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Thu Nov 1, 2018, 07:19 AM

The Saruman Trap

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/what-lord-rings-says-about-never-trump-conservatives/574138/

An interesting allegory and warning to those few remaining intellectual conservatives bowing to drumpf.




The Saruman Trap
Eliot A. Cohen, Professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University

Conservatives in distress turn to ancient texts. In the current circumstance, those of us of a Hebraic cast reach for the prophet Isaiah in his darker moods, or the even fiercer denunciations of Amos. Devout Christians despairing of a society in full malodorous rot look to The Rule of St. Benedict. The classicists may pick up a volume of Seneca, sighing wistfully as they contemplate the philosopher’s fate at the hands of his mad pupil, the Emperor Nero, who, unlike President Trump, at least played a musical instrument competently. A more twisted few will reach for Machiavelli. For those undergoing real tests of the soul, however, the place to go is J. R. R. Tolkien’s modern epic, The Lord of the Rings.

(snip)

And that is where Tolkien comes in. His master work—the six books in three volumes, not the movies with their unfortunate elisions, occasional campiness and spectacular computer-generated images—addresses many themes relevant to our age, not least of which is that temptation.

At the beginning of Book II, elves, men, and dwarfs have gathered at Rivendell, home of Lord Elrond. There they debate what to do about the ring of the Dark Lord, Sauron, which has by a curious chance fallen into the possession of the hobbit Frodo. Towards the end of their deliberations they hear a report from Gandalf, the wizard who had befriended Frodo, and who had been taken prisoner by Saruman, the most senior wizard of his order and escaped. Saruman had learned that the Ring had fallen into the possession of the hobbit, and he wanted Gandalf to help him get it. Gandalf reports Saruman’s pitch as follows.

A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you, before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.


Gandalf does not fall into the Saruman trap. He knows, for one thing, that only one hand at a time can wield the ring, but more importantly he knows—for Frodo has already offered the Ring to him—that the temptation to do good would get the better of him. It would start well and end ill, because the power of the Ring is corrupt.

(snip)

The temptation of intellectuals is often this, the urge to influence the mighty because they lack the skills or the lineage or the luck to rule themselves. At the moment, despite all the investigations and scandals, the stumbles and desertions, Trump and the political party that has succumbed to his bullying and his appeal, looks like power, at least if you are a conservative thinker. And after several generations of conservative intellectuals coming to think that their job is to shape policy rather than simply articulate truth and outline the consequences of decisions or actions, a future of permanent exile from influence looks unacceptably bleak.

The stakes are not nearly as high for conservative thinkers as they were for the inhabitants of Middle Earth, but the basic idea is worth pondering. Some of them wish to walk back their condemnation of Trump, the animosities that he magnifies and upon which he feeds, the prejudices upon which he plays and the norms he delightedly subverts. They do so not because their original judgments have been proven unjust—far from it—but because, weary of unyielding opposition, they would like to shape things, or at least to hold communion with those who are in the room where the deals are done. But as Gandalf and Galadriel could teach them, the height of wisdom is to fear their own drive for power, to fight the fight in a darkening world even if it looks likely to end in failure, and above all, to choose to remain their better selves.


Or, in fewer words, take heed conservatives, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the price for that corruption shall be high, not mere exile but out right extinction.

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 08:44 AM

1. K&R...excellent read

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 09:10 AM

2. K&R!

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 09:20 AM

3. Kick.

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 09:39 AM

4. Kick

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 09:45 AM

5. Interesting allegory...

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 09:56 AM

6. Hubris is one of Tolkiens's themes.

Tolkien shows the dangers of hubris throughout his books. It is absolutely relevant to our time.

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Response to yardwork (Reply #6)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 10:06 AM

8. Theme of much great literature including Greek mythology and the bible. . . . nt

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 10:05 AM

7. The Devil took the Evangelicals to mountaintop and offered them Dominion if they backed tRump


They took the bait.

They fell into the Devil's trap.


(I'm not religious, but metaphor is metaphor.)

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Response to Bernardo de La Paz (Reply #7)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 10:16 AM

10. They will suffer for it

The end of this story is inescapable.

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 10:15 AM

9. It's important to remember that Middle Earth represented England in WWII

The evil empire was a representation of Nazi Germany. The good shire folk took a pounding, but courage and unflagging values made sure they prevailed. There are some ugly, painful times ahead. We haven't seen anything yet, but the light always overcomes the darkness. We must dedicate ourselves to keeping it alive.

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Response to The Blue Flower (Reply #9)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 11:55 AM

11. More likely influenced by his early experiences around WWI, but in regards to allegories to...

...Nazi Germany, I would disagree with that assertion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien%27s_influences

Contemporary warfare
The Lord of the Rings was crucially influenced by Tolkien's experiences during World War I and his son's during World War II.

After the publication of The Lord of the Rings these influences led to speculation that the One Ring was an allegory for the nuclear bomb. Tolkien, however, repeatedly insisted that his works were not an allegory of any kind. He states in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one. Instead he preferred what he termed "applicability", the freedom of the reader to interpret the work in the light of his or her own life and times. Tolkien had already completed most of the book, including the ending in its entirety, before the first nuclear bombs were made known to the world at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.


Emphasis added.

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Response to NeoGreen (Reply #11)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 12:39 PM

13. Yes. His formative years as a young man were the trench warfare of WWI...

He became an Oxford Don over time, so he had plenty of experience with intellectuals and their temptations. The author of the Atlantic essay, Prof. Cohen, surely does as well -- I wonder at what age he first read LOTR?

I like it that Tolkein did not like allegories, but preferred "applicability." The books will go on living long after mere allegories go stale.

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Response to NeoGreen (Reply #11)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 12:39 PM

14. Tolkien's first writings on Middle Earth (before The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) ...

… were written and re-written years earlier. Tolkien's son later compiled them into a fairly coherent history of Middle Earth in The Silmarillion. This work spans many thousands of years from the creation up to the time of the Lord of the Ring series.

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 12:27 PM

12. An excellent read. As an aside, I reread LOTR over the summer. That passage still gives me chills...

It is true for all time: a trap set for intellectuals.

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Response to NeoGreen (Original post)

Thu Nov 1, 2018, 08:39 PM

15. I disagree only in that the stakes are higher than they were for Saruman.

Middle Earth is fiction. In this reality the human species faces annhiliation, extinction, The End, period, cockroaches survive. Not even the orcs would get by.

Great bit of writing.

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