By Caleb Coggeshall
Even if you’ve never read the books, or seen the movies, you pretty much know the overall plot of “The Lord of the Rings.” Yes, it is one of the quintessential works of good versus evil, but there is more under the surface. And that “more” is freedom. It makes perfect sense that one of the most beloved tales of all time has underlying themes of liberty and authoritarianism throughout its text. There are many points that can be made in themes of liberty, but this article will stick to a few of the more pronounced ones.
We’ll begin with subsidiarity in “The Shire.” Who wouldn’t want to live in The Shire? The beer flows like the Anduin River, everybody smokes pipes (and blows the greatest smoke rings), there are six meals a day, and the place has an abundance of peace and quiet. Also, the halflings mind their own business, not, concerning themselves with the affairs of the outside world. On top of that, The Shire has no local government, court system or police. All the hobbits handle affairs with the lowest level of government possible. They elect a mayor every several years and have a voluntary group of police known as “shirriffs.” And that’s about it. they practically live in a voluntaryist society, or, as Jeffrey Tucker is fond of saying, a “beautiful anarchy.”
Then there’s the aversion to power, which is most notably conveyed through the One Ring. Frodo wants to get rid of it, and Gandalf is tempted ever so slightly when the hobbit tries to hand it off to him. “Do not tempt,” he says, “for I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good.” The road to hell is paved with good intentions. How many times throughout history have well-meaning individuals taken on positions of authority to make life better for people, only to end up becoming despots? Aragorn, an heir to the throne of Gondor, wants nothing to do with the power of the Ring. Tom Bombadil, probably the most cryptic character in the trilogy, treats the Ring in a joking manner as it as no effect on him whatsoever. Sam Gamgee bears the Ring for only a little while, yet feels no urge to keep it when he has to give it back to Frodo.
Finally there is the oppressive state, represented through Mordor, which wages perpetual war until all citizens of Middle-Earth are either enslaved or dead. If government is good at one thing, it is making war, all the time, for stupid reasons, or no reasons at all. It is the dwarves, elves, men, hobbits and ents that want to leave in peace without disturbing anyone. And it is the long arm of Mordor that ensures misery and destruction for all. It is no great secret that Tolkien held anti-government views; as seen with the panopticon-esque Eye of Sauron, the government is always awake, and always watching, ready for battle.
“The Lord of the Rings” shows us aspects of freedom without coming across as preachy or overbearing. The story shows us what liberty is capable of: people living in relative harmony without the intervention of government bureaucracies that think they know better. Tolkien shows us that we can learn liberty without even realizing it.