Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “In Tolkien’s life, in his letters, and in his works, not least of which is The Lord of the Rings, there’s an ethos of basically what we would understand to be Catholic social teaching, an ethos of subsidiarity, solidarity, the Chestertonian idea of distributism. It’s all there, if you like, a political philosophy that underpins the very ethos of The Lord of the Rings.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest….
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Your colleague, Brad Birzer, has this at The Imaginative Conservative magazine website, “The Ten Points of Tolkien’s Politics.” Now, knowing that you are a Tolkienite and an authority on the subject of Tolkien, his first point was that:
Tolkien was a conservative and a Burkean. His wife confirmed the former, and C.S. Lewis’s letters seem to confirm the latter.
Second, though a conservative, Tolkien was not a very devout Tory, sometimes mocking Winston Churchill.
Mike: Is there a current of, not feudalism, I guess I would call it republicanism, but small is still beautiful running throughout Tolkien’s most famous work, The Lord of the Rings?
Joseph Pearce: Yes, absolutely. I did actually read that article by Brad Birzer, “Ten Points of Tolkien’s Politics.” It is actually excellent. I’m not sure that Tolkien would have been comfortable with labels such as conservative because he would see that it came with baggage he didn’t necessarily agree with. In Tolkien’s life, in his letters, and in his works, not least of which is The Lord of the Rings, there’s an ethos of basically what we would understand to be Catholic social teaching, an ethos of subsidiarity, solidarity, the Chestertonian idea of distributism. It’s all there, if you like, a political philosophy that underpins the very ethos of The Lord of the Rings.
Mike: It’s not accidental then. In the movies, and you’ll forgive me, I haven’t read the book in decades, but in the movie, in the film, in the Peter Jackson films, Jackson does begin his story in The Shire, which is the village, which is in scale. They make their own beer. They’ve got their own livestock running around. They’ve got all the green garden and all the produce going around. This is the idyllic world that Mr. Sam and Frodo want to return to. That’s not by accident either, is it?
Pearce: No, it’s not. To give credit to Peter Jackson where it’s due, I think the way he portrays The Shire in the first of The Lord of the Rings movies is actually done very, very well. It does evoke that idyllic understanding of an agrarian community very well, as does Tolkien’s book in the opening chapters, the feeling of The Shire. That’s where Tolkien is at home. Tolkien is at home in something which feels like home. The village feels like home. Whereas, the megalopolis does not feel like home. It’s a place where people are systematically alienated.
Mike: This isn’t by accident either. You leave The Shire. You leave the homeness and smallness and beauty and small grandeur of The Shire, and then place by place by place, there’s always sprawl. Everything else is bigger. Even the elf land, everything is bigger than The Shire. The castle where the last stand is made is bigger than The Shire. Where the orcs are all dug up from the mud and all that is sprawling and large. The Lord of the Rings is definitely a commentary of sorts on scale, another one of your favorite subjects, isn’t it?
Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. We don’t understand The Lord of the Rings unless we understand the beauty of smallness, the beauty of The Shire, the beauty of the individual. Who are the heroes? The heroes of The Lord of the Rings are not giants but hobbits. In other words, diminutively-sized people who are much smaller than everybody else that they come along with. They’re smaller than elves. They’re smaller than men. They’re smaller than wizards. Everybody they come across, they’re the small one. They’re the little people. It’s the little people that, if you like, are the heroes. Ultimately it’s the exhortation of the humble, which, of course, is a profoundly Christian concept.
Mike: Joseph Pearce, author of Small is Still Beautiful and Literary Converts, the two subtexts for his Pearcing Truth radio show, Episode 2 debuts tonight here on the Crusade Channel. By the by, you approve of Episode 1?
Pearce: Episode 1 is wonderful. It’s very, very good. It’s amazing what clever people like you and your people can do to make someone really stupid like me look smart. I’m very, very pleased with it. Well done.
Mike: He’s being very, very modest. Joseph, before you go today, I found this piece the other day and meant to share it with the audience. Addison Del Mastro is one of the up-and-coming editors, if you will at The American Conservative magazine site and magazine. He had this little piece that he wrote the other day, “America’s Desperate, Apocalyptic Party Anthems.” It’s about pop music gone bad. The title is deceptive here. He covers ground in this piece that I would not be surprised if Mike Church and Joseph Pearce would cover. I just wanted to share part of it with you and get your commentary on it.
The standard social conservative answer to this—that we can blame unlimited personal autonomy, moral decay, and “if it feels good, do it”—only takes us so far. We do indeed have a hedonistic culture that our pop culture both reflects and promotes.
Yet something more is at work, for even as our music appears to celebrate hedonism, there is a subtext of despair, as of people who are left with nothing else. A society that afforded more opportunity for meaningful work and family life might not produce such music. The closest analogue to the “desperate party anthem” in earlier years was probably blues, informed by the miserable and grinding nature of life for black Americans under slavery and segregation. Are contemporary Americans less hopeful about life than they were? . . .
It was once possible to be in one’s twenties and already have a stable job, a family, a simple but serviceable home, one or two automobiles, and the promise of a pension. This vanished world of middle-class stability really existed.
Now, as jobs outside of the white-collar world shift to the low-end service sector in areas such as fast food and retail, and as foodservice is the fastest-growing sector of the economy, young people must either become highly stressed and indebted professionals or languishing service workers.
Mike: I think that’s a pretty good commentary and diagnosis of much of what ails our youth today. What say you?
Pearce: That’s a marvelous piece of writing. It conveys a great deal of wisdom. More power to his elbow. I hope he has an increasing readership if he can continue to write things of that sort. Let’s go back to hedonism here. Let’s get one thing clear. What hedonism is is encouraging addiction, encouraging addiction to behaviors that we become enslaved to, addicted to. An addict is not free. When you talk about despair, the whole idea of gratifying yourself in this instant leads to an addiction, to self-gratification, whether it’s sex, pornography, or other forms of drugs. An addict is someone who’s a slave. What we’re living in is a culture of people who have become addicted to a lifestyle which is not only destroying them but is actually making them miserable and desperate, and all in the name of so-called freedom. The irony of it, the devil has a twisted sense of humor, but he has a sense of humor.
Mike: He does have a sense of humor. Paul Harvey, I think, was quoting Bishop Sheen when he said: The greatest trick the devil ever played was to convince most Americans that he didn’t exist.
Pearce: Right. And convinced modern Americans hell doesn’t exist because they’re living in it. Think about that.
Mike: Hell doesn’t exist because they’re living in it. With that, I think we can move to adjourn and allow you to get back to your rooster, which I did not hear crow today.
Pearce: I’ve kept the window closed out of deference to your listeners.
Mike: They love it.
Pearce: I’m sorry to deprive you and your listeners of the rooster. I promise, next time we have an interview, the window will be wide open.
Mike: We actually discussed this when we were talking about how to record the operative parts for Pearcing Truth. Joseph said, “Do you want me to record it with the window open so your listeners can hear the rooster?” I thought, “That’s good for listeners who heard the roosters, but for people that haven’t heard the rooster, they’re going to say, ‘What kind of shoddy operation is this?’”
Pearce: The ambience certainly befits a program that’s talking about small is still beautiful.
Mike: Let me tell you, our crack audio engineers can find a rooster. We can put a rooster in the background.
Pearce: That would be bogus. That would be the virtual reality we’re trying to escape from. I do the real thing here. My roosters are real. I can actually look out the window and see them.
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Mike: Oh, to have enough property to have roosters cavorting about amongst the collard greens and mustard greens. I’d love to see that myself. He is Joseph Pearce, the host of Pearcing Truth here on the Crusade Channel. Episode 2 is the first episode in our Small is Still Beautiful series. It debuts tonight. Joseph, as always, a pleasure. You remain, I don’t care what your wife says about you, a gentleman and a scholar.
Pearce: You know me better than she does. It’s not a problem, Mike.
Mike: I’m glad you called. I’m even happier to call you friend. Brother, as always, great show today. Thank you. God bless.
Pearce: My pleasure. God bless you, Mike.
End Mike Church Show Transcript