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The Politics of The Hobbit


Whether J.R.R. Tolkien had this in mind or not is beyond my knowledge – or the point – but late in the book, The Hobbit, that classic book that eventually brought us The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves (at this point Gandalf the Wizzard was no longer with them due to other “business” he needed to attend to) had just stirred awake the dragon, Smaug, which was the only thing between them and the dwarves’ family treasure.

From my interpretation of the story the dwarves represent the workers who had built up a vast amount of wealth only for some greedy, violent dragon to come and selfishly take it away.

But they organize themselves to take it back.

There is a point where class warfare seems to flow out of Tolkein’s pen when he wrote:

[Smaug’s] rage passes description – the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted. ~ Chapter XII, Inside Information

As someone who has slowly become more and more cognizant of class divisions this sentence leapt off the page and made circles around my brain faster than the speed of light.

So I put the book down at a good stopping place and have been pondering the significance ever sense.

Chris Spannos recently wrote a blog about the need for an International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) and in it he referenced Albert’s comment that a successful movement would need 1/3 of the population behind it.

The logic behind Tolkein’s comment really helps explain why.

Just like squatters being evicted from lands not used by their “rich folk” owners, we ought to expect that to challenge the extravagance that is so symbolic of one side of our class divisions will provoke an angry response by those who fear losing their wealth, and not just by those with that excessive wealth. No doubt there are those who aspire to be like the rich folks on the hill. They absorb their anti-social values and find them fitting.

Now, I would like to think that all people can be reasoned with, that a sense of compassion and decency is enough to convince people to consider the plight of others in determining their decisions. But I just don’t buy it.

Malcolm X once said something before he died that comes to mind on this subject:

Brothers and sisters, if you and I would just realize that once we learn to talk the language that they understand, they will then get the point. You can’t ever reach a man if you don’t speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can’t come to him with peace. Why, good night! He’ll break you in two, as he has been doing all along. If a man speaks French, you can’t speak to him in German. If he speaks Swahili, you can’t communicate with him in Chinese. You have to find out what does this man speak. And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he’ll get the point. There’ll be some dialogue, some communication, and some understanding will be developed.

So this post is made up of two points.

1) We should be prepared for their counter-resistance. They won’t give up their stolen treasures without a fight. They will use the long arm of the law to what extent they can and if a sizeable movement brings about certain reforms they will try to undermine them (i.e. how the Mohawk Valley formula was used against the labor movement).

2) We should be fluent in their language(s). This doesn’t mean we always HAVE to speak their language(s) to get them to understand us or to speak with us, but we should know it and be prepared to speak it. We should be cautious against radical theories that propose a one size fits all. In some cases dialogues will work and in others maybe its reforms or civil disobedience or direct action or if push comes to shove, self-defense.

Anyway, the stakes are high and a happy ending is not guaranteed…

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