Conservatives are fond of invoking the Ring of Power from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a symbol of government power. It’s easy to see the attraction that metaphor holds for them. Having raised individual liberty and limited government to cardinal virtues, a talisman of ultimate control fits their image of the shadowy, vaguely superhuman bureaucracy in Washington.
In Tolkien’s masterpiece, the plot was a type of anti-quest wherein the heroes had to overcome long odds--not to recover some powerful artifact, but to destroy it. Meanwhile, a Dark Lord seeking world domination was after the same prize. The spoils were winner take all with no silver medal for second place. Those conditions set a nuclear doomsday clock-sized timer that kept the tension high.
Conservatives’ penchant for equating the One Ring with government explains itself when you consider that it lets them cast themselves as the underdog Fellowship striving to destroy the source of tyranny--or in their case, return America to Constitutional government. It’s a highly flattering image.
There are a couple of problems with that allegory, though. First of all, the Fellowship’s goal wasn’t placing checks on the Ring. They were out to destroy it, specifically because its power was illimitable. Following the analogy to its logical conclusion, Conservatives actually propose something more along the lines of Frodo’s original idea: managing the Ring by keeping it out of the wrong hands. Due to its corrupting influence, that also meant refusing to use it himself.
Tolkien staunchly resisted attempts to frame Lord of the Rings as an allegory, and here we have a good reason why. Plugging “government” into the story for all values of the Ring results in something more like anarchism. The story itself contradicts this reading, since one of the good guys’ victory conditions is crowning a new king. Tolkien’s opus can more readily be seen as two groups of monarchists slugging it out with a small faction of distributists deciding which monarchy wins.
The other issue is that it’s far too late to destroy the Ring. Proposing a return to the Constitution is closing the barn door after the horses have not only left, but have been shipped to China for stew meat.
Here’s Conservative commentator Bill Whittle declaring that the Enemy already had the Ring way back in 2012:
If a normiecon like Whittle considered Obama-era shenanigans a Game Over scenario, we have to see runaway tech censorship, the jailing of political prisoners, and police snipers enforcing the corruption of children as the Eye of Sauron triumphant.
The Conservative project might’ve had merit while there was still a chance of bringing the state to heel through grassroots organizing and voting in the right people. Now, by their own measure, Conservatives are about as relevant as the Whigs. The folks running establishment Conservatism know this. That’s why their operation has shifted toward milking Boomers for cruise money while pushing butt stuff on college kids.
Point this out to Conservatives, and they’ll often quote from Lewis’ Abolition of Man or Tolkien’s line about fighting the long defeat. That attitude makes sense coming from British men of letters who held a vestigial fondness for pagan stoicism and who’d seen the two apocalyptic 20th century wars. One wonders what they’d say if they saw that England will be minority English by next century and heard that the state can rip children from their fathers’ arms for summary castration.
Tolkien never showed us what would happen if Sauron won. Now we’re seeing it firsthand. Clown World thwarts the Ring metaphor.
Perhaps an alternate timeline sequel to LotR would have seen a daring burglar stealing the Ring back from under the Dark Lord’s nose. 2016 actually gave Conservatives the chance to play out that scenario--to try Boromir’s way and use the Ring now that all bets are off--or else destroy it. They squandered their last chance to do both. The urge to languish on the sofa and sigh about the long defeat proved irresistible.
The swelling ranks of dissenters won’t repeat Conservatives’ mistakes. Their task is to slowly scale the mountain until they stand where Boromir did.