For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows it desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the ring we seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of his reckoning. –Gandalf, Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring
Gandalf is speaking of Sauron, the Dark Lord whose power is returning steadily. Sauron seeks the Ring of Power, which he forged ages ago, but lost. The Ring has an evil power of its own to corrupt, and bring out the worst lust for dominance. But with it comes strength. Gandalf is correct; Sauron, the creator of the most ultimate power ever seen by middle earth, views the Ring through the only lens he knows: the infinite and insurmountable desire for control over everything and everyone.
What Gandalf is saying, is that those who wield power cannot even fathom that anyone with the opportunity to freely take whatever power may be available to them, would refuse to do so. Those who want to exert their will over others through force are often too blinded by their desires to understand that others have different values and goals. Some people just want to live a happy life, knowing that others are in equal peace as well.
It would not occur to the Dark Lord that anyone who holds power, might destroy that power so that none may ever use it for evil again. Likewise it does not occur to many statists that those who seek to destroy the evil that is the state do not have ulterior motives (for instance, rising to power in the vacuum), but rather wish to destroy the power of force itself, so that none can wield it, nor the evil it brings.
Symbolism of the Ring
But what is the true symbolism behind the Ring? For what was this entire novel an analogy? Tolkien said himself it was not about World War II. It was broader than that. The lesson from Lord of the Rings applies now as it applied when it was first written, and will apply until the One Ring is destroyed, and forgotten.
The Ring is power: it is called in the text, the Ring of Power. But how can power itself be destroyed? Well the answer cannot be put into a sentence. It can hardly be put into a novel, but J.R.R. Tolkien tried to address the concept in his trilogy. He couldn’t simply say, and Frodo destroyed power so no one wielded unjust force. But symbolized by the ring, Frodo could do this. Through examining the story, points can be extracted about how to destroy a specific type of power. It is the power that Sauron created and exerted through force.
The power of force is what I am referencing. There are of course other kinds of power: economic power, the power of love, social power, the power to cure. But the power of force is the enemy to the golden rule, live and let live, do unto other as you would have them do to you; essentially the same as the non-agression principle. This type of power is always unjust to use, because it is not in response to aggression.
I am not sure if he knew it, but J.R.R. Tolkien laced his novels with strong anarchist messages. No one can wield the power of force for good. Only by destroying that power can good win over evil in the long term. The most noble and honorable characters in the books could not wield the Ring for good, and only by being guardian to its destruction did they restore peace and prosperity to the realm.
This summer I will be posting a series of essays on the classic trilogy Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Using quotes from the book, I will draw a parallel to how destroying the One Ring in the novel in order to restore peace to middle earth, compares to how abolishing the force and power used by government is the only way to achieve peace and equality in the real world.