom and affluence; thus while Burney rejected absolutist monarchy, he nevertheless praised the achievements of court culture. Indeed, his advocacy of music as an ‘innocent luxury’ reads as an addendum to eighteenth-century disputes on the morality and benefits of luxury. The social implications of this definition of music, however, are problematic: while Burney acknowledged the right of each individual to feel as they please, he also claimed for the music critic the exclusive authority to speak publicly about music. This essay explores these aspects of Burney's political philosophy of music in relation to the works of Rousseau, Montesquieu, Avison, Wollstonecraft and Hume.