This is your must read column for this month, dear reader. It is a meditation on the rights and duties of sovereign power, including Shakespeare’s and Tolkien’s refreshingly Mediaeval take on the issue:
The idea of the autonomous “prince” is modern. The mediaeval idea of hierarchy precluded it. The man at the top was lynchpin for a regime consisting of persons in various ranks of nobility, but in a curiously invertible pyramid, for though each in his place is servant to a master above him, he is also servant to the servants of those below him in station, pledged to their defence. The idea of “public service” survives today, but with a much different flavour. This is because the individual has ceased to be defined as a soul, a “being,” with duties. He has been redefined as a cypher or “function” with “rights.” Where to the old Christian view, rights followed from duties in the same man, to our post-Christian view the arbitrary rights of one man translate to duties for unaccounted others. (My right to a free lunch translates to your duty to pay for it, &c.) In this sense, all modern political thinking is in its nature totalitarian.
At the opposite extreme are the politics of Hobbitry: in its nature mediaeval, or if you will, sane. This I gather from perusing recent works on the political views of J.R.R. Tolkien, principally that of Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards in, The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. […]
The Hobbits of the Shire live under a system of Hardly Any Government. Almost everything is decided at the family level, which leaves, on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, hardly anything else to decide. But it is better than this, owing to qualities in the Hobbits themselves. It appears that they have no understanding whatever of the concept of “fairness,” and no intellectual ability to distinguish redistribution of property from theft and rapine. They see things rather as they are. On the other hand, they have a perfect understanding of self-defence, engaged when they are occupied by liberal do-gooders. The solution to the problems these do-gooders create is thus very simple. Get rid of them. It is a task which everyone can join in.
Saruman, his Orcs, and their contrivances, provide the metaphor to liberal do-gooders and their obsessions with “process” and technology. They proved their value in resisting evil, arguably, once upon a time, until they became evil themselves. They would not understand Christ’s mysterious instruction, “resist ye not evil,” nor the parables in which He shows that “fairness” is of the Devil. They arrive in power with a do-gooder agenda, and in this are typically modern men. They toggle between damnable efficiency, and damnable inefficiency. They care not which, for over time their project is to create such a cat’s cradle of inter-dependencies that all freedom of action expires, and they may feed on human souls unchallengeably. (Whenupon, God destroys them.)
Hobbits lack agendas of any kind, which is what makes them pushovers, when dealing with the guileful. Instead they have customs, such as the meal times for which they are famous (breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, &c). Their outlook is redemptively mediaeval. But how to protect them from e.g. Saruman and Orcs?
That is where thinking on kingship comes in. My suspicion is that the authors have been led by Tolkien’s whimsy into thinking him more naïve than he was. True enough, Tolkien the man hated democracy, and particularly hated tax collectors. Put more simply, he hated evil. He cannot have failed to understand that his Hobbits were in need of some sort of protection. They were not, however, in need of being changed. As a scholarly mediaevalist, Tolkien would have seen this plainly. I’m not sure Witt and Richards see it.