“… for you seem ever to think only of its power in the hands of the Enemy: of its evil uses not of its good. The world is changing, you say. Minas Tirith will fail, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?”
“Were you not at the council?” answered Frodo. “Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.”
Boromir got up and walked about impatiently. “So you go on,” he cried. “Gandalf, Elrond — all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves, they may be right. These elves and half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid. But each to his own kind. True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years o trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!”
Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly. Almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise. Suddenly he stopped and waved his arms.
“And they tell us to throw it away!” he cried. “I do not say destroy it. That might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not. The only plan that is proposed to us is that a halfling should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly!”
I’m working through Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, and as I read this particular portion, I began to get an eerie feeling of deja vu, as if I’d heard this kind of talk before. In such fine early 20-century British vernacular? No. But the principles behind the concept ring loudly in my ear as I listen.
The story of the Lord of the Rings revolves around a complete nobody having the internal fortitude to save the world from the power hungry. Based upon the power of a magical ring, an evil wizard known as Sauron once struck out on world conquest some several thousand years before and has recollected himself from where he had been scattered to gather his forces once more to conquer the known world. The ring gave him a power over the minds and wills of his followers, but he was still defeated.
What kind of power might this ring possess?
The power is mostly nothing more than iconic. It stands as a simple, rather immutable and largely indestructable symbol of power, itself, yet possess no greater power than the ability to push its wearer to bear it back to its creator, or to mutate its weak bearer to a primordial state, warped and mentally wrapped around worshipping it.
But how does this translate to today’s political environment? The only rings we wear today are wedding rings, school rings, and for the few remaining monarchies and high clergy, some fancy old stones.
In order to understand what the real power of the One Ring is, let’s look at the real power of any symbol is — the promise of something people aren’t providing themselves individually. While that might sound noble, let’s look at the single greatest calling card of such power has and ever shall be: War.
War has been man’s greatest gathering call, regardless of whether it was for a good cause or not. When the drums of war begin to beat, humanity goes nuts. The opportunity for some men to legally kill other men somehow boils the blood and incites passions, ever ignoring that it’s entirely counterproductive, expensive, and more often than not, accomplishes nothing more than the loss of our sons and bereavement of our daughters.
Is war sometimes necessary? Yes. I’m not saying WWII had no value. At the same time, both FDR and many members of our congress were recorded as to insulting, boxing in and isolating our Japanese neighbors in order to provoke their attack upon Pearl Harbor, not including evidence that he helped provoke war in Europe, too. Was he responsible for the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? No. But entering the war in the manner we did might have killed more people than was necessary to accomplish the goal. While there is no equal to the positive result of ending the attempted Jewish genocide, we can never definitively say it was the only way to accomplish positive results, or the best.
Let’s step beyond war. Let’s look at the root of the Ring’s symbology. It’s power. Men are attracted to power. They love and worship it. The Ring has very little to do with magic and almost entirely to do with man’s lust for power. To do what? It doesn’t matter. Having the “power” means you can do whatever you want, and the corruption that follows usually has only the limits the power cannot now overcome and will grow until those limits are destroyed.
The Ring of Power is now the “power of government.” I argue with intelligent people weekly who tell me all the good the “power of government” can accomplish. They speak of helping the poor, ending slavery and saving people around the world by promoting and preserving democracy. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat or Republican, they speak of the good government does. They’re right. The government has accomplished good.
As you could see above, Boromir spoke of the good the Ring could do. In the backstory, the great king Isildur initially planned the ring for good. Its unifying power could draw men together to accomplish great and positive things. But eventually it corrupted him and left him dead. Only by luck was the power lost and peace returned to the land.
Boromir, himself, was overcome with powerlust. Even for his great hope of merely using the Ring to strengthen his own nation and find glory in the hands of honest and pure-hearted men, it was a sure hollow hope, because such power corrupts. It is not the wearing of the Ring or the existence of its symbology, but the power it entails that draws even honest men to its corrupting influence.
Today, men on both sides of the aisle demand more power for themselves. They demand a “One Ring,” in order to draw men of their own politick to their grand cause and to march on … Well, we’ve all heard of the War on Poverty, War on Drugs … you name it, someone out there wants to make a war of it. Why? Like I said earlier, what has a more powerful influence on the gathering of men than the concept of “war?”
Do you know why the shire was a beautiful place? It wasn’t because the hobbits took care of each other by force, but because they had built a community and culture of hard work, self reliance AND generosity. They chose a good spot to live and built their lives there. Sure, there were external factors to their peace. The large influence of Minas Tirith to their east working as a buffer contributed. But as you see later in the story, the hobbits are not above their own protection and, like Frodo and Sam, prove well adept at rousing their own defense, later in the story. (Don’t rely on the movie on this point.)
So what’s the point? Why make the illustration?
I’m pointing out that the worship of power, while nominally unifying and glorious, always leads to corruption and destruction. Our government freed the slaves through the War Between the States, but that would inevitably have occurred somewhere in the next 50-100 years. Industrialization would have made slavery so expensive and politically incorrect that, like Britain, slavery would have ended peacefully. Instead, we suffered the costliest war in American history to accomplish something that would likely have ended less than 50 years later and with a far less cost of human life.
Today Britain experiences far less racism between blacks and whites than in America, and for good reason, people were treated as capable human beings, not as children to be helped along. America’s attempts to forcibly re-equalize race relations developed unintended consequences, perpetuating race issues and destroying the quality of the family in black culture, creating a dependency in the welfare state.
Centralizing power, itself, is the danger. It doesn’t matter whether you want it for good by preventing poverty or freeing slaves, or that you want to conquer your hemisphere and possibly the world, centralizing power draws the easily corruptible to use it for their own means. Having a “Ring of Power” can only and will inevitably lead to death. Even using it to help the poor and needy will bring far more hurt than help.
Instead, thinking about destroying that centralization of power. Destroy the Ring in the place form which it was forged — the love of centralized power. People often misconstrue the Biblical sentiment as the root of all evil is money, which is false. It is the LOVE of money that is the root of evil. It is no different than centralizing power. When you begin to look with love and awe upon the capabilities of centralizing power, you place yourself in danger of wanting to abuse it. Instead, centralize power only as absolutely necessary — provide for common defense and to arbitrate international disputes.
Decentralizing power is the key to long-term prosperity. It will actually make life rather boring in the grand global scheme of things, but life is what YOU make it, not the government makes it. Make your life something awesome, maximize your skills and experience everything you can. But don’t make the mistake that centralizing power is worth its inevitable costs. And there will be costs.
There always are.