Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Was Tolkien a libertarian?

The question was posed by Norman (to whom thanks) some months ago on Libertarian Christians.com. His answer is:
"Well, strictly speaking one must say no; the term was hardly around at the time. But in the following quote, he seems fairly clear that he is, philosophically, opposed to centralized power in a way that resembles modern libertarianism."
(That raises interesting questions. To what extent can one say that someone was a libertarian if they lived before the current usage of the word ‘libertarian’ became widespread? Was Thomas Paine a libertarian? Was Thomas Jefferson a libertarian? All thoughts on these questions are welcome!)

But here is the Tolkien quote:
"My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) - or to ‘unconstitutional’ monarchy . . . Anyway, the proper study of man is anything but man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. And at least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The medievals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that — after all only the fatal weakness of all good things in a bad corrupt unnatural world — is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way."
There is some good discussion among the comments at LCC. Like Norman, I believe that Tolkien’s instincts - at least as revealed in that quotation - were definitely libertarian.

And after all, isn’t the Lord of the Rings (among other things) a parable about the danger of concentrating power centrally?

No comments: