Tolkien, Xenophobia, and the New World Order

Last year, Rick Santorum made our list of the worst people of 2006 for, among other nefarious deeds, using imagery from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a half-assed metaphor supporting the Iraq war. Apparently, Santorum’s literary criticism has sparked a whole new approach in conservative thinking.

The new issue of Harper’s Magazine contains a section from James P. Pinkerton’s essay, “The Once and Future Christendom” (click the link to read it in full at its original publication site, The American Conservative). In this essay (which, incidentally, I highly recommend reading for a larf), Pinkerton argues that, with its declining birthrates, “Old Europe” will become Muslimized, and hence a threat to the US. Pinkerton suggests that this Muslimization is akin to Sauron and his evil horde in the land of Mordor using the Ring of Power to unite all the creatures of Middle Earth as slaves to his dark power. Not one to point out a problem and offer no solution, Pinkerton recommends that, in order to “save” Western civilization, “poor children from such countries as Argentina [be brought] home to Europe.”

In Pinkerton’s analogy, Americans are like Hobbits–simple folk who “like to smoke and drink,” but on whom “all grander forms of world-girdling intoxication are lost.” “The Hobbits just want their Shire to return to normalcy,” writes Pinkerton. For Pinkerton, “normalcy” clearly means the Hibernian/Nordic values embodied by the Hobbits, an ideology starkly contrasted in Toklien’s Middle Earth with the bestial, murderous existence of the black-skinned orcs and the savage, dark-skinned Southrons. Although I love The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit, I was somewhat bothered in my post-college reading of the books by their clearly xenophobic values. Pinkerton takes these values and suggests that a whole new foreign policy be created from them: “Tolkien offers a different sort of diversity–of genuine difference, with no pretense of similarity, let alone universal equality. In his world, it is perfectly natural that all creatures great and small–the Hobbits are indeed small, around three feet high–have their own place in the chain of being.” You’ve got to love any ideology that values the great chain of being.

The part of Pinkerton’s essay that bothers me the most–and I enjoyed it tremendously, as an application of literary criticism, I must admit–is that he’s dead serious. He’s not joking. He’s for real. Furthermore, taken in conjunction with Santorum’s comments, and everything the neo-cons have achieved over the past eight years, it’s more evident than ever that the modern conservative movement in America is quite willing to use a fantasy novel published in the 1950s as a basis for not just foreign policy, but also for its ideology as to just how America is to relate to the rest of the world. And that’s not just funny, it’s also scary.