Steve Bannon and the Hobbits

I used to worry that my children would be raised by consumer capitalism and would never grow up with respect for beauty, mystery, awe, the soul, and G-d. This worry helps me understand I think the point of view of the supporters of Trump. Many of them are closer in their minds to hobbits than they are to Hitler.
Hobbits you probably know are the heroes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
The furry-footed hobbits are gentle beings who love nature and eating, and small towns, and family and friendship. In Tolkien, the hobbits are the only ones who keep from being corrupted in a wold dominated by ugly technology and the selfish and the power-mad. Tolkien’s world is sad – what’s good and inconspicuous and hard to talk about is getting destroyed by what is powerful and unmysterious. The old magical creatures are disappearing and being replaced by man.
Tolkien’s view is not that far from Steve Bannon’s. Bannon worries that capitalism and secularism and Islam are destroying the old ways. It is not that far from Chesteron or Julius Evola or Heidegger or Vladimir Putin’s Heideggerian apologist Dugin.
If you feel like a hobbit you will be very angry if you are accused of being Hitler. In your mind you are defending inconspicuous, gentle, unassuming, comforting ways of life that are under attack. You don’t like being cast as the villain, especially if the ones casting you as the villain are themselves proud, uncompassionate, cruel people –to you.
Liberals calling people who think of themselves as hobbits are not going to convince the hobbits. They may feel good mocking them, but the hobbits are used to mockery. They are used to being small and inconspicuous and unglamorous.
A tragedy in the making though is that just because you view yourself as a gentle hobbit doesn’t mean your actions will feel like that to other people. For example, radical Muslims also feel like the heroes of a medieval romance – as beleaguered paladins threatened by the soulless demon robots of modernity. To the Muslims they are the hobbits and the Americans invading Iraq are Sauron’s forces. To the Americans they are the paladins and the Muslims are the Sauronites.
So the hobbit way of talking although it has charms can get us in some bad trouble. We can end up lacking any love or understanding for other people we share the globe with, which is a very unhobbit-like thing to lack.
How should we talk then?
One thing worth noting about tradition is that traditionally we did not appeal to tradition to justify it. In this tradition is like individualism — people who are individuals don’t become individuals by wanting to be individual. They become individuals by pursuing what they think is wonderful, or worthwhile, and sometimes they do it in an individual way.
The hobbits don’t hew to tradition because they are traditionalists. They live in burrows because it is cozy. They eat fresh bread because it tastes good. They play in meadows (or whatever) because it’s beautiful. They get married because they fall in love.
Tradition as an ideology — what is traditional is good and must be defended against its enemies — it becomes just another “smelly little orthodoxy contending for our souls”. The proposition “if it is old it must be good” is as far from the wisdom of hobbits as “if it is new it must be good.”
Traditionally we liked things that were beautiful, good, holy, cheerful, friendly, or pleasant. That’s something people who say hobbit-like, traditionalist things and people who say liberal things and people who say Islamic things ought to agree on. What helps us raise happy children, or heal diseases, or worship, or swim in rivers, or spend good time with beer and dogs and horses?
Those are things we all want. Not a political fight about tradition versus liberalism. That sort of thing is only enjoyed by Nazguls.



8 thoughts on “Steve Bannon and the Hobbits

  1. Very true that we live in a mythic world, in Tolkein’s “well of story”, just as much as we live in a phenomenal world. When the two don’t contradict, as in gravity or much of astronomy, we are happy to hew to the phenomenal world’s rules – we believe the ball will bounce back into our hand. But when there is conflict, as in evolutionary theory or embryology, the mythic world must prevail. See Kennewick Man. Your comparison to hobbits is apt, except the hobbits were (I think) subsistence farmers who didn’t trade much outside the Shire. A small, but important, sample of our hobbits is their attachment to industries that once were grand and important, but which have shriveled. Now they want the rest of us to pay for those industries to remain what they once were. And their mythic/social attachment to their bosses (“he’s just like me! Richer, but he still loves BBQ and goes to church!”) means that it must be true that, if the hobbit is doing badly, it can’t be their boss’s fault. After all, he’s one of them! See Tyson Chicken hiring spanish-speakers at lower wages. It must be someone else’s fault, so the hobbits blame the spanish-speakers.

  2. Hobbits weren’t afraid of other races. They were fascinated by them and wanted to learn as much about them as they could. They loved what they didn’t understand.

    • Is that true? I thought they had decidedly mixed feelings about Gandalf and also Bilbo when he came back from his adventure. Some thought Bilbo was okay cause he was rich, but others felt he was not entirely trustworthy cause he had been outside the shire and been hanging around with weird people. Frodo was special in that he liked that, but I don’t think it was the majority view.

      • That ambiguitry is precisely it. His Took side loved the weirdness. His Baggins side wanted the hearth. Bilbo and Frodo were of mixed families who felt tension between the familiar and the adventurous. And that’s the sense of “Hobbit” that we get.

  3. To Craig and ELK – I read LOTR when I was about 7, in 1963 or 4, and every summer after that for 6 more years; then not until a couple of years ago when I listened to the audiobook. It struck my how profoundly racist the whole world-view seems – Orcs can be killed with impunity, and it’s a wonderful thing when they are. Elves must live forever, and when they die, we all cry. Yes, even the Orcs have a trace of “humanity”, if you like. But the idea of a nice, bourgeois Orc, sitting and reading, then puttering in their garden, is alien to this world (for comparison, look at Jim Woodring’s Manhog, an Orc-like figure, but more sympathetic, capable of growth and change).

    • You’d think, but what if the Orcs were genuinely engineered – what if you can make a sociopath, with some neuroscience? What if you can dial up aggression with some genetic manipulation? A genuine weaponised race?

      Granted I don’t think the book was about that – it was about the thrill of vying with an intelligent opponent in a high stakes game (life and death), with no of the moral issues to get in the way of that high stakes chess game. And about a million first person shooters latter, that’s still attractive. Legolas and Gimli seeing who’s got the higher kill streak. Which is never reflected on in the books as being precisely how the Orcs would think as well, making their own counts and vying with each other.

  4. Interesting integration method, Eric.

    But what are words? Do you think that maybe if we shared resources with folk (and maybe they with us), that would integrate us with them more? Perhaps it would, but we’re in a system who’s rules make the optimal decisions in our life be ones to share resources with only our family or with no one else at all. And so remain divided. Want some rhubarb?

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