Skip to comments.Tolkien, Hitler, and Nordic Heroism
Posted on 12/20/2001 5:45:51 AM PST by Radioheart
Tolkien, Hitler, and Nordic Heroism
By J.P. Zmirak
The makers of The Lord of the Rings could not have known how timely its release would prove coming as it does as America hunts down a terror network built on a theology of evil. continue
Tolkien, Hitler, and Nordic Heroism
By J.P. Zmirak
FrontPageMagazine.com | December 20, 2001
A SHADOWY, evil overlord hides himself amid an unmapped mountain range. There he wields absolute power over fanatics and slaves, scheming for domination over the free peoples of the world. He sends forth assassins into peaceful lands and cities, spreading terror among civilians.
A capsule history of the past six months? No, thats the plot of the movie Im going to see tonightThe Lord of the Rings. Director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, 1994) could not have known how timely its release would provecoming as it does as America hunts down a terror network built on a theology of evil, a perversion of Islam which promises eternal sensual reward for the reckless slaughter of civilians. The Lord of the Rings speaks to current events. It also touches on the most important themes of Western civilizationfreedom, faith, and what it means to be a hero.
The Birth of Middle Earth
As a teenager, J.R.R. Tolkien neglected his Latin and Greek to study Norse. And Finnish. And Anglo-Saxon. Tolkien thrilled at studying medieval eddas and sagas, and mastering dusty grammars to decode half-forgotten tales. At Oxford, he made himself the universitys expert in Nordic literature, and won a prestigious chair which hed hold for the next four decades.
What attracted Tolkien to these tales was their unique, heroic ethos. Written down by recently Christianized barbarians, stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight intertwined the old, pagan values of individualism, courage and promise-keeping with Biblical themes of self-sacrifice, defense of the helpless, and piety towards the One God. Thus were the warriors of the North civilized, and urged to restrain their swords by the codes of Hebrew prophets and Christian theologians. The grandsons of the Viking raiders began to bind themselves to the Ten Commandments and Augustines "just war" theory.
Tolkien saw in this literature a great, unsung moment in the birth of the West. Like the Baron de Montesquieu, Tolkien saw as specifically "Nordic" the individualism and hatred for tyranny that pervades these sagas, which set medieval and modern man apart from the obedient subjects of Rome and Byzantium. (See David Gress From Plato to NATO for more on this fascinating connection.)
This freemans spirit survived for centuries in the stubborn cantons of Switzerland, the "free cities" of the Holy Roman Empire, and the gentry of England; the privileges won by Anglo-Saxons from their kings formed the basis of English Common Law, and its great modern descendantthe U.S. Bill of Rights. (See Wilhelm Röpkes The Social Crisis of Our Time and Russell Kirks The Roots of American Order for documentation and analysis.)
The work of Tolkiens close friend C.S. Lewis also refers to "the North" as the source of individualism and resistance to unjust authority; in The Chronicles of Narnia, his heroes battle cry is "for Narnia and the North." In Narnia, as in The Lord of the Rings, the heroes were based on medieval, Northern European knights, who fought for free societies based on tradition, custom, and courageagainst slave armies recruited from southern climes, who carried scimitars, lived in the desert, and cringed before Oriental despots. (Of course, that brings us back to current events...)
The Modern Barbarians
It is ironic that even as Tolkien wrote to immortalize the great synthesis of Northern heroism with Biblical morality, modern barbarians labored to reverse it. The proto-Nazi "Völkisch" movement, born in the blood and humiliation of Napoleons conquest of Germany, had for a century agitated against Judaeo-Christian "softness," in favor of pagan ruthlessness. (Peter Vierecks Metapolitics [Capricorn, 1961] traces this re-barbarization of German thought in the 19th century.) Völkisch boosters of Nordic literature ignored its heroic individualism in favor of its residues of pagan tribalism, "deconstructing" the Judaeo-Christian elements as "inauthentic" overlays on the "pure" originals. The artistic pinnacle of this project appeared in Wagners grand operas, based on "pure" pagan sources. Its political apogee came with the victory of a Völkish-socialist demagogue in Germany.
While Adolf Hitler was careful at first to conceal his neo-pagan agenda, his followers were not: Heinrich Himmler created the SS explicitly as a pagan parody of the Society of Jesus, conducted extensive research attempting to rehabilitate medieval witchcraft, and held torchlit liturgies to Odin and other Norse gods. Hitlers ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg, issued tracts denouncing the Gospels. Josef Goebbels aspired to wipe out "after the last Jew, the last priest." Hitlers ally, General Erich Ludendorff, called for the abolition of Christianity in Germany. By 1936, Hitler was suppressing Catholic trade unions, movements and schools, and forming amongst Protestants a militaristic "German Christian" church that would sanction the regimes savage anti-Semitism. Hitler opined to Albert Speer that he wished Germany had been converted to Islam instead of Christianity, the better to suit it to ruthless warfare.
Fighting for the True North
As a fervent Catholic, a veteran of the Somme, and a genuine scholar of Nordic cultures, Tolkien was not blind to these events. In 1938, Tolkien denounced the Nazis "wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine." When German publishers Rütten and Loening wished to translate The Hobbit from English, they wrote him, inquiring whether his name was of "Aryan" origin. Tolkiens reply dripped scorn:
I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is, Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.
As he would write his son, Michael, in 1941 (then a cadet training for the British army):
...I have in this War a burning private grudgewhich would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble, northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light. Nowhere, incidentally, was it nobler than in England, nor ever more early sanctified and Christianized.
We see in Tolkiens life, opinions, and work an enduring rebuff to the totalitarian evils of his century. The moral key to The Lord of the Rings is the refusal of ruthlessness and the immutability of the moral law. The Ring is a mighty weapon of warbut profoundly tinged with evil. The Ring may not be used, even against the Dark Lord himself, lest its user be corrupted and become what he hates. Some means are so evil that no end can justify them. Some laws are so sacred that we must willingly die rather than violate them. We may never target the innocent in order to weaken the guilty. These lessons, which Tolkien drew from the Christian, heroic sagas of the North, should linger in our minds and restrain our passionsespecially in time of war.
J.P. Zmirak is author of Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, a study of the free-market economist who was architect of the post-war German economic "miracle."
That Tolkien was a fantastic writer shows through in this phrase. In three words, he manages to create a wonder and appropriate word image of Hitler...
For months, a couple friends of mine at the bookstore have been discussing the Lord of the Rings along these lines. I figured it was just a matter of time before someone mainstream clicked on the idea.
What bothers me is the idea some nation that slaughters innocent human life as a matter of Economics and National Defense and whose president very clearly has stated that all men are NOT created equal but, rather, some are manufactured in EXCESS of NEED and are suitable for research and profiteering before being trashed ... it bothers me that this nation presumes to posit itself as somehow "moral" or "Christian".
That's as radical, IMHO, as Hitler's revamp of the Nordic gods to fit the mores of his own fascist regime.
First and Second Things by C.S. Lewis (written during the war)
And this excerpt from Thomas Molnar's Utopia: The Perennial Heresy (which I'll quote in its entirety):
Mankind's attempts at total, utopian integration will manage to move forward only on that day when artificial sentiments support artificial objectives, when natural sentiments are torn out by the roots and replaced by false feelings and aspirations.
The utopian assumes that the vistas he exposes to mankind are so glorious that we can show adequate tribute only in a permanent state of enthusiasm.
Although enthusiasm usually manifests itself in loudly voiced approval, it is, basically, a constant affirmation of unity and pledge of participation.16
Yet, as Lord Percy of Newcastle notes in The Heresy of Democracy, the hectic search for unity must entail mob violence and legalized terror; it lies in the more fundamental fact that a people, thus summoned to demonstrate its unity as the precondition of its liberty, much regard enthusiasm as the first duty of citizenship.
16 -- Typical examples of such enthusiasm are to be found in the Chinese letters and reviews noted above. In them, the more than a century-old description of Fourrier's Phalansters becomes a gruesome reality.
We could see in the early dawn about thirty industrious groups leaving, in parade formation, the Palace of the Phalanster. They were dispersing in the fields and workshops, waving their flags with shouts of triumph and impatience.Quoted by Raymond Ruyer, L'Utopie et les Utopies, Presses Universitaires de France, 1950, p. 220.
Ooooh! The Bush cheerleaders explained.
The Nordic and Germanic tribes had many noble and heroic virtues. So did the ancient Romans and the Greeks of Homer's day and the ancient peoples of the Bible. So, one supposes, did the Masai, the Bedouin, the Dakota.
What made the Germanic world significant was that it was young when the Mediterranean world was quite old. They were able to come into that Classical and Christian inheritance and make good use of it. And the German barbarians of that day also gave other countries, France, Spain, Italy, England, new foundations.
Unfortunately, this important role went to the heads of later Germans and made them think that they were greater than the civilization that they had served -- even to the point of thinking their race an end in themselves, above man, nature and God.
There is a greatness in the old Nordic myths, but also a chill. In themselves, they may not be any more brutal or violent or militaristic than Homer, but it's hard to dissasociate them from the use that was made of them in recent history.
One thing that makes Tolkien significant is he combined an enthusiasm for Northern myths with a faith in Christianity, and indeed Catholicism. Belloc and others in his Catholic camp loved France and hated Germany and the North for their association with Protestantism and, still more, with paganism.
Anyway, the article makes me curious as to what -- if anything -- Tolkien wanted to his books and his work to "do." Of course, they don't have to "do" anything other than to be a good read, but with such a background in myth and scholarship, Tolkien must have had something up his sleeve.
Not necessarily. I'll see if I can get one of the guys at the bookstore to let me record him holding forth on Tolkein's distaste for Lewis's allegory.
I saw the film last night and enjoyed it. Well done. It was not completely faithful to the book, but no movie is. There was some blending of events and characters, as well as some embellishments to flesh out lesser characters. But, that's okay. To be faithful to the books, each film would probably have to be 5 or 6 hours long.
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