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December 30, 2003

The West

The aptly named John West discusses The Lord of the Rings as a defense of Western civilization and a warning for "the disrepair into which Western civilization has fallen".

As Tolkien would sometimes write, "We face Mordor in our midst." Since September 11, it is easier for most of us to believe that.

West's argument takes on issues of natural law, freedom, transcendence and the Fall. One passage is an apt reminder to reject moral equivalence.

The Lord of the Rings does not glorify war, but it does suggest that its profound tragedy may be unavoidable in a fallen world. When the Warden of the Houses of Healing in Gondor laments to Lady Eowyn that "the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them," Eowyn responds tartly: "It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two." Good people cannot stop a war merely by turning the other cheek.

At a more general level, Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings challenges the utopian thinking that prevents one from taking sides in a moral controversy because no side is perfect. Far from portraying the conflict between good and evil as a battle between cardboard people who are perfectly good or perfectly evil, The Lord of the Rings does a superb job in uncovering the conflicting and even dishonourable motives of those on the "right" side of the controversy - think of Boromir and Denethor. But part of the recognition of the Fall is to realize that though no person is wholly good or wholly evil, one is still obliged to fight on the side of justice, even if one's side is tainted by sin and impure motives. "Ther are... conflicts about important things or ideas," wrote Tolkien. "In such cases I am more impressed by the extreme importance of being on the right side, than I am disturbed by the revelation of the jungle of confused motives, private purposes, and individual actions (noble or base) in which the right and the wrong in actual human conflicts are commonly involved."

Posted by Ghost of a flea at December 30, 2003 11:00 AM


A very fine essay.

Posted by: *** Dave at December 30, 2003 02:14 PM

I concur. Superb.

Posted by: Chris Taylor at December 30, 2003 04:42 PM