My stocking on Christmas morning contained socks, Nutella, a frying pan, odds-and-ends, and a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels. While there are many themes in Tolkien’s books I could babble about, the one that I believe is most often overlooked is anarchy and the inability of law to create good or fetter evil. I also must admit that these are themes that I touch on quite often, but I haven’t used the second best-selling novel as my soapbox before. Be warned, tharr be spoilers.
What is most important to note about Tolkien’s anarchy is that there are rules in place; they just aren’t the rules of a government. In the Shire, the only place explicitly void of an absolute ruler in Middle Earth, the rules take the shape of old laws and traditions that are not enforced but are followed because everyone enjoys the benefit they provide. In the journey of the Fellowship, anarchy exists, but it is subtly different. The Fellowship passes through regions controlled by friend and foe where they blatantly disobey the law of the land in lieu of their own ideas of what the proper rules for the situation are. Tom Bombadil was ruled by no power but his own; Gandalf disobeys the leader of the Wise when choosing his side, and Faramir doesn’t take Frodo back to Minas Tirith when the two meet near Mordor. The basis for the Fellowship’s form of anarchy is not old tradition though; it is natural law, the belief that there is an inherent right and wrong in existence and an essay in and of itself.
Tolkien never states that anarchy is be-all-end-all of social order (or lack thereof). The Shire still falls under Sauron after the fall of the Ring, a situation that could have been avoided if the hobbits had an organized military, etc., etc. And the only ingenuity to come out of the Shire was pipe smoking. With an organized marketplace, monopolies legally granted to inventors for new inventions, and an effort to capitalize on pipe weed, hobbits could have easily created a higher standard of living and even longer lives. Imagine, 140 is the new 50.
What Tolkien does promote through his portrayal of hobbits is that happiness is maximized through an anarchistic state. The hobbits are (generally) happy not to meddle and not to be meddled with. On a short tangent, in the real world there is a country, Bhutan, that uses its gross national happiness to measure its progress.
For my own personal view, I see no reason why Tolkien’s anarchy can’t work outside the pages of his novels if Mankind is given enough time and training (see The Magic School Bus). Of course, Man would desire to consume, build, and create at a speed and with a fervor that hobbits would abhor. While wanton destruction in the name of progress would end badly, there is no reason to believe that happiness is only possible in an agrarian society. All this would require is for the (very few) good and efficient practices enforced by law to become tradition and habit while the rest get weeded out.