Is it possible to draw a political program from a work of fiction, in this case J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? A few posts ago (following a tip or two) I quoted a text from John Milbank:
… as recommended by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings (no law in the Shire; but the orderly echo of remote kingship)
For those not familiar with this boring fable, it is an elaborate and multilayered allegory of the Second World War (during which much of it was written), of the evils of capitalism and industrialisation, of Roman Catholic enchantment versus Protestant worldliness, of the passing world of the Middle Ages etc. And it’s whole framework is deeply conservative,which I’ll define here as the desire to return to a mythical golden age that never existed. In the three-volume series, the world (Middle Earth) is increasingly threatened by the evil Lord Sauron. So some simple hobbits, led by Frodo and his faithful servant Sam Gamgee, set out from the Shire (aka England), assisted by wizards, dwarves, elves, scions of royal houses and so on, to trounce Sauron – who is into industrialisation, progress, building projects, and has evil, snuffling orcs working for him. How to destroy Sauron’s power? They need to cast a magical and powerful ring – which Sauron desperately wants – into the volcano where it was forged in the midst of Sauron’s domain. I must admit that in the film version it seemed to me that the whole thing should have been subtitled ‘Nine Men in Search of a Flaming Vagina’ – since Sauron’s evil eye was depicted again and again like this:
Where were we? Back in the Shire we find the hobbits, small humanoid creatures who live in holes and behave just like small-minded human beings. Tolkien (through the figure of Gandalf) loves them, since they embody the ideals of his mythical medieval golden age. This is the model that Milbank invokes. However, Joe Lukens pointed out that Milbank may have drawn the idea from a book written by his partner, Alison Milbank, called Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real. As Joe puts it:
The book’s actually quite good from a literary perspective. She does a good job showing how Tolkien’s world reflects his Catholicism, and is heavily influenced by Chesterton’s ideas, and by a certain reading of Aquinas. But then, she doesn’t go on and say we now need to model society on the Shire (although there are vague hints in that direction towards the end).
Apart from the curious coincidence that Alison Milbank has the same initials as Alasdair Maclagan, JM has of course gone the next next step and argued that we should model society on the Shire, the main town of which is Hobbiton.
Which finally brings me to my point: using a work of fiction – let alone one that it is deeply reactionary – as a basis for a political model is about as intelligent as using a work of fiction as the basis for a religion. I’m thinking here of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1962), a science fiction novel which provides the foundational belief structure for The Church of All Worlds. According to the Australian website (more detail on the main American page),
The mission of the Church of All Worlds is to evolve a network of information, mythology and experience that provides a context and stimulus for re-awakening Gaia, and re-uniting her children through tribal community dedicated to responsible stewardship and evolving consciousness.
Sounds a bit like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, if you ask me (with a few tweaks). So I’d suggest the following equation:
The Lord of the Rings is to Radical Orthodoxy as Stranger in a Strange Land is to the Church of All Worlds.