Saturday, 19 January 2013

Tolkien and Tradition

Edit Jan 25th: This was rather hastily written before I had read the whole of Tomberg's letter IV: The Emperor, in which he clearly is saying the same thing as Tolkien, and not hoping for a political solution. Anyway, the post still works as an exploration of Tolkien's thought.

My previous post was an attempt to bring together several spheres of my life: my interest in the coherence of theism, my professional role as a teacher of religion in a secondary school, my love of the work of Tolkien, my interests in thomistic thought and the conflict between the political and the spiritual in the modern world.

I want in this post merely to explore the connections I have been making between the thought of J R R Tolkien and some of the ideas of the 'Perennial Philosophy'. In some senses it is a continuation of my 'Father Christmas' post.

 Part of my job is to be aware of philosophical and theological issues and the way they are approached by different thinkers, so that post may have come across to some as mental masturbation, sophistry for the sake of it, but I don't really care about that. I find that writing something knowing that it is going to have some kind of audience, even negative, motivates me, and I find that the process of writing helps me to order my thoughts, so I will keep doing it.

Over on another forum there is some talk of a comment by Valentin Tomberg on the Tarot card 'The Emperor' in his book Meditations on the Tarot. He said something to the effect that Europe is haunted by the shadow of the Emperor, and that without the Emperor hierarchy collapses and leads to the tyrannies that he saw around him in the sixties of communism and socialism, aiming at a levelling of all, in which the heights and the depths are lost - the vertical axis he calls it - the axis of spirit/form, and this is something that Tradition naturally abhors and obviously so did Tomberg. Clearly, communism is no longer the presence in Europe as it was in Tomberg's day, but Europe is still facing a crisis.

 Many Traditionalists trace this to the rise of Enlightenment rationalism and materialism, the dominance of liberalism in economies and a prevailing relativism which has the same flattening effect on the vertical axis as before.

However, the problem for many is that it seems that any attempt to actually restore hierarchy will lead to medieval style feudalism and as the writer puts it: "would you have wanted to be a peasant or a serf in the Middle Ages?". He says that Tomberg seems to want us "to follow some fossilized notion of political order drawn from the Middle Ages". I don't have any answer to this. I wanted to delve into this very issue in the work and thought of Tolkien though. Who knows, it may throw some fresh light on the issue.

I mentioned previously a thread in Tolkien's work - what he called in a letter 'God and His sole right to divine honour.' It takes the form of the usurpation of true Kingship and is obvious in many forms in LotR for instance. Aragorn is the heir of Isildur the true King of Gondor but is unable to assume the throne. Sauron demands obedience, and while Sauron lives, the people are forced to worship a power that has usurped the throne. Saruman operates a policy of appeasement and use of the power that Sauron represents, and brings technology to support him. Aragorn's healing ability is a sign of his true kingship - he represents hierarchy. This is meant to be a good thing. Hierarchy is the realisation that there are greater things than ones self, even simply the realisation that there are things other than ones self. Aragorn as a kind of suffering servant, messianic figure is meant to show that true authority is rooted in the spiritual realm. Tolkien says:

“in The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Numenoreans believed in The One, the true God … Sauron desired to be a God-King … if he had been victorious, he would have demanded divine honor”

This is Tolkien's view on this. He also said of democracy:

"I am not a 'democrat' only because 'humility' and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the effort to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power -- and then we get and are getting slavery "

So he seems profoundly Traditionalist in outlook. He also seemed to believe in a long slow decline from a Golden Age, as reflected in his four World-Ages in his legendarium which echo closely the Four Ages of Hindu philosophy. I am not saying Tolkien was some kind of esoteric occultist however - it is clear that a person who was as profoundly Catholic and thoughtful as he was would arrive at this conclusion without need of studying some kind of perennial philosophy separately. In a letter he says:

"Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory."

There is an interesting post on this here .

Anyone who has read Guenon's Reign of Quantity will find all this familiar. Tolkien lived through and experienced at firsthand one of the most horrific wars of the twentieth century. He could not help but be sceptical about ideas of progress and technological advancement.

However he would not have hoped for some kind of political messiah. His Catholic faith meant that he could only hope for what he called the eucatastrophe outside of history - “a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

It seems that Tomberg may have hoped for something more historical and concrete.

1 comment:

  1. " I don't have any answer to this."

    Really? I think Guenon and Evola supply answers to that many times over... check Men Among the Ruins.