Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Tolkien, Christianity, and the State

From The Mises Institute:
A glance around at the current state of affairs makes it easy for Christian conservatives and libertarians to become disheartened and, consequently, at least sympathize with the illiberal intentions of people like Ahmari. To those frustrated with the encroaching leftist darkness, it may seem that Ahmari’s way is the only option left to them. Fortunately, as author and philologist J.R.R. Tolkien might have told us, it’s not.

The comparison between Ahmari and Tolkien is worth examining. Indeed, Tolkien wasn’t merely a vastly imaginative and adept fantasy writer. He was also a Christian thinker steeped in robust Catholic thinking — something Ahmari himself claims to be. But their ideas on what the common good looks like are wildly disparate. Unlike Ahmari, who believes the only possible manifestation of the common good is his own, Tolkien colored his work with a clear message of pluralism. The renowned trilogy The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), and even some of Tolkien’s lesser-known work such as Farmer Giles of Ham, emphasizes the need for diversity and the freedom for different groups and people to live in a way that best suits them. In real life, as in Tolkien’s fictional realms, this decentralization doesn’t lead to a perfect society, by any means. But the alternative of centralized direction by the state — as proposed by Ahmari — leads to even worse consequences, as the amount of power flawed humans have at their disposal increases.

As recently as fall 2017, Ahmari was defending liberalism. Now, sadly, he craves Tolkien’s One Ring of Power, believing it necessary to order things in accordance with his conception of the common good. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien confronts this sort of militant belief head-on. Indeed, the wizard Saruman the White began as an agent of the good, but, gradually, he came to crave power and control. In the process, he fell in with the ranks of evil. While later attempting to sway Gandalf to join him in his alliance with the forces of darkness, Saruman tries justifying his naked power grab.

“Our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule,” he says. “But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the wise can see.” Sound familiar? To the Sarumans of our world, people are incapable of being left to their own devices. Clearly, Ahmari now believes that a powerful hand of the state is needed to shepherd people into making correct decisions — pesky leftists who disagree simply must be crushed. A troubling and ever-increasing number of conservatives agree. Now we see hearty, open endorsements of banning payday lending, capping interest rates, and the reimposition of blue laws. All in the name of the common good.

Strangely enough, the Ahmari camp seems to think that support for freedom is condescending to the blue-collar American. In response to a recent article of mine addressing why reimposing blue laws that regulate commerce on Sundays won’t boost church attendance, Ahmari took to Twitter to claim that I look down on people who work Sundays as being “peasants.” But it’s Ahmari who sees everyday people as ignorant plebeians incapable of running their own lives. Why else propose using the power of the state to impose his vision and values upon them? (Read more.)

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