Power, Politicians, and ‘Lord of the Rings’

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A wise man once said: absolute power corrupts absolutely. COVID-19 has made this abundantly apparent. At the outset of the pandemic, politicians swept in with far-reaching mandates and orders, all to protect us. In the interest of self-preservation, we listened and allowed our leaders’ dictates to encroach on our lives. Now a whole year later, we have flattened the curve, we have a vaccine, and we are sick of staying home. However, the politicians in power don’t seem to want to release the power they have over us.

This should not surprise us. After all, J.R.R. Tolkien understood the corruptive nature of power back in the 50’s. His complex narrative in Lord of the Rings features key characters which shed light on the dangerous temptation and deceptive siren song of power so present in politics, from Middle-Earth to modern America.

Let’s take Saruman and Gandalf as examples. As wizards, both are influential leaders of Middle-Earth who use their positions to push for the people’s benefit.

Originally, Saruman devoted his life to keeping the One Ring from Sauron alongside Gandalf. But this noble mission became twisted, and he came to believe that the only way to protect middle-earth was to wield the Ring himself. In other words, the safest hands were his own. Many politicians fall into this trap; in fact, this stance seems to be the dominant feeling coming from the Democratic party today. Leftist ideology tends to argue that an elite, enlightened few should dictate the rules of society because it’s too risky to leave the bigoted and ignorant masses to their own devices. They believe they can hold onto great power and not become corrupted. In this way, leftists fall into the same trap that Saruman did.

In contrast, Gandalf’s great redemptive quality is his strength to resist power’s temptation and his wisdom to place limits on himself so that he does not fall prey to its siren song. Like the checks and balances set forth by our nation’s founders, his refusal to take up absolute power maintains a balance in Middle-Earth which opens the door to great good. But Gandalf is not totally blameless either. While he is cynical about the Ring and believes in its corruptive power, he also dabbles in its power to maintain his position of influence. Here, we can draw parallels to conservative politicians who employ the same backhanded techniques as their leftist opponents or to liberals who play with woke political correctness to stay relevant. Politics are a dirty game full of too many people exerting too much power to maintain their own positions.

Tolkien uses Saruman and Gandalf to demonstrate the pitfalls of already influential people falling prey to power’s corrupting influence, but what about the rest of us? How can the average, everyman who suddenly has power thrust upon him, perhaps through social media or a video gone viral, handle the terrible corruption tied to power?

Frodo Baggins is Tolkien’s answer. Simply put, Frodo only resists power’s treachery by leaning on Sam, his brother in arms. Initially he starts off strong, wary of the One Ring’s evil and desiring only to destroy it. But when hardships come his way, he gives into it and uses power as a crutch to overcome the obstacles in his path. Dire consequences follow every time he gives into that temptation, yet he cannot resist. Tolkien illustrates that people can only escape the corrupting consequences of power by relying on those around them. Each and every one of us, including the powerful elite, need battle brothers and sisters to stand beside us and speak truth into our lives. The sight of the powerful is easily obscured and manipulated which makes the perspective of the untainted all the more valuable.

All this to say, we really shouldn’t be surprised that those who capitalized on the pandemic to claim power are reluctant to relinquish it now. Once that siren song gets its hooks in, it’s near impossible to resist, especially without a true support system to keep them grounded.

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Elise Ozanich graduated summa cum laude from Cal State Northridge with a Bachelors in cinema television arts and screenwriting. She splits her time between tutoring students at the local college and working on writing projects of my own. She’s a binge reader with a ravenous appetite for good stories and solid philosophy.

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