Sunday, April 26, 2015

brief review of "The Hobbit Party"

If you're into politics, economics and culture-- and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings-- then Witt and Richards' The Hobbit Party is a must-read book for you. If not, on either category, then just keep on moving! (Update: Here's a lengthy interview through Acton with Witt. And here's a review in The Independent Review by Richard Scott Nokes.) 

In part, their book is a defense against various claims about Tolkien. In part, it's a series of assertions about how to properly interpret Tolkien's work with respect to politics, economics, and culture. 

They rely heavily on TLOTR itself, but at times, seek extra-book sources (such as his letters and other writings). In particular, his experience with war (WWI), family (torn up with the death of his mother), and rural vs. urban (having to the move to the city after his mom's death)-- are all portrayed as crucial to his worldview and writings. 

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar enough with Tolkien or TLOTR to read their book all that critically. But most of it sounds quite reasonable. 

In the authors' hands, Tolkien...

-valued freedom over power, with its illusions, deceits, and general nastiness

-was critical of crony capitalism and especially "gatherers/sharers"

-was not a distributist (with its attractive general properties, but its internal contradictions-- e.g., looking to the power of government to ethically and practically regulate "power" outside of government)

-was local-oriented, but not provincial

-was certainly ok with technology-- neither to the point of worship of being a Luddite

-small was fine and probably preferable, but big was certainly ok-- as long as it was not for its own sake

-was earthy, valued culture (broadly construed) and fertility; in this sense, he is Wendell Berry-esque

-was critical of those who would try to cheat death and limits-- and the curse and blessings of same

-valued individuals over aggregates, but valued subsidiarity within community

-not fond of war or an advocate of pacifism; his beliefs would be consistent with "Just War" theories

My favorite story: Jonathan Witt's story about trying to have chickens at his three-acre home outside of Grand Rapids, in semi-rural Michigan (27-30). By zoning laws, he is allowed to own a horse, "a pack of large, snarling dogs and half a dozen roaming cats"-- but not a single cow, chicken, or goat. He noted that the subsequent fertilizer and a goat would be friendlier to the environment than the alternatives. They sought a statute, but it eventually failed with a tie vote. He wonders whether the commissioners asked themselves, "What moral right do I have to deny my fellow citizens" this right?


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