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.