By Carl Killough
A man who lived through WWI and understood the power of the state by his wartime experience: J. R. R. Tolkien. His works show a great spectrum of political power structures which span from pure and free to evil and controlling.
Tolkien was an anarchist.
Think about the journey from the Shire to Mordor:
The hobbits live in the freedom of the Shire. They have no formal government and live in anarchy. As they travel east, they witness varying levels of increasing control and corruption.
Rivendell is the perfect platonic republic under the care of the ‘wise rulers’. But it is rigid and constrained by Elrond. Its success depends upon the longevity and nearly incorruptible nature of the elves.
Yet Rivendell is a step down in freedom from the Shire. In spite of the strong will and high character of the elves, it is still Frodo, a hobbit from the completely free Shire who is selected to carry the ring. Even an elf would succumb to its power. If the Ring is state power, then only the most free can hope to survive it’s influence.
Orthanc and Saruman himself show the danger of trusting in a wise leader. When danger threatened from Mordor, Saruman took the easy path of bending to evil. His power was flipped from serving good to spreading corruption and death. When it came down to a choice, he chose power for himself over freedom, and even life, for others.
Rohan is a loose feudal monarchy held together by Theoden. Tolkien shows us the danger of a wise ruler being corrupted by evil through Saruman’s agent, Gríma Wormtongue. The nation nearly falls to the orc invasion because of the corrupting power of Saruman, Sauron and the Ring.
Gondor is a crumbling empire that has finally succumb to its own size and lack of wise leadership. The reigns of power still remain to be abused by the insane Denethor, Steward of Gondor. He becomes so desperate and trapped in his own madness that he refuses to call for aid. When Denethor commits suicide in despair, he almost drags down the people of Gondor with him.
Mordor should be obvious: Full power. Absolute control and absolute evil are equated through Sauron and the One Ring. The orcs march rank and file. There is no light except that of the evil eye upon Barad-dûr, watching to make sure every orc does his duty. It is the ultimate authoritarian state.
The Ring itself is power and control. We are constantly told through the books that it is unable to be wielded without succumbing to its corruption and thus spreading evil even in the attempt to do good. The power of the state is represented through the ring.
Gandalf is an embodiment of good but also an agent of power. Since Gandalf is good, Tolkien shows restraint in the way Gandalf uses his powers. Gandalf only uses his power when forced to do so. But he is stretched thin and cannot put out all the fires caused by the corruption of Sauron’s One Ring. The source of power can only be destroyed by the smallest and most free, a hobbit from the Shire.
Through Gandalf and the Ring Tolkien tells us that power cannot be fought by power. Power itself (the ring) must be destroyed, not through using force, but by letting it go. (Dropping it, releasing it, into the fires of Mt. Doom.) The right to rule must be let go, by not accepting it, and never using it, and thus destroying it.
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