in November 1943 that: "My political opinions lean more and
more towards Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition
of control not whiskered men with bombs) - or to "unconstitutional"
no indication that he ever departed much from this, and the good
societies in his fiction tend to be either minimally governed
like The Shire and Bree, or benevolent monarchies like Gondor,
Rohan and the Elvish and Dwarvish kingdoms (The Shire and Bree
are isolated remnants of the old North Kingdom of Arnor).
He went on
in the same letter to express himself more forcibly: "I would
arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than
the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that
has neither power, rights or mind) and after a chance of recantation,
execute them if they remained obstinate!"
times used the word "politics" in the sense of power-politics,
as distinct from competing ideologies or value-systems. Thus he
wrote that it seemed to him wrong to describe Frodo's quest as
having a "political" motive, although part of its intended
result was the overthrow of an evil empire. He wrote: "It
seems clear to me that Frodo's duty was humane, not political.
He naturally thought first of the Shire, since his roots were
there, but the quest had as its objective not the preserving of
this or that polity, such as the half-republic half-aristocracy
of the Shire, but the liberation from an evil tyranny of all the
'humane' ... Denethor was tainted with mere politics ... it had
become for him a prime motive to preserve the polity of Gondor,
as it was, against another potentate, who had made himself stronger
and was to be feared and opposed for that reason rather than because
he was ruthless and wicked."
intrigue concerned with power rather than morality, and consequent
in-fighting and civil war, had, at the time of the War of the
Ring, desperately weakened Gondor and the West, as it previously
helped destroy the Elf-realms in the Silmarillion (and
as it helped destroy the Roman Empire and innumerable other real-world
polities). Meanwhile, the "unconstitutional monarchy"
to which he referred was presumably necessary for quick and enforceable
decision-making, such as ordering the Muster of Rohan. Monarchical
splendour, in good kings like Aragorn/Elessar and Theoden, provides
a link with the Numinous, the noble, chivalrous and splendid,
giving such good kings a role beyond just providing leadership,
justice, command and generally setting a good example. The restoration
of the Kingdom of Gondor is part of the best outcome possible.
in Middle-Earth do make use of councillors (though Denethor, probably
a sign of his growing megalomania, apparently does not). However,
the only thing we see like a Parliament is the Entmoot, and that
has some disadvantages since the lengthy discussions (this is
emphasised more in the Peter Jackson film than the book) prevent
the Ents from acting until nearly too late.
not appear to respect politicians much. He wrote in World War
II: "If people were in the habit of referring to 'King George's
council, Winston and his gang,' it would go a long way to clearing
thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy."
His tales were set in an ancient world before parliamentary democracy
had evolved anyway. In December, 1943, while allied propaganda
extolled Stalin as kindly "Uncle Joe," Tolkien referred
to him at the Teheran conference of allied leaders as "that
bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to
join a happy family of folks devoted to the abolition of tyranny
and intolerance! But I must also admit that in the photographs
our little cherub W. S. C." [Winston Churchill] "actually
looked the biggest ruffian present. Humph."
also has the "metapolitical" sense of competing ideologies
with competing eschatological claims. Mordor is a totalitarian
State, with Sauron demanding the honours of a god. For Tolkien
this meant inevitably that the resultant order would be evil,
even if Sauron had begun by meaning well. Tolkien wrote in 1956:
"[E]ven if in desperation 'The West' had bred or hired hordes
of orcs and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other men as allies
of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their cause
would still have been indefeasibly right. As does the cause of
those who now oppose the State-God and Marshal This or That as
its High Priest." Although The Lord of The Rings is
not a direct allegory about the assault mounted on the West by
totalitarianism in the 20th Century, what Tolkien called the applicability
of its values to that situation is obvious.
despite Tolkien's denial of direct allegory, the Shire under the
control of Saurman's bullies, who have initially called themselves
"gatherers" and "sharers" may well remind
some of the drab, bureaucratic Britain under the first post-war
Labor Government with food-rationing, power-strikes and uncleared
bomb-sites, known variously as the Age of Austerity and (by Evelyn
Waugh) as The Attlee Terror.
side in The Lord of The Rings do not hope to build a perfect
future, as Marx looked to a perfect society when Communism had
been achieved and the State had withered away, or as Hitler looked
to the Millennium Reich: if Sauron is defeated, new evils will
certainly come, and moral issues will not change. Also, the good
people have faults: the Elves are caught in hopeless nostalgia
for the vanished past and are abandoning Middle-Earth anyway,
the Dwarves can fall prey to "grudge and greed." Gondor
is slowly fading, and Aragorn/Elessar's descendants as rulers
will become mere "politicians" like Denethor. There
is no Utopia to be made on Middle-Earth, and even the desire for
it is not good.
is not a model of a perfect society. Though the inhabitants are
essentially good people, they are insular, dangerously ignorant
of the outside world, complacent and often dull, losing the memory
of the "high and perilous." Religious consciousness
by the time of The War of the Ring has become very distant and
abstract, though the remnants of it are a saving grace (or, it
might be said, religion and politics have come together, generally
a sign of dire times).
The temptations of "Order" and "Power"
when trying to suborn Gandalf, evokes values of "knowledge,
rule, order." (Similarly, in Star Wars, Darth Vader
when trying to suborn Luke Skywalker, promises: "Together
we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the Galaxy.")
The Ring tempts good people with visions of power to do good and
bring "order." Such temptations are the first steps
on the slippery slope to Totalitarian tyranny, which soon comes
to see all dissent from the tyrant's vision as evil. In Christian
terms, the attempt to set up a rival good to God leads straight
to the rejection of God, with literally Hellish consequences.
of life in post-war Oxford: "I am not a 'socialist' in any
sense - being adverse to 'planning' (as must be plain) most of
all because the 'planners', when they acquire power, become so
badbut I would not say we had to suffer the malice of Sharkey
and his Ruffians here. Though the spirit of 'Isengard', if not
of Mordor, is always cropping up. The present design of destroying
Oxford in order to accommodate motor-cars is a case. But our chief
adversary is a member of a 'Tory' Government. But you could apply
it anywhere these days."
understanding of politics is also illustrated by the fact that
on more than one occasion during World War II he expressed compassion
for individual, innocent Germans caught up in the war, and denounced
collective hatred. In a letter to Christopher Tolkien of 30 January,
1945, he expressed pity for the German refugees pouring west to
escape from the Russians, and was horrified that people in England
were gloating at their plight: "There seem no bowels of mercy
or compassion, no imagination, in this dark diabolic hour."
He went on "Well, wellyou and I can do nothing about
it. And that shd. be a measure of the amount of guilt that can
justly be assumed to attach to any member of a country who is
not a member of its actual government." Tolkien was completely
opposed to the Totalitarian notion of collective guilt in an enemy.
In The Two Towers he has Sam contemplate a dead enemy warrior
and wonder if he was really evil at heart or if had been forced
to march against Gondor by threats and lies, an important scene
reproduced in the Peter Jackson film.
political philosopher with whom Tolkien was most in harmony was
probably Edmund Burke, a whig (ie "Liberal" in the old
sense which included minimal government, not the modern American
sense of left-wing and State-interventionist). Burke saw society
as an organic whole, whose liberties and rights were to be cherished
and whose faults were to be remedied with the utmost care, not
a machine that could be torn down and re-jigged by radical social
engineering (Burke compared this latter to attempting to cure
the wounds of one's father by chopping the old man to pieces and
throwing the pieces into a magician's cauldron). Burke was horrified
by the totalitarian nature of the French Revolution, which he
predicted would end in terror and dictatorship, but regarded rebellion
against tyranny as an ancient "right." (The Orcs in
The Lord of the Rings refer to the free people as "cursed
rebels," which is presumably what Sauron had told them.)
Like Tolkien, Burke rejected the doctrine of "collective
guilt," stating he knew no way of drawing up an indictment
against a whole people.
systems based on false premises about the nature of existence
pointed straight to evil and disaster. When Pope John Paul II
said in Centesimus Annus: "Not only is it wrong from
an ethical point of view to disregard human nature, which is made
for freedom, but in the long run it is impossible to do so,"
he might have been speaking for Tolkien as well as for Edmund
Burke and Adam Smith.
not see any secular social system as answering all Man's needs
on Earth, because Man was not ultimately created for Earth.
Carpenter, ed., The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (George
Allen & Unwin, London, 1981);
Hal G. P.
Colebatch, Return of the Heroes: The Lord of the rings, Star
Wars, Harry Potter and Social Conflict (Cybereditions, Christchurch,
New Zealand, 2003);
J. R. R.
Tolkien, The Hobbit;
J. R. R.
Tolkien, The Lord of The Rings
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