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Old 02-04-2010, 03:57 AM   #1
Raynor
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Despots, old and new

I would say there are some perennial traits regarding any dictatorship, be it in fantasy or in real life. Disregarding for a moment the magic factor in ruling subjects, (or, equating it, if you will, with the "magic" of modern transmission of information, and with advances in the science of mass persuasion/manipulation), I would say that a lot of parallels can be seen, pointing to some of the weaknesses of the human spirit, and how easy/often they are taken advantage of:

- ruthless rulers, proclaiming "divine" guidance, while perpetrating massive acts of violence; in Ea, take Numenor towards its end; in RL, take some modern day leaders of "superpower" nations, from the Western side of the fence, and, say the Romanian Iron Legion government, or, why not, the Nazi regime itself

- subjects willing to do the bidding of such rules, almost completely convinced of the righteousness of doing so;

- extreme hypocrisy from rules in both worlds: or well, at least at the start, when they are aware they are planning to manipulate others into following them; later, they all seem to start believe their own lies of greatness and entitlement

- the mixing of theology and politics to further authoritarian agendas: Sauron definitely propagated a theology of his own; many authoritarian RL leaders also find the mix of the two quite helpful; feigning piousness to a supernatural power has always served tyrants well, as noted by Aristotle

- infatuation with technologies, of the destroying kind

- reckless exploitation of the environment, with rather complete disregard of future impacts

- anomie and atomie: breakdown of laws, and breakdown of social relations

- persecution of the dissidents, stiffing of open debate, torture of "lower" races and even of the "chosen kind", if they stray from the official politic;
- the 'paradox' of using the ladder of old customs to get to the top, but then abolishing them for personal benefit

- instilling fear in order to start wars

- increased accumulation/polarization of wealth in the hands of few (during Akallabeth, "their rich men [grew] even richer", in an obviously zero-sum game)

- exploiting the lure of instant satisfaction (be it merchandise in real life, or avoiding "the end of delight" in Numenor by conquering the undying lands)

- militaristic legacy: near-constant waging of wars, as a normal way of life

- appropriation of (or, at least, actions taken to appropriate) lands of particular natural resources, because they should 'obviously' belong to the rulers (such oil resources in real life, or the undying lands)

Any thoughts on how much these comparisons hold true, or how similar the mechanisms may be in either case?
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Old 02-04-2010, 10:08 AM   #2
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I'm not quite sure what you're after here. I do see the potential for trouble, however, if you seek to draw comparisons of the perceived worst attributes of 'government' in Tolkien's Arda with actual sovereign nations in the real world.
In the interests of a books-related discussion, though, it would be helpful to have more examples from the books of some of the elements you cite, such as:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raynor View Post
- persecution of the dissidents, stiffing of open debate, torture of "lower" races and even of the "chosen kind", if they stray from the official politic
and

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raynor View Post
- instilling fear in order to start wars
Also, you seem to single out Nśmenor for special examination. I really don't see much in the way of a modern parallel. The Fall of Nśmenor, in my opinion, had its ultimate root in the desire of the Dśnedain to obtain immortality. They wanted something they were biologically incapable of having. The reason apparently they alone as mortals were susceptible to this failing, I think, was bound to their proximity to the Undying Lands, so close they could physically see what in their eyes was Paradise. I can think of no 'real' parallel.

And you make this remark:

Quote:
ruthless rulers, proclaiming "divine" guidance, while perpetrating massive acts of violence; in Ea, take Numenor towards its end; in RL, take some modern day leaders of "superpower" nations, from the Western side of the fence, and, say the Romanian Iron Legion government, or, why not, the Nazi regime itself
The rulers in Nśmenor who hastened the realm to its end originally did not claim to be following the will of the Divine; in fact, they had explicitly turned their backs to the Valar and Ilśvatar, and were veering toward a more secular society, eschewing the religion of their forebears.
Upon the arrival an actual 'divine' being, Sauron, they began a 'satanic' religion, and their road to ruin was all but assured. They really were 'inspired' then by what they took as their god, an 'angelic' being in incarnate form.
As far as I know, nothing of the sort has occurred in our world: incarnate Evil whispering in the ears of a king.
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Old 02-04-2010, 11:00 AM   #3
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Something I'm concerned about, Raynor, is how you're defining "dictatorship." The original dictator was a person selected by the Roman republic to have absolute power in times of emergency--but he had to give it up after a year. The fact is that there have been plenty of absolutist rulers in the real world who don't fit with your criteria.

For example if we want to look at many of the Roman emperors--particularly those in the earlier era--we had rulers who understood that if they kept the People busy (i.e., bread and circuses) they weren't going to rise up. Even though these people had few basic rights, and if they had a vote it was basically bought and sold, they weren't "oppressed" in the sense that you're suggesting. They were still kept from pursuing political rights, but by different means than the ones that you suggest.

So these absolutists might count as "exploiting the lure of instant satisfaction", but there wasn't really any fearmongering to start wars--at least during the Pax Romana. (Wars along the borders weren't because of fears... it was because that was what people did!)

The other brilliant thing that the early Romans did was have really, really good PR by pretending they still had the old system of rights that existed in the Republic, because they could compare against "Eastern Despots." But oftentimes the Eastern Despots did the exact same thing the Romans did.

The point is that, from a historical perspective, the ideas of universal democracy, etc., have been more blips in time than any sort of widespread movement, and it wasn't really until the self-titled Enlightenment that the idea of Universal Rights got bandied around a lot, and that absolute monarchy started to get a bad name.

And just to stir the pot a little more... how much do we really know about Elessar's style of ruling in the restored kingdom? We know that he let the Shire be basically autonomous, and that he reinstated a state religion, but that's about it. He was a monarch with central authority, which he had the right to use even if he may not have used it all the time. How much of an absolutist was he, and what policies of his really contradicted those of these dictators that you're criticizing so much?

I have to run--but I'd really like to see a more specific definition of what you mean by "dictator." 20th century dictatorship and 18th century absolutism, and even the ancient absolutism of the Egyptians are all very, very different things.
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Old 02-04-2010, 01:09 PM   #4
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As far as I know, nothing of the sort has occurred in our world: incarnate Evil whispering in the ears of a king.
How about Dick Cheney?

No time to write a full post now but I agree with nemo and Zil that real world parallels are hard to draw, because of how the stories are written. And sadly we know next to nothing about how Sauron came to rule the East...
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Old 02-04-2010, 04:25 PM   #5
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My feeling is that it is both easy and difficult to draw parallels between fiction and the real world when the fiction half is very strongly influenced by the archetypes of myth and legend. Mythical Good and Evil can be absolute; it can be drawn in black and white, whereas reality is full of myriad shades of gray. Myth is the distillate of the two components of gray, and thus one can find a lot of partial parallels between what is real and what is invented. For instance, one can look at Sauron's militaristic regime and equate it with Rome, but the Romans distracted the general populace with what we now call "bread and circuses," hoping that so long as the people felt their creature comforts, needs, and entertainments were being adequately maintained, they wouldn't notice how the wars and the costs of spreading the Empire were getting out of hand. Nowhere does Sauron use this tactic -- though we can sure find it in our modern world. It seems that Sauron's idea of appeasing the masses is by tricking them into things that will directly benefit him: handing out rings of power to ensnare those he would otherwise have had a hard time subjugating, establishing Melkor worship in Numenor, where he as the chief high priest of the religion would get the king under his thumb and thus become a very potent power behind an impotent throne. Oh yes, there are many aspects of many real despots and despotic regimes in Sauron and Melkor, but as they are symbols of the root of all evils in the world, they cannot, I think, be truly equated with any single person or government. Some degree of what they are as a distilled form of Evil is in all persons and policies that seek to control and subjugate others. IMHO, of course.
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Old 02-04-2010, 05:23 PM   #6
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Soo many loose ends to comment on! *and so little time before needing to go to sleep - like now*

So just one comment...

I do agree with Ibrin that it is both easy and hard to draw parallels. Like here...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Inzil
Also, you seem to single out Nśmenor for special examination. I really don't see much in the way of a modern parallel. The Fall of Nśmenor, in my opinion, and its ultimate root in the desire of the Dśnedain to obtain immortality. They wanted something they were biologically incapable of having. The reason apparently they alone as mortals were susceptible to this failing, I think, was bound to their proximity to the Undying Lands, so close they could physically see what in their eyes was Paradise. I can think of no 'real' parallel.
I see what you Inzil aim at, but on the other hand, think of the early Jesus movement! (I mean before the forming of Christianity as such.) Weren't they just in that position? Being preached about immortality - like many mystery cults of that time did - and having a charismatic leader who embodied to them that immortality and making them feel the nearness of salvation (which never came). And how unfair that was! They could touch Jesus as a physical creature, that close he was! And still they were denied the eternity!

And actually one could continue on that parable by saying that the synoptic Gospels were close to the way the Numenorian's held high the "true faith" but with the late John everything got out of hand - like Sauron got his ideas mingled with the Numenorian belifs... sweet talkin' but corrupted and rotten to the bone!

I mean you can interpret these in many ways...

But an interesting topic!
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Old 02-04-2010, 06:30 PM   #7
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I do agree with Ibrin that it is both easy and hard to draw parallels. Like here... I see what you Inzil aim at, but on the other hand, think of the early Jesus movement! (I mean before the forming of Christianity as such.) Weren't they just in that position? Being preached about immortality - like many mystery cults of that time did - and having a charismatic leader who embodied to them that immortality and making them feel the nearness of salvation (which never came). And how unfair that was! They could touch Jesus as a physical creature, that close he was! And still they were denied the eternity!
Ah, but Jesus taught his followers to have faith in God and to trust in His plan for them. If they held true, they would be rewarded in Heaven after the end of their lives on Earth. That, essentially, is what the Eldar sent by the Valar encouraged in the Nśmenóreans.

Quote:
'The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilśvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose. Nonetheless, many ages of Men unborn may pass ere that purpose is made known; and to you it will be revealed, and not to the Valar'
Silmarillion Akallabźth

The Nśmenórean king, Tar-Atanamir was not satisfied by those words, and he was the first of his people to 'cling' to life to the bitter end.
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Old 02-05-2010, 02:48 AM   #8
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Quote:
Quote:
- instilling fear in order to start wars
Also, you seem to single out Nśmenor for special examination. I really don't see much in the way of a modern parallel. The Fall of Nśmenor, in my opinion, had its ultimate root in the desire of the Dśnedain to obtain immortality. They wanted something they were biologically incapable of having. The reason apparently they alone as mortals were susceptible to this failing, I think, was bound to their proximity to the Undying Lands, so close they could physically see what in their eyes was Paradise. I can think of no 'real' parallel.
I was primarily referring to Sauron as the manipulator of that fear (fear of death), which ultimately became the reason to invade the blessed lands. While there isn't any exact parallel to Numenor (well, if we ignore all the investments in geriatric treatments and, why not, frost perservation), there certainly is a fear for one's life; Ar-Pharazon really became convinced that he was entitled to a much longer life than what he had, and the valar became, with the help of Sauron, the main obstacle in his path. Quite similar I'd say, at that stage, to the fear/danger of someone shortening your natural life.
Quote:
The rulers in Nśmenor who hastened the realm to its end originally did not claim to be following the will of the Divine
True, but I was referring to Sauron, who promoted himself as the bearer of "divine" knowledge and message, much like quite a few real life leaders.
Quote:
I have to run--but I'd really like to see a more specific definition of what you mean by "dictator.
I agree, the term was used rather freely. In the context of this thread, I am referring to rulers who abuse their status to exploit their own people (and, why not, others), with a clear malicious intent (that is, these atrocities are caused not by accident and ignorance, but quite the opposite - I hope this helps).
Quote:
And just to stir the pot a little more... how much do we really know about Elessar's style of ruling in the restored kingdom? We know that he let the Shire be basically autonomous, and that he reinstated a state religion, but that's about it. He was a monarch with central authority, which he had the right to use even if he may not have used it all the time. How much of an absolutist was he, and what policies of his really contradicted those of these dictators that you're criticizing so much?
In letter 156 Tolkien refers to Aragorn as re-instating the line of priest kings and of worship of God (interesting mix of politics and theology, isn't it? Perhaps the ideally good side of it.) Also, in letter 244:
Quote:
I did not, naturally, go into details about the way in which Aragorn, as King of Gondor, would govern the realm... A Nśmenórean King was monarch, with the power of unquestioned decision in debate; but he governed the realm with the frame of ancient law, of which he was administrator (and interpreter) but not the maker...Aragorn re-established the Great Council of Gondor, and in that Faramir, who remained by inheritance the Steward (or representative of the King during his absence abroad, or sickness, or between his death and the accession of his heir) would [be] the chief counsellor.
Quote:
Oh yes, there are many aspects of many real despots and despotic regimes in Sauron and Melkor, but as they are symbols of the root of all evils in the world, they cannot, I think, be truly equated with any single person or government.
True, but I am not trying to equate Sauron with real life authoritarian rulers, but to see where both use similar weaknesses in humans. Granted, Sauron is at a higher advantage, due to his mythical powers, but there is a lot that comes easier simply by using manipulation. The supreme art of war is to win without a brute fight, and magic itself might be hard to come by, (as Tolkien notes in the Letters, generally, and specifically to Sauron being weakened by trying to corrupt others).

If I was to draw a more exact comparison between Sauron's regime and a real one, I would choose some soviet "communist" regime (yeah, I loath calling that communism); choose your pick, whichever was the harshest - I would bet that would be Stalin. I am saying this because Sauron ruled mostly by fear; he couldn't actually control the human fea through magic (iirc, Mandos says that the spirit itself of Men is as indomitable as the spirit of the valar), but he could instill enough terror to make them "weak and fearful", as said in Akallabeth. To the credit of the human race, in both Ea and our world, we have persons willing to escape, or even fight the evil even from within; there were humans who fled from Melkor, and under Sauon some "shook off the yoke and unlearned the terror of the dark" especially when they saw the arrival of the Numenoreans.
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Old 02-05-2010, 09:24 AM   #9
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The supreme art of war is to win without a brute fight, and magic itself might be hard to come by
Unfortunately, in the real world, "magic" in warfare is usually a tremendous display of brute force that so stuns, shocks, and demoralizes one side, those who used that "magic" win. I imagine that the first time explosives were used against a foe who had no notion of their existence, they appeared to be magic. The first nuclear bomb had a "magical" effect, more than was anticipated, because its sheer destructive ability stunned even the people who used it. No doubt there are other examples.

There are certainly parallels in the real world for what one might call the philosophies of war of Tolkien's villains -- though I don't think any are quite as extreme as Melkor once he descended into his total nihilistic madness. The Soviet and Chinese "communist" regimes are probably closest, in that they at points have attempted to control not only the government, but the most basic of human rights, the right to think and believe as one chooses. Sauron's approach of not minding the existence of other beings, so long as they acknowledge him as the supreme power in charge of the world reminds me of Rome, the Mongol Empire, and others that don't come to mind at the moment (sorry. Pounding headaches do not make for the clearest thinking).
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