Peace Requires Anarchy

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien


From a letter to Christopher Tolkien [from his father J.R.R. Tolkien] 29 November 1943

[In the summer of 1943, Christopher, then aged eighteen, was called up into the Royal Air Force. When this letter was written, he was at a training camp in Manchester.]

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973)

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973)

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. 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. And at least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The mediævals were only too right in taking nolo efiscopari 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 into Xerxes’ hands, and all ant-communities, that decent folk don’t seem to have a chance. We are all trying to do the Alexander-touch – and, as history teaches, that orientalized Alexander and all his generals. The poor boob fancied (or liked people to fancy) he was the son of Dionysus, and died of drink. The Greece that was worth saving from Persia perished anyway; and became a kind of Vichy-Hellas, or Fighting-Hellas (which did not fight), talking about Hellenic honour and culture and thriving on the sale of the early equivalent of dirty postcards. 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 and 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.

Tolkien’s Cover Designs for the First Edition of The Lord of the Rings

Well, cheers and all that to you dearest son. We were born in a dark age out of due time (for us). 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 Ores, with winged words, hildenǣddran (war-adders), biting darts – but make sure of the mark, before shooting.

Source: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien [PDF], p. 74

For further reading on J.R.R. Tolkien’s political views and the messages concerning political power present in his novel The Lord of the Rings, I recommend Alberto Mingardi’s short article Tolkien v. Power. I also recommend Jeff Riggenbach’s 17-minute podcast J.R.R. Tolkien as Libertarian.


Author: PeaceRequiresAnarchy

“A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” – Roderick T. Long

18 thoughts on “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs).” – J.R.R. Tolkien

    “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.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

    “We were born in a dark age out of due time (for us). 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.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

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  3. Remarkable. At the very hour he was penning these thoughts, his State was in a life and death contest with the Nazi State. The British people would never have survived, if not for the force multiplying effects of their state. He seems to have been as ignorant of this as fish are ignorant of water. Remarkable…

  4. I’d say it’s remarkable that when you look at history and see these State death machines clashing in a war that left several million people dead, you somehow conclude that it’s a good idea to keep States around.

    “The British people would never have survived, if not for the force multiplying effects of their state.”

    There are a few problems with this claim. First, you should recall that the British State declared war on the German State after the German State ignored the British State’s warning not to invade Poland. If Britain had been an anarchy then this wouldn’t have happened and many people in Britain may never have become involved in the war. It was the British State’s decision to declare war on the German State that put people in Britain at high risk. So you shouldn’t pretend like the British State saved the British people since it was the British State’s fault (and the German State’s fault of course) that the British were put in danger. If either Britain or Germany or both had lacked States the British people would have been better off.

    Second, you falsely assume that people in an anarchy would be incapable of providing defense against invasion from a foreign State. You falsely assume that the only way to effectively provide national defense is with the “force multiplying effects” (whatever they are) of a State. There is a large amount of literature on this subject, beginning with Gustave de Molinari’s 1849 essay “The Production of Security“. If you are interested in learning about the subject, a few resources I would recommend include Robert Murphy’s essay “Chaos Theory: Private Defense” and Jeffrey Hummel’s lecture “How an Anarchist Society Would Provide National Defense: The Solution to Libertarianism’s Hardest Problem“. I also recommend Murray Rothbard’s discussion of “national defense” beginning on page 295 of his book “For a New Liberty” [PDF].

  5. Churchill, Hitler. Same difference.

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  10. It shows the grating naivety of those that would dismantle the state and give rise to privatized force and warlords. There will always be agressors, to pretend this disappears with the state is just foolish.

  11. Nobody I know who favors abolishing the state (including myself) believes that aggressors would disappear with the state.

  12. This is primarily a reply to the comment left by “Realist” above.

    I believe that you are suggesting anarchism is primarily about rejecting the legitimacy of the state. I believe that it is a tenet of anarchism. But I suggest a deeper understanding will recognize that anarchism is primarily a belief in the virtue of and desire toward realizing peaceful, non-violent coexistence.

    It is my understanding that the reason an anarchist wants to dismantle the state is because the anarchist recognizes that the state is ultimately founded on the principle of violence. And so the state must, therefore, be recognized as an aggressor. If you do not obey the law, the state uses either actual violence or the threat of violence to affect compliance. The entire concept of the state is about “legitimizing” certain acts of violence. Note that the word “legitimate” shares roots with and is synonymous with “legal” or “lawful”.

    Warlords. Think about that word for a minute. How is a warlord different from any other so-called lord, such as a monarch? Perhaps you do not believe that monarchies are “legitimate” forms of states. It does appear, however, that you may believe that at least some forms of the state are legitimate. And so the difference is that you believe “the state” to be a legitimate authority and the “warlord” to be an illegitimate authority.

    The warlord is, I contend, yet another manifestation of the concept of “the state”. The warlord, just like the monarch, wishes to impose his or her will with the use of “force” (violence). Perhaps you may also ask yourself if there is any difference between a “private force” and a warlord. I suggest that a “private force” implies the same structure as a paid mercenary army. Much like, I contend, the structure of a warlord “state”. And so you may understand a private force to be a form of state, or a state-like organization that claims it’s legitimacy under the laws of some other state’s structure. Or, perhaps, the “private force” does not claim to be a part of some other hierarchy. In this case, it is in effect exactly like a warlord’s regime.

    A monarchy is a form of state that justifies its legitimacy, it’s “lawfulness”, using religion. Whereas the warlord may be perhaps more honest and not bother justifying authority, but rather directly say, “Do what I say, or else I will use violent means to induce your compliance!”. The monarch claims divine authority to rule either directly, or indirectly through an organized religion which “sanctifies” (makes sacred) the monarch’s authority. If you subscribe to the particular tenets of the invoked religious authority, then you accept the monarch as legitimate. If you do not accept these tenets, whether or not you accept other tenets of the same religion, then you likely do not accept the monarch as legitimate.

    So it is perhaps easy to see that a warlord is much like any other “bully”. In truth, any state is basically a form of “the bully”. The primary differences among them are the amount of obfuscation of this reality through various forms of “justification”. I would suggest that you may have no problem with wishing to dismantle the warlord. Would you not wish to defend yourself against any aggressor? I believe the anarchist feels the same way. Only the anarchist realizes that the concept of the state is nothing more than an obfuscation, and sees through to the fact that the state is the bully. This obfuscation may work on some people, such as yourself. And so you don’t see the state as the bully. You buy into the “bull-shit” (pun intended), on some level. The anarchist, however, sees through the lie and recognizes the truth of the bully.

    Perhaps your idea of a “legitimate” state would be a democracy or a republic. Realize that the word “democracy” has been twisted by modern usage. What it really means is “mob rule”, and is properly seen as something dangerous. Especially when instituted as a form of state. A lynch mob is a form of democracy that you may easily understand as dangerous. When people speak of democracies these days, they usually have the idea of a republic in mind. Or a so-called “parliamentary democracy”.

    I believe that a republic is an attempt at a compromise between anarchy and despotism. Many fear anarchy because they presume that the anarchist population will turn into democracies of the lynch-mob persuasion. And so this fear, for them, legitimizes the use of the state and it’s violence as a check against the perceived chaos of an anarchist society. The people will be able to participate in the apparatus of their state, giving it “legitimacy”. But you may know all too well how politics can really work even in a republic. Groups of people and individuals will still manage to find ways to get unpopular and even harmful laws passed which favor one group over another … usually a certain few at the expense of many. Given the apparatus of the state that a republic gives these people, you once again find bullies exercising coercive power “under law”, backed by the threat of state violence. An anarchist realizes that even a republic, perhaps a much preferred form of state if you are forced to have one, is illegitimate because it once again, in the end, depends on the use of violence.

    Furthermore, there is nothing in anarchism that suggests people cannot organize themselves, including organizing in order to depose bullies large and small, or to otherwise defend themselves. Organization does not demand hierarchy, though it may take on forms which resemble hierarchies. Many anarchists will reject violence, even in self-defense. More commonly you will find people who identify themselves as anarchists who will find legitimacy in using violence to protect oneself or another, if necessary. But only then. Beyond this, the anarchist becomes the aggressor.

    This ability to see through the lie of “the state” is where the anti-state sentiment of the anarchist comes from. But don’t mistake the anarchist as simply an anti-statist. Of course there will be “lesser” aggressors that attempt to rise in the vacuum left by a deposed “greater” aggressor. And then those must be deposed. The state is, basically, the largest bully on the block. But the aim of anarchism is not to simply tame one bully, but to tame them all. Anarchism is perhaps not so much anti “state” as it is anti “aggression”. Once you see that the state is synonymous with the aggressor, it is a bit easier for you to understand. You may even realize that you are, in your heart of hearts, an anarchist yourself! It was only your prejudices supported by labels that kept you from knowing.

    Without the threat of violence, you could have an anarchist society that functions much as an idealized republic does. But no one can legitimately force their will. You would have to depend on voluntary compliance. Consensus. In other words, you would have to work toward peaceful coexistence. In an anarchist society, you can persuade people, but you cannot coerce them. Approaching each other with fairness and mutual respect would be the only way you could effectively do this. Anarchism is founded on, and promotes peaceful coexistence. Peace needs anarchy.

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