Sunday, December 31, 2017

"Everything except rules got shorter and shorter."

Something I missed in the film version of Lord of the Rings was the return to the Shire in the chapter Tolkien named "The Scouring of the Shire." It contains the most political commentary in the books. One of the earliest collections of critical essays about the Trilogy that I acquired was A Tolkien Compass edited by Jared Lobdell (1975). It includes an essay by Robert Plank, ""The Scouring of the Shire": Tolkien's View of Fascism." From that essay:
.... The political changes were not essentially constitutional changes. The laws have been perverted more than amended. The traditional offices have not been abolished, but new power is wielded by a new ruling group. The essential political innovation is the rise of an unprecedented police force, headed by the Chief Sherriff. The character of government is totally altered while its forms are not markedly changed. Whereas before the Shire enjoyed an easy-going laissez-faire regime, with maximum freedom and a minimum of government interference, the new regime operates through monstrously expanded restrictive rules, enforced by equally monstrously expanded military and paramilitary forces. These troops are not productive; in fact, they do not contribute anything that would be in any way necessary if the regime were different. All their work serves their own selfish ends: the purpose of government is plainly to maintain, consolidate, and expand its own power.

Even if they were not motivated by ill-will toward the citizenry—which they are—these troops would have to consume a large part of the goods and services that were formerly available to the people. But they do make themselves inimical first by taxation, then confiscation, then barefaced robbery. A problem arises that apparently was unknown in the Shire before: What should be done to a citizen who 'talks back' to the government? The solution is simple: He is imprisoned and often beaten.

The economy is now controlled. Under the pretext of 'fair sharing', a system of government requisitions and of rationing has evolved. Shortages result, and when consumer goods are in short supply they have a way of ending up, to nobody's great surprise, with the privileged militia. Farmer Cotton has summed it up better than I could:
There wasn't no smoke (tobacco) left, save for the Men; and the Chief didn't hold with beer, save for his Men, and closed all the inns; and everything except rules got shorter and shorter.
It may seem improbable that such a regime could ever establish itself, either in the Shire or in a more sizable country. But history has a trick of making the improbable happen. The sorry state of the Shire looks like a portrait—or maybe caricature—of something that actually happened in fairly recent history. It is a perfectly recognizable portrait of fascism.

Democracy has been simply defined as 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people'. Fascism is its antithesis. It is government of a clique, by the clique, against the people—like the government of the Shire before the scouring. Note the details that logically follow from the basic principle: the proliferation of the military and bureaucratic arms of government, the control of the economy, the pretense of legality, the cynical disregard for freedom and the rights of individual citizens, the violence, the brutality.

...[J]ust as fascism got its start with the help of certain upper-class elements who thought it would serve them as a bulwark against what they were pleased to call the greed of the working man, so the ruffians get their first foothold from the Sackville-Bagginses. Let me again quote Farmer Cotton:
He'd funny ideas, had Pimple. Seems he wanted to own everything himself, and then order other folk about... Folk got angry, but he had his answer. A lot of Men, ruffians mostly, came with great wagons, some to carry off the goods south-away, and others to stay. And more came. And before we knew where we were they were planted here and there all over the Shire....
And just as those who helped the Fascists and the Nazis into power saw their mistake when it was too late, so Pimple—pardon me, Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins—goes to his reward. He is murdered and perhaps eaten. ....

1 comment:

  1. I've long been a fan of this section of LOTR and I think that it deserves wider repetition. It belongs alongside the CS Lewis' comments on tyrannies.


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