Hobbit Party – Tolkien’s Hobbits Wanted Small Government And Got It
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Let’s go to the Dude Maker Hotline to Jay Richards, one of the authors of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot, a new book out today to coincide with the release of the movie tomorrow, the third installment of The Hobbit series. Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Let’s go to the Dude Maker Hotline to Jay Richards, one of the authors of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot, a new book out today to coincide with the release of the movie tomorrow, the third installment of The Hobbit series. Hello, Jay, how are you?
Jay Richards: Just fine, Mike. Thanks for having me on.
Mike: You’re very, very welcome. So tell us a little bit about the relationship between the writings of Tolkien and the eternal quest for freedom and what we might learn from it.
Richards: A lot of people think of Tolkien as just this sort of fictional / fantasy author. Of course, he was that, but he was also a great scholar of the English language at Oxford University. We wrote the book The Hobbit Party to point out the profound political and economic themes that we have in the book. Some of the stuff is obvious, of course. The ring, for instance, is clearly a symbol of absolute power to dominate the will of others.
The good guys in The Lord of the Rings, they go on a quest not to gain something but actually to get rid of something, this force of evil and domination. In many ways you can look at The Lord of the Rings as a sort of extended reflection on the value of freedom, the value of liberty. The good guys fight not to acquire land and not to punish the bad guys, but to defend their freedom and the freedom of others. It’s an abiding theme both in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It has obvious political implications. Honestly, for decades people on the left have been trying to appropriate Tolkien, we think inappropriately. We think it’s important to point out that Tolkien, both in his writings and personal opinions, was a very strong fan of limited government. He didn’t like centralized, powerful governments. He was very much a defender of freedom and human liberty.
Mike: He was also a fan and promoter and defender of the aged concept of subsidiarity, too.
Richards: Absolutely. You see this very much in just the way the politics are arranged after Aragorn becomes king. In fact, you start The Lord of the Rings in the Shire, as well as The Hobbit. In the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the narrator says: In those days, the Shire had hardly any government. In fact, the only sort of visible government you see are these sheriffs, and all they do is spend their time sort of keeping people’s sheep and cows inside the right property lines and things like that.
Mike: I like that government.
Richards: It’s fantastic. They’re protected, of course. Prior to the beginning of the Fourth Age, the Shire is protected by the Kingdom of Gondor, which is men to the east that keeps Mordor at bay. But even after Mordor is destroyed and Aragorn becomes king, we learn in the appendix to The Lord of the Rings that when Aragorn comes to visit his friends — this is the king of the entire realm — in the Shire, he never actually steps foot in the Shire. He always visits them at the border and has them come to him, just as a way of representing the fact that they’re a sort of self-governing community and they don’t need the central authority showing up and inspecting them. It’s a very profound vision of subsidiarity in which you’ve got the relevant constituency or jurisdiction that’s closest to the problem generally in charge of the problem. That’s something that’s very difficult in a contemporary American context in which the centralized authority, you have a breakdown, say at the level of the family, and suddenly it’s a federal government issue as opposed to a local community issue. That’s a serious problem.
Mike: Your member of Congress doesn’t actually show up at your door to arrest you, but people that are funded by his actions do show up to arrest you.
Richards: That’s right. It’s normally delegated. If you think about things like our vast welfare state in which there are serious problems, either family breakdown or neighborhood breakdown, but in which by those issues becoming federalized, instead of a person being helped at the local level where there are structures of accountability. If you’re getting a check from 3,000 miles away, that just doesn’t exist. Tolkien was acutely aware of these things. Even when his preferred party was in power — he was a lifelong Tory and supported Winston Churchill — he was still squeamish when people talked about the government as this abstract entity. It sounded like: Let’s talk about Winston and his gang. Let’s keep it particular so that we don’t get this idea of the State or Government.
Mike: I didn’t know that about him. That’s fascinating. One of the men that I study is the American, agrarian John Taylor of Caroline County. Taylor, in a hopefully someday-famous letter he wrote to James Monroe, he basically said the same thing. He said: If you become president, I become your biggest critic. We are not buddies anymore. Don’t write me. I’m not coming to your kid’s birthday party. I don’t want to know you. I will be a minority man. The moment you say “I do,” I am in the minority and I am against you. That still is one of the most profound things a founding father ever wrote or ever said, in my opinion. You just said that’s pretty much what Tolkien said.
Richards: It is. I’m glad you made that connection. I hadn’t connected the two before. Late in life, Tolkien’s writing his son Christopher. This is really radical. Of course, it’s a private letter, so you can speak provocatively. He said, “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs).” He wasn’t saying I’m literally a philosophical anarchist. He was saying: I just don’t like this idea of too much centralized, coercive power being handed over into the hands of the State. It’s ironic that it was the American hippies in the ‘60s that first took a strong liking to Tolkien. People don’t necessarily realize these things about him.
Mike: The book that’s out today, coinciding with the release of the movie, the third installment in The Hobbit trilogy, is called The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got and the West Forgot. I just have to ask you a personal question or two. Are you acquainted with Dr. Brad Birzer?
Richards: I sure am actually. He endorsed the book. He’s a good friend.
Mike: I should read the back cover and I’d know that. I get the DA sticker of the hour. The only reason I ask is because he does course study on this, or he did, at University of Michigan, no, Hillsdale. Of course, he’s in Colorado this year. I was just curious. Number two, one of the things that Birzer had written — these things affect me probably a lot more than they affect other people because I think about them all the time and try to apply them in my daily life. Kind of like I try to apply reading my imitation of Christ in my daily life. Birzer had written about: What does the Hobbit want? He concluded that the Hobbit just wants to be left alone. He wants the Shire. As Peter Jackson, the director of these movies says, he wants to grow his own vegetables in the garden. He doesn’t want to leave the Shire. You notice when they go to the Shire it’s always sunny.
Richards: It’s always very nice. There’s no litter or trash. There’s actually a great piece in The Lord of The Rings talking about Sam Gamgee, Frodo’s gardener. He says all he really wanted was his own little plot of land and to tend to his family and his concerns and not worry about all these other things. That was very much the vision of the Hobbit that Tolkien presents. It’s funny that Tolkien himself described himself as a Hobbit in all but size. Saying that, it’s important to realize that the Shire is not the only sort of political structure. It’s not the only community in The Lord of the Rings. To really get a full vision you’ve got to look at the urban grandeur of Gondor and the forces of the Elves and the caves of the Dwarves. Tolkien had a kind of pluralistic vision that there are different ways in which cultures can arrange themselves. Some could be agrarian and some could be more urban, and that was fine; nevertheless, his personal affinities were clearly for the Shire. The Shire functions, both in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings, really as a way of acclimating us to this foreign world of Middle Earth. It would be very familiar to a 19th century bourgeois country gentleman from England.
Mike: It’s a fascinating book, folks, The Hobbit Party, by Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards. If you don’t know, I’ll just quickly reset and inform you of this, Jay. I refer to Washington, DC no longer as Washington, DC. I refer to it as Mordor on the Potomac. I refer to the Washington Monument and that red light at the top as the Tower of Sauron.
Richards: Thank you for that image, by the way. I live in DC so that’s actually very helpful.
Richards: Absolutely. I wish I had seen that. You’re exactly right. We’ve got a big tower, don’t we? It’s got a big bright light right at the top.
Mike: What is Tolkien’s point or what is his vision as it applies to men seeking freedom and men seeking self-government and subsidiarity and autonomy and the other things that we’ve already talked about? What is the role that’s played — you said that every part of Middle Earth plays a role. What is the role then that is played by Mordor?
Richards: Mordor is obviously the representation of evil. Tolkien was an Orthodox Catholic. He had no problem with good versus evil. He had no problems with creatures that were essentially evil incarnate. Of course, the Orcs are initially Elves that were then perverted and destroyed and distorted. They’ve just become this manifestation of evil. Notice Sauron’s desire isn’t just for riches or nice furniture; it’s ultimately domination over the will of others. That’s what makes it evil. It’s not just the exercise of power because the good guys fight and kill when they have to and engage in a just war, but they didn’t seek to have domination over the wills of others. That’s exactly what Sauron did. That’s what the ring does. He created the ring precisely to entice people so that they could end up coming under his domination. That’s essentially what Sauron is. That’s a very important image, and one that so obviously has political relevance and political resonances. I think it’s a mistake not to notice it.
Mike: Does the friction between the Dwarves and the mystical and mythical Elves, is this Tolkien saying that in Middle Earth we also have some pretty serious diversity?
Richards: Absolutely. We talk about diversity as mostly subtle cultural differences or melanin content in our skin. It’s actually quite subtle. The differences in Middle Earth, you’ve got fundamentally different sentient species interacting. You get to the end of The Hobbit and they learned the same thing at the end of The Lord of the Rings. In the appendixes, what you discover is that Tolkien’s image of real flourishing is actually a widening of trade and exchange. After the dragon Smaug is killed at the end of The Hobbit, Dale is rebuilt and now you’ve got Dwarves and Elves and Men in different communities trading with each other, buying and selling each other’s goods. A widening reach of voluntary exchange is actually an image for Tolkien of human flourishing. Again, that’s kind of an interesting economic point that people tend not to notice.
End Mike Church Show Transcript