In the next two months I will be one of many to participate in two seemingly unrelated events. Although both of these events arouse my interest, I am admittedly looking forward to one of these events much more than I am the other. In case you have not guessed from the title, I am referring to the presidential election this coming Tuesday, and the December 14th premiere of the first film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy adapting J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Although I was only 13 when The Fellowship Of The Ring hit theaters in 2001, I remember the event as being the highlight of my year. (As were the respective releases of the two subsequent films, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King.) After the film series introduced me to Tolkien, I fell in love with Middle earth after my furious readings of both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Tolkien struck a chord in my imagination with his magnificent creation. Being brave, honest, always tenderly just, and possessing extraordinary resolve; I would like to believe that the characters from the LOTR left a lasting impression with me.
This morning I was browsing the podcasts on mises.org, when I came across one of my favorites, Jeff Riggenbach’s “The Libertarian Tradition”. One broadcast in particular caught my eye entitled “J.R.R Tolkien as Libertarian“. I listened as Mr. Riggenbach went through several of Tolkien’s statements regarding the “inner meaning or message” of the LOTR. On some occasions in both forewords to the book and in letters to his publisher, Tolkien claims that LOTR “is not about anything but itself. Certainly, it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political.” However, in a letter to his original publisher in 1947, Tolkien wrote, “You can make the ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like. An allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power, by power.” Additionally, in a 1956 letter to an American reader, Tolkien writes, “My story is not an allegory to atomic power, but of power exerted for domination.”
Somewhat using evidence of Tolkien’s stated intent, and certainly using the LOTR as context within itself, Riggenbach submits that LOTR is merely a dramatization of one of my longest held political convictions. Borrowing the famous quotation from the 19th century British writer John Dahlberg-Acton, that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” and that, “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”
In LOTR, we see the one ring of power as a symbol of absolute power. The ring holds power over, and corrupts all who bear it. From extreme examples such as Isildur and Gollum, to more moderate ones such as Bilbo and Frodo; the corruption varies on scale determined by the level of lust that the bearers possess for the ring. Additionally, we see that Tolkien’s only example of just leadership lies in the character of Aragorn, who certainly does not wish to be king at all.
In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes, “My political opinions lean more and more towards anarchy, philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs. The most improper job of any man, even of saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
I will freely admit that I am writing this at a time seemingly all too convenient. Nevertheless, I take the liberty to repeat Tolkien’s words from 1947; making the ring into, “an allegory of our own time.”; and of, “the inevitable fate that awaits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power.”
Looking towards the results of next weeks’ election, we should remind ourselves what sort of time our political system belongs to. Seemingly, we are in the age of unilateral control exerted over us by our presidents. We live in the age of absolute power in the state’s ability to use lethal force against other nations, to illegally detain its’ own citizens, and immeasurable other examples of imperial overreach.
Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings begs the question; should we put the ring on a finger at all?