Monday, April 28, 2014

Tolkien's politics

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy—disagreeing with some comments by Game of Thrones author George RR Martin—summarizes aspects of "The Politics of Tolkien":
...[E]vidence of Tolkien’s localism can be found in the Scouring of the Shire, which was regrettably excluded from the recent films. In the Scouring, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to find the Shire has been taken over by a boss who has holed up at Bag End and is passing all sorts of obnoxious, pointless Rules about food consumption, land use, architecture, and the like. The “scouring” referred to in the title refers to the eradication of that boss and all his rules and ruffians who enforce the rules. The just rules that govern life in the Shire are largely unwritten and are defined by the people themselves. They largely consist of not meddling where one shouldn’t, of respecting your neighbor’s rights to privacy and property, and dedicating yourself to sustaining the life and land of the Shire. ....

.... For Tolkien, political justice is less about using certain policies to produce certain social outcomes and is more about approximation to boundaries and definitions defined from outside creation. Tolkien believed that the very act of staying loyal to those boundaries will, more often than not, guarantee a reasonably just, equitable, healthy society. It won’t be perfect, of course, but it will be healthy enough that one can live a good life in the community. (Note that it’s not the king per se who guarantees a society’s health, contra Martin, but is rather the entire society’s relationship to given norms.) ....

...[G]oodness in Tolkien revolves around ideals of honor, fidelity, and humility. For honor, consider the hierarchical nature of many of the communities in Middle Earth, as well as the harsh judgment of Saruman, who is (rightly) seen as failing to fulfill his calling as a Maia sent into Middle Earth to oppose Sauron. A good example of fidelity, of course, is the beloved character Samwise Gamgee. The necessity of humility is seen in Tolkien’s suspicions about ambition and the importance of understanding that one cannot rightly, justly wield the One Ring. The characters who go bad, generally, are ones who desire power beyond what has been given to them. The ones who stay good accept the limitations of their unique role in society. .... [more]