Would J.R.R. Tolkien Have Occupied Wall Street?
I’m not sure where this came from originally (I found it on Facebook) but it’s pretty hilarious. Of course, it’s hard to say what Tolkien would have thought of these particular protests. He was an odd duck when it came to politics. Socially a traditionalist, he was also something of an anarcho-monarchist, and his ungoverned Shire was the epitome of his good society.
At one point, he wrote:
“My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. 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 nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remain obstinate!… Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people… The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
Tolkien was a medievalist romantic. His deep attachment to the traditionalism in the Catholic church was streaked through with a love of the myths and folklore he found wedged beneath the edifice of his own faith. There are no faeries in Christianity, but Tolkien wrote about faeries as if he truly believed in them.
His study of language and folklore gave birth to Middle Earth, and the Shire emerged as Tolkien’s very own Utopia, where neither men nor hobbits believed it was their job to boss others about – and those who did were quickly reminded of their proper place. Far off Gondor was ostensibly the seat of power, but it was, if anything, a Night Watchmen state (though of course, Tolkien would not have used those terms to describe it.)
David Hart had a nice piece on all of this last year, and he described both his own and Tolkien’s politics as “only cooling clouds, easing the journey with the meager shade of a gently ironic critique, but always hanging high up in the air, forever out of reach.” This was once very similar to how I conceived of my own politics. The gently ironic critique, distant from the ugly pragmatism of day-to-day politics. A conservatism detached from the actual consequences of electoral democracy.
In some senses, this is still how I think about the world, but I have become a pragmatist also; I’ve shed many of the ideas that moored me once to whatever idiosyncratic conservatism I thought I possessed. I remain a decentralist at heart still; still cleave to my belief in subsidiarity and the importance of voluntary associations and civil society. But I no longer consider all of this the realm of conservatism or even libertarianism for that matter.
I wouldn’t mind living in the Shire, but I’d be one of those annoying hobbits clamoring for gay hobbits to be allowed to marry (speaking of rings). Likewise, if Saruman showed up and began extracting wealth at the point of a sword, and transforming once profitable industries into complicated financial goods, I’d probably Occupy the Shire with Frodo and the rest of them.
I am not against markets or limited government (depending on what you mean by that) – in many, many ways I am in agreement with my libertarian and anarchist friends. But we have come a long ways from the Shire. The world we live in is vastly skewed toward the very wealthy. Inequality and poverty are everywhere. Globalism has not progressed as some organic force. Free trade agreements are often as not resource-extraction arrangements cobbled together by governments and multinational corporations. Western capitalism is too often eerily reminiscent of Saruman’s sacking of the Shire.
I am not against corporations or business or a free market society (or capitalism depending on what you mean by it) and I don’t think most Occupy Wall Street protesters are – I am against the sort of violence that undergirds this particular breed of capitalism, most poignantly represented by the financial sector – and the military-industrial complex, of course.
Which made me think to myself, “Now we see the violence inherent in the system!”
A fine note to end on.
See also: Why There is No Jewish Narnia