AJ, thanks for holding off on moving on to another letter. I did have some more to say about letter 52.
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.
I find it interesting that Tolkien here does not like the idea of men governing men. I think he gives insight to his own view that very very few men are worthy of leading other men. I have to say that after spending 43 years viewing people and their leadership, there are very few that I am comfortable giving my allegiance too.
I think this really hearkens back to my observation earlier that the ideal governments for Tolkien were either the Shire (enlightened anarchy) or Gondor under Aragorn's rule. I think Tolkien really believed in the concept of divine authority, and that the men that could successfully govern men were those who were chosen by God to do so.
Giving the times that he lived in with Stalin, Hitler, even Churchill and the other leaders of the West, I don't think that Tolkien felt that there was much hope for the future.
I think his fatalistic view went back further, to the loss of both his parents during his childhood, and then his horrific experiences during World War I.
"But the special horror of the present world is that the whole damned thing is in one bag. There is nowhere to fly to. Even the unlucky little Samoyedes, I suspect, have tinned food and the village loudspeaker telling Stalin's bed-time stories about Democracy adn the wicked Fascists who eat babies and steal sledge-dogs. There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting 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."
I think that is the key. Nothing on a global or national level will do any good if it is not universal. Thus perhaps why he felt the enlightened king was a positive motion, because a king could make changes lasting by making them universal. In the same sense, local communities perhaps are the best notion of democracy we have left even in our day, if they are like the Shire, run with minimal offices and those in offices do not have unlimited power. The power is really based on tradition, and social connectivity. It is easier on a local level to get universal ideas and concepts united and implemented, because it is the closest to the individual. Anyway, those are some thoughts that I have.[/quote]
I agree that is the key. But I do want to highlight one part of that last part of the letter, which shows just how radical Tolkien really was:
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting 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."
Despite Tolkien's earlier protestation that his adherence to anarchy did not mean whiskered men with bombs, he really wished that he could wipe out all signs of "progress". He really, truly believed that technology was the scourge of human civilization. A part of the middle portion of the letter which neither AJ nor I have quoted I think is very telling about Tolkien's true attitude. He said:
The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari* as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Give 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 care to 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 worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way. The quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off against Xerxes; but the abominable chemists and engineers have put such a power int Xerxes' hands, and all ant-communities, that decent fold don't seem to have a chance.
* "I do not wish to be made a bishop."
I see several important ideas reflected in this passage. First is the idea that the the most efficient times would be if all leaders were men who did not want the job, and preferred to be elsewhere. But that only works when technology has not given those who want the power the ability to exploit it. The bottom line is that Tolkien wishes to return to an older, simpler time.
He confirms this in the concluding paragraph saying to Christopher "We were born in a dark age out of due time (for us)." But then he adds the following, more uplifting words:
But there is this comfort; otherwise we should not know, or so much love, what we do love. I imagine the fish out of water is the only fish to have an inkling of water. Also we have still small swords to use. 'I will not bow before the Iron Crown, nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.' Have at the Orcs, with winged words, hildenæddran (war-adders), biting darts, -- but make sure of the mark, before shooting
I would guess that he is referring to his (their) love of England (which he explicitly refers to in the following letter). The idea of only the fish out of water have an inkling of water is a fascinating one: he is basically saying that only those who have lost what they love and need can truly appreciate what they love and need. The quoted words are two lines from the poem Mythopoeia that Tolkien wrote for C.S. Lewis. I'd love to hear what others might think of what they mean in this context.
Griffy, I agree with Prim. I know how smart you are, so I can't really accept that excuse.
AJ, let's see if anyone else has anything to say, and if not let's move on to the next one. But I'd like to at least folks a chance to ponder these complicated concepts before leaving it behind.