Christian Fiction Literature and The Hobbit Party vs. Big Government
Dinner Topics for Wednesday
‘The Hobbit Party’ uncovers Tolkien’s anti-big government message
American Family Association “Perspective”
Hobbits may love big parties, but they hate big government, say the authors of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot.
Even though many authors over the years have written about how J.R.R. Tolkien uses numerous Christian analogies throughout his epic series, little attention has been given to the political motivations behind the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit when he penned the escapist novels. Through The Hobbit Party, co-authors Dr. Jonathan Witt and Dr. Jay Richards dig deep into Middle-Earth to uncover how Tolkien’s epic series celebrates freedom, trade and limited government — all hot topics that continue[d] to be visited as the November midterm elections approach[ed].
Blending Witt’s evangelical Christian background with the Catholic faith that Richards shares with Tolkien, The Hobbit Party explores answers as to why the celebrated author rejected large top-down solutions as a remedy to the many societal ills plaguing modern times.
“He was deeply worried about where Western democracy was headed and about the many people it was damaging,” the authors divulged about Tolkien. “But he believed the way to confront cultural decay was, well, culturally — in other words, not through government edicts or government planners or government ‘sharers,’ but through the leavening work of great and good art, through discourse grounded in truth and reason, and through the hard and patient work of modeling whatever is worth rescuing and cultivating in civilization.”
The authors insist that Tolkien’s stance on keeping big government out when it comes to assisting the needy should not be misinterpreted as insensitivity toward the poor, downtrodden or dispossessed. Instead, they interpret Tolkien’s worldview to reflect his desire for people’s freedom, which should never be undermined through governments’ intervening social programs.
In fact, Witt and Richards would agree that Tolkien shared the same mindset of former United States President and California Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan when it comes to restricting the role of government to ensure freedom.
“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited,” Reagan proclaimed while in office. “There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”
Forging their point
Many Tolkien experts and literary critics agree with Witt and Richards that the timeless author exuded an unmistakable desire for liberty and limited government through his chronicles of Middle-Earth — a passion that was driven by his biblical understanding of man and God’s creation.
“The hobbits’ Shire is a microcosm of Victorian England in every way, especially the way everything works fine without interference from the institutions of the state,” expressed Tom Shippey, author of The Road to Middle-Earth. “But can the Shire really be a model for our more complex times? The Hobbit Party, with its punning title, makes the case that it can be, should be, was meant to be, and that The Lord of the Rings expands the argument to give us images of an ethical as well as ecological politics, ever more badly needed.”
Thomas Howard, who wrote Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets,’ argues that Witt and Richards touch on something in The Hobbit Party that should be studied and expounded on during political science courses in today’s universities.
“Richards and Witt have opened up an often-ignored aspect of Tolkien’s work, namely the sense in which his myth bespeaks a political and economic order that stands in stark, even violent, contrast to the presiding power structures that dominate this unhappy globe,” Howard asserts.
Richards, who serves as senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and as an assistant research professor at the Catholic University of America’s School of Business and Economics, is a New York Times bestselling author who has tackled many issues concerning Christians and society, including Money, Greed, and God, The Privileged Planet and The Untamed God. As executive editor for “The Stream,” Richards frequently speaks to the deleterious consequences of government taking a big role when it comes to societal and economic issues.
Witt, who works alongside Richards as managing editor of “The Stream,” is a research and media fellow at the Acton Institute. He is also a senior fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Cultures and formerly served as an English professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. As co-author of A Meaningful World and the lead writer for the “PovertyCure” series and the award-winning film Poverty, Inc., Witt is widely recognized for his candid take on the invasive role of government and its detrimental effects on society.
It’s about time
With multiple works touching on the spiritual significance of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, few have come to realize that the iconic author – who spent much of his life in Africa and fellowshipped with C.S. Lewis in England – was just as zealous of an advocate for economic freedom and small government as he was a fiery dissident of tyranny.
Consequently, Witt and Richards illustrate how Tolkien’s passion for freedom is readily witnessed throughout Tolkien’s epic works, which are said to show how Sauron’s campaign of takeover of overreaching evil leads to political, economic and moral bankruptcy.
No current author appreciates The Hobbit Party’s contemporary and relevant message more than British scholar, Joseph Pearce, author of Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of ‘The Hobbit’ and Literary Giants, Literary Catholics.
“If much has been written on the religious significance of The Lord of the Rings, less has been written on its political significance — and the little that has been written is often erroneous in its conclusions and ignorant of Tolkien’s intentions,” Pearce points out. “Much more work is needed in this area, not least because Tolkien stated, implicitly at least, that the political significance of the work was second only to the religious in its importance.”
The insight of Witt and Richards is also applauded by Acton Institute research director Samuel Gregg, author of Becoming Europe. Gregg understands and recognizes the deleterious effects of governments over-regulating society and insists that The Hobbit Partywill transform the way readers have viewed Tolkien’s politics in the past.
“J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the most widely read but arguably misunderstood of the twentieth century’s literary geniuses,” Gregg asserts. “In this book, Witt and Richards lift the veil on Tolkien and reveal a political and, yes, economic thinker who constantly surprises readers and whose insights are even more valuable for our time than his own.”
Tolkien ‘red,’ not ‘blue?’
Despite many different takes on Tolkien’s political leaning in the past, The Hobbit Party clearly lays out what many literary critics consider to be “red” blood flowing through the Hobbit creator’s veins.
“As with the best works of the imagination, Middle-Earth invites one into a true reality, one immersed in timeless and universal truths,” says Bradley J. Birzer, author of American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll and a visiting scholar in Conservative Thought at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Witt and Richards brilliantly delve into the most profound depths of Tolkien’s endlessly fascinating soul. A true conservative in the old sense, he recorded the stories of a world in chaos, but saved by the integrity of the person willing to surrender to grace. This work offers us a true feast: the feast of nobility, truth, goodness, and beauty.”
The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics vice president Art Lindsley takes it a step further, noting how Tolkien portrays Sauron’s regime as a socialist takeover of the world, a point that is captured in The Hobbit Party.
“Beautifully written, this work gives fascinating insights into the realm of Middle-Earth,” Lindsley proclaims. “Moreover, it is a tour of the important issues of our world through Tolkien’s eyes, including limited government, man’s temptation to power, freedom, just war, socialism, distributism, localism, love and death. These topics are woven seamlessly throughout, and you will leave the book with unforgettable impressions of these themes illustrated by Tolkien’s imagery.”
Tolkien’s conservatism is also impressed by David Goldman, who penned How Civilizations Die. He believes the authors of The Hobbit Party clearly present their case that Tolkien gave numerous warning signs about leftist agendas working to destroy Western culture through their reckless expansion of government.
“Witt and Richards do a brilliant job of rescuing Tolkien’s literary legacy from the clutches of the cultural left,” Goldman declares. “They reveal Tolkien as a profoundly Catholic thinker, with deep insights into the fundamental issue of religion, namely man’s attempt to grapple with his own mortality. As a conservative’s companion to Tolkien, The Hobbit Party renews our appreciation of Tolkien’s contribution to literature and his profound impact on our culture.”
Michael Haverluck is a freelance journalist based in Southern California.