(fwd from Mertz) Re: Middle-earth fascism?

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Thu Dec 20 12:44:49 MST 2001

[Non-member submission from [Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters
<mertz at gnosis.cx>]]

"Martin Spellman" <mspellman at cix.co.uk> wrote:
|	I've never heard Tolkien described as fascist before or a favourite of
|theirs. Clearly reactionary as is a lot of the literature with 'middle ages'
|type settings. Yearnings for the good old days, when people knew their place
|and got on with their work.

There is something disturbing about the casual style of critique like
Louis' earlier forwarded "LoR=Fascism" article.  I think Spellman's
comments are right on... and I loved the Asimov quote.

But the style of thinking in the article was roughly:  (some) fascists
like Tolkien; there are a few (selective) things in Tolkien for the
fascists to like; therefore there is something suspect and dangerous
about LoR. It's just a sort of guilt by posthumous association.  But
being read by bad people should surely not have any judgemental effect
on a literary work.  Tolkien was was what he was--no one is going to
argue (I hope) that he was leftist or equalitarian; but at the same
time, he was certainly not fascist, nor even particularly bad in the
context of his class and time.

I think that one might even find, on examination, that some fairly bad
people have read Marx... and have even thought Marx provided inspiration
for the rather bad things they did.

There is an interesting juxtoposition of two articles that have run on
the Marxism list in the last couple days.  Wolin's _Heidegger's
Children_ has a superficially similar "guilt by association" angle to
it.  And while I don't immediately buy Wolin's thesis, I do think it
merits more serious consideration than the Tolkien nonsense.  But there
are some important differences with what Wolin does.  For one, Heidegger
*really was* a Nazi--actively and self-consciously, not merely in the
squint-and-try-to-see-it way that some folks are so characterized.
Moreover, a number of writers have made plausible--and probably
compelling--claims that Heidegger's philosophy was *essentially*
fascistic (rather than it being a personal foible).  So we are already
at a different starting point.

But perhaps even more importantly, Wolin doesn't just characterize the
source (accurately).  His project his to show an actual historical and
developmental path by which Heidegger's Nazism gets into the thinking of
Arendt, Marcuse, etc.  Obviously, the facts of biography add some
evidence (a bunch of fairly young thinkers who studied with Heidegger
personally before writing their own books).  But even that is still
somewhat ad hominem.  Wolin (apparently, but I only read the review so
far) makes real efforts to track particular elements of philosophical
systems of the "children" to Heideggerian elements.  If he succeeds in
that, Wolin, I think, really does characterize something in the later
thinkers.  It should be obvious that no such effort from Tolkien to
Berlusconi is going to succeed (nor was it even attempted).

I have my doubts on Wolin's success.  At least in Ryerson's
characterization, one of the "taints" is the notion that "the worst
features of the 20th-century ...[are] extensions of modern democratic
ideals."  But that claim has a broader standing than any Heideggerian
roots.  For example, Claude Lefort--whom no one, I think, can imagine a
Heideggerian--reaches a similar analysis to Marcuse on the relation
between democracy and totalitarianism.  But even if wrong, the way Wolin
does it is the right way.

Yours, Lulu...

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