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September 25, 2009

J.R.R. Tolkien: Anarchist


J.R.R. Tolkien. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), 63-4.

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inaminate real of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could go back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people. […] Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. At least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The mediaevals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Grant me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you dare call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that — after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt unnatural world — is that it works and has only worked when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way. […] There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamating factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 25, 2009 06:33 AM


"Dynamiting factories"??? Good grief. When did he write the letter, and to whom??

Posted by: pst314 [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2009 01:28 PM

It's not for nothing that the phrase "nolo episcopari" has come to mean a falsely modest initial refusal. Kind of a lovely Latin version of "Don't toss me in that briar patch."

Also, the last English king that I can remember who seemed disinterested in ruling was Henry the VI of Lancaster, and we all know how that turned out.

As amazing as Prof. Tolkien's writing was it is a well to remember that he was not only a traditionalist, but a reactionary. Some of whose ideas may have been, shall we say, a tad overly romanticized.

Posted by: dpatten [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2009 08:10 PM