Bush as Boromir & The Shire as Anarchist Paradise — Debate has raged over at Andrew Sullivan about Bush’s counterpart in The Fellowship of the Rings. Having just completed the novel (I saw the movie, but in German, which I don’t speak), I am ready to make sagacious pronouncements!
Perry de Haviland has intelligently suggested that the ring represents the awful and corrupting power of the state. I agree. (And I cite some of the same passages as Perry.) Now, Sullivan sees Frodo in Bush, and it’s true: plainspoken, wide-eyed George does fairly emanate Hobbitude (have you seen his feet?) However, given that the ring is the state, Bush cannot be a Hobbit, for he has won his glory as a leader by marshalling of the awesome power of state force against dark enemies. Frodo seeks to destroy the ring. Bush seeks to use it for noble ends, heedless of its dangers. Thus spake Boromir, imploring Frodo to give him the ring, so as to overcome the Enemy with might:
True-hearted men, they will not be corrupted. . . We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only the strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. . . It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. . . And they tell us to throw it away! I do not say destroy it. That may be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not.
I’ve condensed the speech, but there’s the essence of it. The state may be dangerous, but not if my tribe, true-hearted folk, hold the reigns. We don’t wish to be dictators, only to defend what is good and true. A just cause. If it was possible to get along without the state, that would be great, but it’s not possible. So best that I run it. That’s a Bush in a nutshell. A Frodo is one who has chanced upon power, but attempts to use it only to destroy it.
Is the Shire indeed an anarchy? Yes! In the Prologue, Tolkein goes to pains to make clear that the Hobbits, while not egalitarians with regard to material goods, are egalitarians with regard to political power. They recognize no inequalities in coercive authority. Tolkein writes:
The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government’. Families for the most part managed their own affairs. . . There remained, of course, the ancient tradition concerning the High King of Fornost. . . But there had been no king for nearly a thousand years.
Tolkein goes on to concede that the Hobbits do have a Thain, which office falls to the head of the Took family, but “the Thainship had ceased to be more than a nominal dignity.” The one genuine official of the Shire is the Mayor, who oversees the post and the watch. And the police are little to speak of, being “in practice rather haywards rather than police, more concerned with the strayings of beasts than people.” Tolkein almost belabors the point that there is no coercive authority in the shire. Only when Bilbo returns with the ring is the stateless well-being of the Shire threatened.
We are made to admire the Shire and its bucolic anarchy. However, those libertarians who might take heart in the example of the Shire should heed the conditions Tolkein seems to find necessary for the sustenance of this happy situation.
Hobbits are incurious, deeply conservative and stasist: “Growing food and eating occupied most of their time. In other matters, as a rule, generous and not greedy, but contented and moderate, so that estates, farms, workshops, and small trades tended to remain unchanged for generations.” Not exactly the ambitious, creative, dynamic commercial society we tend to celebrate. Like frontier Americans, stateless Hobbits do well without legislation, but only a time-tested body of law. “They attributed to the kind of old all their essential laws; and usually the kept the laws of free will, because they were The Rules (as they said), both ancient and just.” In addition, Hobbits are fascinated with family, and the Shire is small enough that almost everyone is related to everyone some way or another, and thus bound to each other with a sense of family obligation.
Generous dispositions, together with a rather unthinking respect for rules, and a recognition of others as part of an extended family, might well suffice to guarantee peace without force. But given the somewhat more individualist, ambitious and grasping nature of Men, our conditional attitude toward rules, and our society full of change and strangers, the Hobbit way to anarchist bliss holds little promise for us. For now, we can only hope that our own undisappointed Boromir, wielding his great yet essentially evil ring, can stave off corruption with Hobbit-like fortitude, so that we all may for some time remain Free Men.