As I've been rereading Lord of the Rings (for the third or fourth time) I've become aware of how deeply conservative it is. (Perhaps this is because I have myself become less conservative.)
The most telling characteristic is the pervasive sense of hierarchy. Most people seem to know their place, even the bad guys - though for them it's a more servile awareness. Women play almost no role in the books. The chief exception, of course, is Galadriel. Arwen, who plays a larger role in the movies, more or less stays home - literally - sewing. Examples could be multiplied but I don't think it's necessary.
To my mind, its more distinctly conservative feature is its sense of loss and the diminishing course of history. Everywhere the travelers find signs of a lost, nobler age. Those with the greatest knowledge of the past - the elves - are the characters that elicit (in me, anyway) a sense of pathos or, more accurately, sehnsucht. They're painfully beautiful, especially because they know their time is passing away. The happiest of Middle Earth's folk are the hobbits, who have very little knowledge of history or the goings-on of the world around them. The wise are those who know that theirs is a lesser age.
This is encapsulated perfectly in Galadriel's idea of "the long defeat". The battle against evil is not a straightforward story of mounting victories. The number of defeats is large, perhaps larger than the number of victories. And even those victories are not complete. Evil is never fully defeated. The great battle between Sauron and the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, which looms large in the background of the story, isn't decisive. Sauron's spirit lives on and Isildur, who takes the One Ring, is overcome by temptation and refuses to destroy it. For those who fight the long defeat, battles must be fought without expectation of victory. It's not hard to make the connection to the conservative side of the culture wars.
All of this resonates with cultural and "temperamental" conservatives. Maybe not so much for mainstream conservatives, tied as they are to the fortunes of electoral politics. I suspect those types are less truly conservative than the cultural or temperamental conservatives anyway. Tolkien's conservatism is not that of the Tea Party or the neoconservatives. It's much more akin to the conservatism of Wendell Berry, who once said that he is one who mourns for what is lost. It's a tragic conservatism. I don't much admire the rigid hierarchy of Tolkien's work, but there remains in it what Lewis described as "beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart."
- ▼ October (5)