Monday, October 7, 2019

St. Augustine and J.R.R. Tolkien

From The Imaginative Conservative:
Clyde Kilby, an English professor from Wheaton College, worked with Tolkien in the summer of 1966. “Tolkien was an Old Western Man who was staggered at the present direction of civilization,” Kilby recorded after a summer of conversations with Tolkien. “Even our much vaunted talk of equality he felt debased by our attempts to ‘mechanize and formalize it.’”[2] Like many Englishmen, he feared a world divided in two, in which the smaller peoples would be swallowed. Only fifteen years earlier, in reaction to the Teheran Conference, Tolkien had written: “I heard of that bloodthirsty old murderer Josef Stalin inviting all nations to join a happy family of folks devoted to the abolition of tyranny and intolerance!” One would be blind to miss Tolkien’s disgust. “I wonder (if we survive this war) if there will be any niche, even of sufferance, left for reactionary back numbers like me (and you). The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be one blasted little provincial suburb.” Soon, he feared, America would spread its “sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass production” throughout the world.[3] Neither “ism”—corporate consumer capitalism or communism, both radical forms of materialism—seemed particularly attractive to Tolkien, a man who loved England (but not Great Britain!) and who loved monarchy according to medieval conventions, while hating statism in any form. 
Indeed, as with St. Augustine as the barbarians tore through Rome’s gate on August 24, 410, at midnight, Tolkien looked out over a ruined world: a world on one side controlled by ideologues, and, consequently, a world of the Gulag, the Holocaust camps, the Killing fields, and total war; on the other: a world of the pleasures of the flesh, Ad-Men, and the democratic conditioners to be found, especially, in bureaucracies and institutions of education. Both east and west had become dogmatically materialist, though in radically different fashions. In almost all ways, the devastation of Tolkien’s twentieth-century world was far greater than that of St. Augustine’s fifth-century world. At least barbarian man believed in something greater than himself. One could confront him as a man, a man who knew who he was and what he believed, however false that belief might be. “I sometimes wonder,” C.S. Lewis once mused, “whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity.”[4] Twentieth-century man, led by fanatic ideologies, used state-sponsored terror to murder nearly 200 million persons outside of war. War in the same century claimed another 38.5 million persons.[5] Simply put, the blood ran frequently and deeply between 1914 and Tolkien’s death in 1973. (Read more.)

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