On Why It Is Hard for Modern Americans to Relate to Aragorn

Hey everybody, this is a paper I submitted for one of my classes. If you like Lord of the Rings, you’ll like this. None of the LoTR quotations are footnoted, sorry about that, but we were not required for the class. Without further ado, enjoy!


Among the many difficulties that the modern American faces in reading The Lord of the Rings, the issue of Aragorn is worthy of note. He is almost too good to be true. There are moments where he afraid or doubts his choices, most notably during the portion of the journey between Moria and Lothlórien, but even then he is automatically recognized by the other members of fellowship as the natural choice as a leader after Gandalf. One thing is for sure, the closer he gets to the completion of his destiny, the more insufferable he becomes. Indeed, he even dares to show himself on the Palantír to Sauron, inciting the latter to attack Gondor faster than he desired. The purpose of this paper is to show that it is Aragorn’s heredity and magnanimity rather than arrogance or a flaw on the part of Tolkien in creating too perfect of a character that fuels his actions.

There is no greater marker of how far modern American public opinion is from the personality of Aragorn than the radical change of character he received in the Lord of the Rings movies. Whereas in the books Aragorn, though afraid, has total faith in what he seeks to accomplish, in the movies he needs the constant push from other characters—most notably Elrond in bringing him Andúril in Rohan—to fulfill his destiny. In addition, his authority is challenged more than once, such as in the siege of Helm’s Deep by Legolas, whereas in the books it is only Denethor that truly challenges his claim. The character of Aragorn may be the key to detecting a problem in modern Western culture. The way he is presented in Tolkien’s books he is incompatible with the way of thought of most people today. The question is whether Aragorn should be brought down to fit into the categories of the modern West or the modern West be brought up so as to be able to fit Aragorn in its categories.

Differently from Peter Jackson, I believe that the problem with Aragorn has nothing to do with Aragorn himself, but rather with his audience. Aragorn would fit into a more ancient way of thought. I am speaking, of course, of Aristotle. One of his eleven virtues in the Nichomachean Ethics is magnanimity, which is a very unpopular virtue in today’s modern West. It is not arrogance that fuels his action, if one is to define arrogance as the over-exertion of one’s self and his or her abilities. It is hard for one to argue that Aragorn is arrogant, because he does everything he sets out to do. One of his most daring actions in the book, namely the aforementioned confrontation of Sauron by means of the Palantír, is successful. The only recourse a person has in arguing that Aragorn is arrogant is to say that the casting of his character was an error on the part of Tolkien, but I believe that there is another, more consistent, explanation for his personage that does not, alas, have to amass an attack on Tolkien’s literary ability.

Let us first examine his heredity. Aragorn can trace his lineage back to Elendil, the leader of the Faithful of Númenor and the First High King of Gondor and Arnor, and King of all the Dúnedain. A long title indeed and a farcry from the lineage that most people today can trace back. That is, however, only the beginning of his story. On his father’s side Elendil is the descendant of Elros, the son of Earendil the Mariner that chose to be human. Earendil is the son of Tuor, who is descendant of the second and third ruling families of the original Three Houses of the Edain (Men), and Idril, the descendant of Finwë, the first High King of the Eldar, the high eleves. On his mother’s side, Elendil is related to Elwig, the granddaughter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren the One-Handed. Beren was the descendant of the ruling family of the first House of the Edain. Luthien was the daughter of Thingol, the King of Gondolin and Melian the Maia. Thingol is the original king of the Sindar or Teleri Elves and one of the ambassadors of the Elves to Valinor. Melian, on the other hand, is a Maia, which is the same classification of being as Gandalf, Sauron, and the Balrogs (though the last two are fallen). In short, Aragorn’s lineage can be traced to the very beginning of the existence of Elves and Men. He has, in his family tree, all three ruling families of the original subdivisions of Men, the original rulers of two out of the three subdivisions of Elves, a Maia, Beren and Luthien, and Earendil, the only man to have ever arrieved corporealy in Valinor, just to name a few[1].

With a family history of these proportions, it is not hard to see why the modern man despises Aragorn. Granted, very few people who do not have a deep love for Tolkien’s work would have put all that together, since it is scattered in the many pages of the Silmarilion for the most part, but «I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor,» is enough of a prelude to cause hatred. As to how deep one’s envy has to run in order for them to hate a fictional character for his lineage I cannot tell. One thing is for sure, the modern man has lost his appreciative love. Upon hearing a lineage of these proportions, a more ancient man may have been glad even though he knew he could never measure his lineage up to him. It is better that such a man should exist, though the person may not be him.

The problem is that people today cannot trace their lineage back to even a country of origin, much less to a particular family. I remember a conversation with a Harvard student who was puzzled by the innability of some Sicilians (she had recently been to Sicily through a Harvard program) to understand, when she was asked where she was from originally that African-American was not a sufficient answer. In addition, one my my History teachers in High School, Br. Oxx, wanting to surprize his father for his birthday, used a (bogus) «Coat of Arms» website to trace his name back to a Medieval knight. Unbeknowest to him, his brother had done the same thing through another site and, though both sites assured the total accuracy of their findings, the two Oxx knights that their family was apparently traced to had absolutely nothing in common except their name and, conviniently, were recorded nowhere but the respective databases of the sites. Where they got their findings from, one is left to ponder. The empirical fact that those websites are alive and well shows that there is a multitude of, at least Americans, who seek a glorious character to whom to trace themselves. It seems that the mixture, in one hand, of the insecurity of heritage for Americans, and the desire, on the other hand, to trace their lineage back to some notable ancestor is toxic and its fury is turned to Aragorn for the fact that he is in secure possession of something they cannot have.

As the descendant of Elendil through his son Isildur, Aragorn is entitled to certain privileges. For one, he is the legitimate bearer of the shards of Narsil, the sword of Elendil, which is later re-forged into Andúril, by whose power he is able to call the army of the dead[2]. Aragorn tells the Doorward of Theoden that the penalty for anyone who touches it except for its rightful owner is death.

Aragorn is also the rightful owner of the Palantírs. This relates to one criticism of Tolkien in relation to Aragorn, i.e. that he made Aragorn too powerful. A conversation in Lord of the Rings is enlightening as to exactly what this entails. Gimli, alarmed at learning that Aragorn has looked in the stone, says, “You have looked in that accursed stone of wizardry! … Even Gandalf feared that encounter.” Aragorn’s response is indicative. He says, “… Nay Gimli, I am the lawful master of the Stone, and I had both the right and the strength to use it, or so I judged. The right cannot be doubted.” It is clear that Gandalf, a wizard, which is to say, a Maia, is afraid of using the Palantír and Saruman, another Maia, is corrupted through it. Though Aragorn is a distant relative of a Maia, it does not make sense that she should have greater power than an actual Maia.

The answer to this seeming incongruence is Te. Even though Gandalf, on the whole, is a higher being and more powerful that Aragorn, Aragorn has the power of right claim over the Palantír, which is superior against even the power Sauron. It is hard to explain exactly how it works and Lao Tzu is not exactly a great help if one is looking for logical proofs, but there is something about the bond between an object and its rightful owner that is broader than just Lao Tzu. The sword in the stone responds to Arthur’s touch, the golden bough in Cumae responds to Aeneas’ touch, and so on and so forth.

In addition, he has the healing power of the King, the only cure to the Black Breath. He is the inheritor of the curse of Isildur and the Black Stone of Erech, the ownership of which he uses to summon the Oath-breakers to himself and, ultimately, to save Gondor through them. Lastly, it goes without saying, he is the legitimate King of Gondor and Arnor, the greatest kingdom in Middle-Earth, to which the Kingdom of Rohan has certain duties, since it was the rulers of Gondor that granted Eorl the Young the land that would later become Rohan. In return, Eorl swore that he (and his descendants) would come to Gondor’s aid in time of need.

This list of his privileges is very long, but with so many privileges comes much responsibility. Many of Aragorn’s trials are not recorded in the text proper of the Lord of the Rings, though some of them appear in the appendices and the rest are mentioned in other books. After Gandalf, Aragorn is the person with the greatest part in the overthrow of Sauron. Frodo’s part is very close to being greater than his and, in the end, my judgment for putting Aragorn over Frodo is the fact that Aragorn’s guidance and protection of the hobbits from Bree to Rivendell and Aragorn’s self-sacrifice in front of the Black Gate (though he survives the battle) is instrumental to the completion of Frodo’s quest. His responsibilities continue once the quest of the destruction of Sauron is completed, in that he is now the King of Gondor and Arnor and as Shakespeare reminds us, “Heavy is the head that bears the crown.”

The intersection of Aragorn’s heritage and identity and his privileges and abilities with his responsibilities and the fact that he is able to carry his responsibilities through show that Aragorn is a magnanimous man. Magnanimity is hereby to be defined as correct estimation of one’s ability and worth, as opposed to self-doubt. One thing is for sure, Aragorn knows who he is, where he comes from, and where he is going. His identity is sometimes intentionally hidden in order to aid him in his quest, most notably in Bree, where most of the people know him as “Strider.” Once his true identity is revealed, however, in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo, he proclaims the rhyme that comes with his name. This is another scene that is cut from Jackson’s adaptation of the books.

It does not take much insight to see how this could infuriate a modern Western reader. Our culture is plagued by self-doubt, insecurity about whether we can know objectively who one is and what he or she is supposed to do. We have Justice Kennedy to thank for part of that feeling, in the famous Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which said, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.[3]” This statement goes not only against Christian teaching, but also against secular Classical wisdom. Aristotle points out that the teleology of any being is not self-appointed, but rather comes as “part of the package” with the nature of each thing. It seems as if, on the whole, the modern man has dismissed the age-old quest, set on by Socrates, to objective self-knowledge. Instead, he has decided to appoint subjectively and, quite frankly, violently[4] his own meaning to his life, which, so far, does not seem to have had much success. Not so for Aragorn.

The modern reader joins with Éomer in saying, “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange…. How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” Perhaps this is the core of modern man’s problem and the root of his confusion with himself and the world. In today’s school system we have “Critical Thinking” classes, which teach students how to analyze information and set up their problem and then simply tell them to solve it. That is, in mathematical terms, tantamount to having a whole class dedicated to how to read problems, how to gather the given information, how to set up the equation and then, simply tell the students to solve it. The obvious question is, “Solve it, how?” The reason, at least in my mind, for who professors in those classes do not and, indeed, cannot give an objective answer to that question is because they either do not rightly know themselves, or, otherwise, believe that it is not correct for them to project their own views to their students, because they are relativists, the poison which C. S. Lewis says “will certainly damn our souls and end our species[5].”

The end product is people who have a great skill set in setting up logical and ethical problems, but who have no clue how to solve them. Unsurprisingly, people devoted to such a school of thought tend to make a lot of mistakes in life. The reason for that is that what they have learned is equivalent to gathering the best-trained army in the world and furnishing it the best and most advanced equipment and then making it follow, without question, the orders of a child in battle. Their discerning skills in life are equivalent to a child’s skills in battle, since they were never allowed to learn the hard principles of logic and morality in the first place. As if that was not enough, however, they have a very important difference with Éomer.

Whereas Éomer, at this point, has had no training in correct judgment or otherwise has forgotten what has been taught to him due to the calamities that have befallen him, he is an honest seeker. His question is not rhetorical. He truly does not know what the right thing to do is, but if he knew it and if he knew the way to find it, he would find it and do it. In other words, Éomer does not know, he knows that he does not know, and is not content with it. The modern man is too proud to ever accept that. He asserts himself to be the child of the Enlightenment, the true descendant of Socrates and of all the great minds of the world, but he knows neither Socrates nor light and yet he does not even know that he does not know. Herein lies the problem of our age. It is perfectly fine to be ignorant of how to reach the right choice; that problem can be solved by use of a teacher. In the case of Éomer, Aragorn solves that problem. The matter of communicating, however, to someone that their problem lies not with their reason but with their will is much harder.

It is not that the modern man needs to read more of Plato, or Augustine, or Aquinas, or any other author that could aid them in their quest, it is the matter of wrenching their will away from their accustomed relativism to the true search for the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is why Aragorn’s response does not “stick” and why Peter Jackson found it necessary to take it out of the movie. Aragorn says, “As he has ever judged…. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” Because Tolkien is using Aragorn to stab directly at the heart of the modern man’s strongest conviction, it is understandable that he hates Aragorn.

Another factor is the overarching incorrect sense of humility that plagues popular culture and beyond. It is nearly impossible to miss it if one turns on their television. The same people that would never be able to get over the fact that they did not win an award or get recognized for something are the people who speak of how humbled they are by how much people seem to recognize their small and menial doings. This comes from a sense of humility misunderstood. Whereas true humility is self-forgetfulness, it has a certain facet of being proud (as opposed to prideful) for their accomplishment, while at the same time realizing that it is God that is the chief conspirer in every good deed. If a work is truly deserving of recognition, if it is truly good, in whatever way it fits that category, then it deserves its proper recognition. As St. John the Chrysostom reminds us, “… every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You, the Father of lights.” Because every “good gift,” that is to say, among other things, every valuable skill set, comes from God, anything that is produced through it is worthy of recognition, through us, to God, who is the ultimate cause of it. From this, it follows that if a person belittles any of their accomplishments, it is God’s gift they are belittling.

It is worth noting that Frodo is as magnanimous as Aragorn[6]. Yet, most modern readers can relate to Frodo more easily than with Aragorn because his priviledge, the sourse of his psychic superiority to them is subtle, but to see it would make them hate Aragorn and Frodo alike and, perhaps, Frodo a little more. Of course, Frodo is not sold on the idea from the very beginning and it takes some convincing to have him realize who he truly is, but, eventually, Frodo makes a jump into his own and does not look back. Frodo’s responsibility is quite clear, but he shares a privilege with Aragorn that has not been yet treated. The genious of Tolkien, among other things, lies in how well this is disguised throughout the book, in that one that was not specifically looking for it or reading closely could—and many have—managed to miss it entirely.

That privilege has to do with the one character that is never talked about in the book, that never speaks—at least directly—and that is never directly involved in any event, but His hand can be seen working throughout much of the book in how well all the necessary events line up in order to bring forth the success of the quest. That character is Éru (the One), Ilúvatar (the Father of All), or God. The privilege that Aragorn and Frodo both share is His Providence. One can see that Frodo’s character is custom-fitted for the quest of the Ring because, even when he is not terribly excited with the idea of going off to a quest, he still has the unquenchable desire that once plagued Bilbo to go beyond the small doings of the Shire. A comparison between all the other privileges that Aragorn has and this is a comparison between the infinite and a multitude of finite things. Of course, Frodo’s magnanimity is much more subtle, because other than Divine Providence, the only other privilege that Frodo has is his being the true heir of Bilbo and it seems that Tolkien is trying to tell the reader a thing or two about himself if he does manage to miss it. It should be noted that the importance of Aragorn’s inheritance does not come because he is the biological descendant of everyone in his family tree, but it has something to do with the spiritual dimension. Therefore, even though Frodo is not the biological son of Bilbo, he is his true heir and descendant.

The emblematic moment when Frodo, “comes into his own” in a sense, when he finally makes the switch into his magnanimity is at the council of Elrond, when he says, “I will take the Ring … though I do not know the way.” One of the moments when Divine Providence is most clearly exhibited is just above it, when Frodo “wondered to hear his own words, as id some other will was using his small voice.” In truth, this fact should be more annoying to the modern reader than the issue with Aragorn. When it comes to Aragorn, the problem is that he seems to be above to reader, but when he finds out that has been “deceiving” him into falling in love with Frodo, who seems to be a hero of the proletariat, but is one of the people that God most commonly aids, he will not be happy indeed.

Needless to say, the modern reader’s frustration, failure to connect, and dislike of Aragorn and Frodo at this point happens because of another of his chief problems. The modern West seems to be ever gravitating away from Christianity. It is no secret to all but the most oblivious of Tolkien’s readers that he is a devout Christian. In realizing this, the modern man realizes that Frodo and Aragorn are much more superior to him than he ever could have imagined. They have the aid of a Perfect, Omniscient, All-Good God at hand when they need it, whereas he has no such thing.

Aragorn and Frodo both have a very great responsibility to take upon themselves. However, in real life Christians have the even greater responsibility of being a Christian, which is emulating the light of Christ in the world. The quest to destroy the Ring and overthrow Sauron pales in comparison to it. No doubt, their quest is extremely difficult, but, in the end, a good secular person can realize that he needs to fight against evil (in the physical form),  can proceed to do so, and win just as well as a Christian can. Not all who fought against Hitler in World War II were devout Christians. His victory will not be complete, but neither is the Fellowship’s quest successful in wiping out all evil. Defeating external evil, physical organizations that are fueled by evil, in the end, is much easier of a quest than trying to follow, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48)

Because the Christian’s quest is much harder and if one is to take Christ at his word, possible, though it is logically impossible that the fallen human being can be held to the same standard as the Perfect God, the only way in which it can be completed is through a much more extensive gift of grace and, therefore, a much higher degree of Divine Providence. The Christian has no reason to feel inferior to Aragorn, because he realizes that Aragorn is a brother-in-arms to him, he is the ward of the same power, striving toward a quest that originates from the same Being as him. This is without considering that the Christian would not feel envy but love toward Aragorn. His existence, albeit fictional, is beautiful and the knowledge that the thought of anyone could create a person with such an extensive and important background is impressive.

Of course, the Christian’s heritage is infinitely more impressive. In the end, Aragorn is the descendant of Finwë and the rest, but the Christian is the adoptive son of God, through the sacrifice of Christ. St. Paul, when he points this out is writing within the context of Roman legal practice, which puts adoption on a very high pedestal. It was fairly easy for a Roman pater familias[7] disown and disinherit one of his biological sons or grandsons, but it was nearly impossible to do the same to an adopted child or grandchild. The bond that St. Paul is thinking of when he speaks of Christians as the adopted children of God was one of the strongest and hardest to break in all of Roman legal practice.

Lastly, it is important to point out that, even though Aragorn treats different people in different manners, it does not constitute snobbery or elitism. One example of this would be the treatment that the innkeeper gets when Frodo and the rest are at The Prancing Pony. The modern reader might see Aragorn’s treatment of Barliman as snobbery and plain rudeness, but there are two factors that make it not so. First, Aragorn’s need for haste should not be overlooked. The Black Riders are at hand and things need to move quickly if Frodo is not to be caught like a fly in a trap. Second, Barliman is an innkeeper and, in matters of war, his opinion is not worth much. That is a very undemocratic thing to say and many people would be offended for me saying it, but it is true nonetheless.

The issue here is not whether Aragorn is “better” than Barliman or whether he thinks he is “superior” to Barliman. If the issue of organizing rooms of the Prancing Pony were at hand, the situation would be reversed. Aragorn’s superiority to Barliman, here, is not on terms of socio-economical class or any such reason, but in terms of expertise. Aragorn knows who the Black Riders are, he is experienced in war, and he knows what to do to escape them. Barliman knows none of these things. Therefore, his opinion is less valuable than that of Aragorn.

Most people would not doubt this idea if the issue at hand concerned the body. A doctor’s opinion is superior to a carpenter’s when it comes to health questions. Yet, the logic is the same, but whereas we trust our doctors, we do not trust our leaders. “What does Aragorn know, anyways?” may be what the modern man is thinking. Nonetheless, he has nothing but an a priori suspicion about Aragorn’s expertise to fall back on. It is also important to note that though Aragorn tells Barliman off, he has sacrificed many years of his life to keep Bree and, by association, Barliman safe. The effects of the Rangers’ presence in Bree is not truly understood or appreciated until they leave it. In addition, Aragorn walks willingly to the Black Gate in what he expects to be his death so that the people of Middle-Earth, Barliman among them, may live untroubled by Sauron. In short, though Aragorn’s opinion is more important than Barliman’s in certain cases, it does not mean that Aragorn is, on the whole, more important than Barliman and Aragorn both understands and believes this principle.

In the end, it comes down to whether the reader sees Aragorn, and by extension Tolkien, as trustable and trustworthy and is willing to concede to him that it is not “will to power” that guides Aragorn to self-sacrifice. Therefore, one must not overlook the words that Frodo speaks in his first encounter with Aragorn, after the letter from Gandalf surfaces, “I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.” That is to say that Aragorn seems foul, but feels fair.

The meaning of the word “feel” here is not to be taken in the same way as “feeling hungry” or “feeling sad” or “feeling happy.” It is not an emotion. It is to be taken in the same meaning as “feeling a table.” The responsibility for it is not an irrational emotion but the noetic faculty, “the eye of the heart.” It is through this faculty that man can perceive the uncreated light, the glory of God. It is featured in the Patristic writings of the Eastern Church, especially in the writing of the Athonite monks, specifically St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain. It is, however, hinted at in Plato, in that there needs to be a faculty of the soul that learns truth instantly and super-logically. The Fathers defined this process possible through the remembrance of the perfect image of God, in Whom there is perfect truth.

It is also through this faculty that a person can gauge the moral character of others, though it cannot be logically explained or defined. Because the noetic faculty, which is related to the will, has the image of God, it can distinguish between those who seek Him and those who do not. The Noetic monks in Mt. Athos and elsewhere have great capabilities of discernment and are often able to offer detailed advice to people who come to them without much previous conversation about the person. I do not know whether Tolkien was familiar with this concept, but there are many who recognize that there is some thing or another in the human soul that is able to process information super-logically.

Because noesis resides in the will, its power is dependent on the cleanliness of the will of the person. It is possible to make it fade. The modern reader is very skilled in this regard; he has long made his “philosophy” dependent on his lifestyle, instead of letting philosophy guide his life. Now, the modern man has no need for it, because his logic and wisdom are so extensive that they can pierce into the depths of his own soul and rearrange and revamp the same structure that some of the most profound minds to ever exist have held to be the image and likeness of God.

In short, Aragorn produces much grief to the modern reader because he is an older kind of man and is designed not to be the reader’s friend, but the reader’s leader. In the question of whether Aragorn should be brought down to fit the categories of the modern man or whether the modern man should seek to raise himself so as to be able to fit Aragorn into his categories, the correctness of the second option is unquestionable. The modern reader challenges Aragorn in his seeming lack of humility, but, in truth, he does not understand humility and he does not understand why it is that Aragorn behaves the way he does, namely, because he knows who he is and has the correct knowledge of what the extent of his powers is. In most critiques, it seems that Frodo is left out, because his magnanimity is made to be subtler due to its cause, Divine Providence. However, if one were to take Divine Providence out of it, Frodo’s decision to be the ring-bearer is the most pretentious action in the book.

The modern reader feels himself to be inferior to Frodo and Aragorn because whereas they are guided and guarded by the Divine, not only exhibited in Gandalf, but by God’s invisible hand, his philosophy has no space for such a, in his mind, “silly” Being while his heart aches from the God-sized hole that he cannot fill no matter how hard he tries. In the end, the question of Aragorn comes down to whether we can take any of the things he says or does, i.e. the things that Tolkien has him say and do, at face value. The underlying question is whether one can ever know if they can take anyone at face value. The answer to both questions is a complete “yes,” but with one qualification. It seems that the human soul has been equipped with the image of God, which it can use to have access to truth super-logically and to sense whether the soul that comes in contact with them is in tune with that image or not. The access to such a powerful tool, however, is dependent on whether one’s will is pure. Of course, the soul of the modern man has no need for such nonsense, he is perfectly happy with what he can access due to his own powers. He is the child of the Enlightenment and that “light “is good enough to him.

We, however, can see that his “light” is not true light, in fact, that it is its opposite, darkness. Ever since we turned from seeking wisdom to seeking the conquest of principalities, ever since we turned the ongoing submission of ourselves to the Father to the desire to make nature submissive to us, all has gone amiss. Machiavelli has given us men and women who lust for power and conquest; Bacon has given us “men-without-chests.” With these results at hand, one has to wonder whether we have made a wrong turn.  Aragorn is a constant reminder of who the modern man could have been if he had not taken that wrong turn. Each of his powers has been given to us through science. We have Andúril, weapons that can pierce through the enemy’s defenses, but are they in the hands of the “heirs of Elendil”? Are they used only against those about whom no other solution than death can be found? I think not. We have equivalents to the Palantírs, but does the modern man use his unprecedented means to information and impact for the good of the whole? I think not. Many have Aragorn’s healing properties; modern medicine has progressed far beyond what people as much as a century before us would have dreamed of, but have we been able to see medicine as more than just business? I think not.

On the spiritual level, the same is true. We have the spiritual Andúril, the Church, but we have thrust Her aside in favor of a thousand new heresies. We have the spiritual Palantír, the image of God inside us, but we have thrust it aside in favor of the belief that our own self-conceit is better. We have the spiritual healer of all wounds, Christ, but we have thrust Him aside, espousing instead our pop-psychologists and relativists, who tells us to make our own path, that we live in a glass palace, when in reality we have steeped in greater darkness than ever before.

It is easy to see how one could despair under these conditions. In that case, Gandalf may aid us one more time. His words ring clear now as when he spoke them to Theoden, “Not all is dark. Take courage…. No counsels have I for those that despair. Yet council I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears.”

First, all is not dark, for “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it,” (John 1:5) and there is “light and high beauty forever beyond [the darkness’] reach.” Second, despair is no solution. St. Paul reminds us, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31) In the end, Christ’s resurrection triumphs over Hades and it is laid bare before His glory. Therefore, because He was triumphant over death and because He promised us that he would give us anything we ask for in His name, we can overcome even Hell through him. To despair would be to fail to take Christ at His word. To those that do not take Christ at his word, there is no counsel, because if they do not believe in Him who worked wonders like no other had ever done, they will not listen to reason.

Yet, there is counsel to hear, but it is not for all ears. That is because entering into dealings with God is very dangerous. Says Gandalf, “Dangerous! … And so am I, very dangerous…. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers … for you are dangerous yourself.” Too often have people have people approached God expecting to find “our grandfather who is in heaven,” but once they have drawn close enough to Him, have ran away. Christians, true Christians, are the most dangerous thing that still walks the Earth today. They are beaten but not defeated. They are killed but they do not perish. They are persecuted, but they spread even faster. When met with insult, they respond with a smile. When met with violence, they respond with love. When killed, they are given eternal life and great power and come back to aid those who are still in this world with miracles. Therefore, to seek to join with Christians is risky, because one might even achieve a state eternal bliss through their teachings, which instruct to sacrifice the finite things of this world for the infinite things of the next world.

If modern man is to have any hope, he will have to pull the veil of darkness off his eyes and allow himself to see, “the true Light which enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” (John 1: 9) Then, he will remember his own strength and see that he has tarried too long in the darkness of men’s misguided thoughts. Then he and the Chrisitan will sing with one voice, “This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

[1] The list would take a few pages if all the people worth mentioning were mentioned. Among them are: Fingolfin, Turgon, Huor, Tuor, Barahir (who is given the ring that Jackson puts in the movie in the hand of Aragorn, but in the

books is given to Arwen as sign of her betrothal to Aragorn), the Kings of Numenor up to Tar-Elendil, and all the Lords of Andúnie, the leaders of “the Faithful,” the Numenorians who did not give in to the worship of Sauron and Morgoth.

[2] That is only the tip of the iceberg regarding Narsil and Andúril. It was forged during the First age by the same smith that forged the knife Angrist, which Beren used to cut one of the Silmarils from the crown of Morgoth and was considered its “cousin.” It was imbued with magical powers and the word “Narsil” itself is a combination of the Elvish words for “sun” and “moon.” Andúril means “the flame of the West,” and, at several points during the book, its mesmerizing flash is described in great detail. The story of Narsil/Andúril is more extensive than many plots in today’s literature.

[3] Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992)

[4] “Violently” here is not supposed to be taken in its popular meaning, but rather in Aristotelian term, specifically referring to violent motion.

[5] C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism”

[6] I will not entertain at length the point about Gandalf’s magnanimity, because it is rather blindingly obvious and because the modern reader can reconcile with it on account of Gandalf being a wizard.

[7] The title refers to the oldest male of a family, most commonly the pater familias and the father of the youngest generation were the same person, but sometimes the pater familias was the grandfather of the youngest generation. Lit. “father of the family.”


The Closing of the Western Mind

Hey guys, another paper from my political theory class. I hope you will like it and, as always, plagiarism is not cool.

As the West moved ever towards a more egalitarian organization of society, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave Flaubert were among those who stood up to point out flaws and problems with the new system. Though they write well before the current generation, they seem to capture the psychology of the current man with much diligence. Tocqueville points out that the modern man has lost his sense of “belonging,” which has led him into a never-ending race to succeed, a term which more often than not has a monetary meaning. From this arises a monotony of thought and action, which, though it hides a burning passion underneath, leads most to boredom and a sense of uneasiness with one’s self. Flaubert diligently depicts the life of Emma Bovary, a product of the Romanticism that many seek as an escape from the monotony of modern life, and the downward spiral that ends in her taking of her own life. In looking at both authors, one sees that they complement each other perfectly in pointing out the possible demise of our societal organization.

It is useful to mention, before beginning the argument, that the word “boredom” is not present in most ancient languages, certainly it is absent in both Classical languages. Boredom usually exhibits itself when the task at hand is, or is perceived to be, well below the skill set of the agent. Within Christian thinking, when every action is seen as a way to praise God[1], such feeling is illogical, because no task is too small or too meaningless to not require someone’s full attention, respect, and engagement. However, as the West moves ever farther from Christianity and classical philosophy, that mode of thinking is no longer appealing to most people.

Tocqueville points out that, due to the increased potentiality for upward mobility in a democracy, most people strive to enter into the highest socio-economical class. He points out that in the US there has a very fluid socio-economical structure and that love of money permeates over much that Americans do.[2] However, when Americans do acquire wealth, Tocqueville posits, they seek to use it in order to fulfill their small desires rather than fall into debauchery as the wealthy in aristocratic societies would.[3] The fact that Americans, or most of them, do not seek palaces and other similar lavish displays of wealth, but rather a fulfillment of small, daily pleasures, points to something about the character of the democratic soul, i.e. the constant need for entertainment. One very poignant case study concerning this is literature.

Whereas the classical and medieval school system was commonly founded on the study of Classical languages (whether they were the contemporary language or not), Philosophy, and Theology, students who concentrate in Classical Studies, Philosophy, or Theology in American universities today are a dying breed. Of course, it would be highly unusual to see a young adult or even someone older read Plato or a comparable religious writer for pleasure, if they were not assigned to do so for school or work. On the other hand, it is quite common, so much so that such books are considered common knowledge, to see the same people reading Harry Potter and other such books. There is not one environment that most Americans will find themselves in today where a mention of “Gryffindor“ or the like will be met with a puzzled look by most people in it.

Tocqueville points out a change in the aim of literature which had exhibited itself only in the US by the publishing of both volumes of Democracy in America, but which is now widespread throughout Europe as well. Differently from ancient books, modern “democratic” books are easier to read, do not require much outside knowledge of the subject matter, and are supposed to provide entertainment.[4] If someone were to attempt to read an ancient epic, such as the Aeneid—in English— they would need to at least read the Iliad and the Odyssey in order to fully understand the plot. If they read it in Latin, after years of studying Latin grammar, the language in which the Aeneid is written would still pose a challenge to them, due to its metrical, almost chant-like structure. It was, and it was meant to be, hard for native Latin speakers. In addition, its aim was to explore the story of the founding of Rome, but everyone knew the ending. If someone somehow happened to miss it, Jupiter proceeds to spoil it in Book I. On the contrary, if someone were just beginning to read the first book in the Harry Potter series and someone told them that Harry defeats Voldemort in the end, Ron and Hermione marry, and that Severus Snape ends up being one of the “good guys,” much of the enjoyment of the book would be spoiled.

In Chapter XIII of the Second Volume, Tocqueville mentions the character of democratic literature, “Habituated to an existence that is practical, contested, and monotonous, they need lively and rapid emotions, sudden clarity, brilliant truths or errors that instantly pull them from themselves and introduce them suddenly, almost violently, into the midst of the subject.”[5] The underlying reason for needing such literature is grim. Modern life is characterized by boredom, what Jean-Paul Sartre would later call the “nausea” of being alive. The need for escapism in this environment, the need for the novels, which Emma Bovary will find as necessary as food, is quite obvious.

Another very important problem with the new democratic wave is what Tocqueville calls “the tyranny of the majority.” He is quick to point out, “I do not know any country where, in general, less independence of mind and genuine freedom of discussion reign than in America.”[6] It is not just that the majority controls the legislature, but that once public opinion is set on one side of an issue, all people who disagree with that view are, very gently, pushed out and outcast. Of course, this presents a real danger should there ever be a need to have radical reform, whether legal or otherwise. In addition, seeing how the modern philosophers who can be regarded as the intellectual founders of the US and democratic society in general were speaking against public opinion without being made outcasts because of their beliefs, the environment they created may not provide quite the same convenience to the next generation of forward thinkers. Needless to say, this is very disadvantageous and dangerous to our society.

Perhaps because of the fear of rejection, modern society exhibits the characteristic of drawing people toward their immediate family and acquaintances into individualism. Individualism leads one to their immediate family and those like one’s self, thereby creating a microcosm and leaving the greater society aside.[7] With such a thought as its base, it is really easy to see how “the greater good,” is not such a popular phrase in the US anymore. The danger of such a sentiment is the fact that it withdraws the democratic man not only from his ancestors—democracy by itself is successful in doing that—but also from the greater understanding of his descendants—not just his children, but “the next generation” at large—and confines him to his immediate self and “the solitude of his own heart.”[8]

The end product of such a society reduces a nation “to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”[9] It is not very difficult to see how problematic this is. The same system that is supposed to be the peak of individual freedom can turn into being the end of all freedom. In the end, if, as Tocqueville posits, if the people cling to equality more quickly than liberty, it is possible to have a society of individuals who are perfectly equal, but are slaves. In fact, Flaubert allows us to see a very small glimpse into Tocqueville’s nightmare in the person of Charles Bovary.

There is no one passage that captivates this utter mediocrity about Charles Bovary, but the whole book is a testament to it. He is unceremoniously brought up, he studies for a meager position and gets a meager job—he can help out people with small problems, but Charles in no doctor, he can make no difference in a life or death situation—and never seeks an opportunity for advancement, he monotonously does his job, his first marriage is frighteningly monotonous and his relationship to Emma is just as monotonous, and his death is very anti-climactic. One would be hard-pressed to find a “peak” moment in Charles’ life where he is the agent. Of his own accord, Charles does all that he is asked for and no more. It is quite obvious that a book completely about Charles’ life would be the dullest thing to ever be written. A fitting description of Charles is, “… [his] conversation was as flat as a sidewalk, and it was traversed by a steady stream of the most commonplace ideas, all wearing their usual garb and appealing to neither the emotions, the sense of humor, nor the imagination,”[10] Nonetheless, Charles is a decent person, but his chief fault is that there is no mental capacity low enough to find him interesting or entertaining.

Opposite Charles is Emma, who is looking for all the right things in all the wrong places. Her tragic fault is her devotion to novels. She is introduced to them at a very young age and it seems that they shape her view of reality, or at least the ideal life. However, they are filled with, “love affairs, lovers, mistresses, persecuted ladies fainting in country houses, … dark forests, palpitating hearts, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, skiffs in the moonlight, … and gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one really is, and always ready to shed floods of tears.”[11] On the other hand, she marries Charles Bovary, who is very little interested in much of these. It is important to point out that Emma casts herself in the role of most of the aforementioned female characters and seeks for a mate that would fulfill the male characters’ requirements, but never finds one.

In the end, the root of Emma’s deep problem is Romanticism. She is looking for the perfect love story, in fact, she imagines marriage as a prolonged honeymoon. If things were as she wished, it would necessitate a perfect world. She expects a romantic cottage in the mountains, waterfalls, lemon trees, birds singing and idealized idyllic life all around (which is especially ironic since he was horribly bored with living in a farm), and star gazing,[12] seemingly forever. Needless to say, this sounds like a description from a cheap romantic novel that would be available in grocery stores today. One can be nearly sure that Flaubert meant it to sound that way. This is Emma’s expectation in life and it is quite clear from it that she is not grounded in reality. Therefore, those who would attempt to please Emma are implicitly, trying to materialize a dream.

With this outlook on life, it is to be expected that Emma could not find a person that could fulfill her desires. Charles is good and faithful, but he is “flat as a sidewalk,” Rodolphe simply gets tired of her and throws her away. One cannot know how she would have felt if she had seen his collection of lockets and letters from his other lovers, but he would have fallen from her graces very quickly after. Finally, Leon is a gentle soul, but Emma vastly overestimates who or what he is and, in the end, he throws her away so as not to mar his image after a promotion.  Emma tries more than once to turn to her duties as a mother to the daughter she bore Charles and to Charles as a husband, but her motivation is so low that she gives up after she hits the smallest obstacle. She tries to seek help in the Church, but Fr. Bournisien, who is just as materialistic as her, simply does not understand that she needs spiritual, not material help.

Try as she might to live out the ideal life as prescribed by Rousseau, Emma simply cannot. Her frantic search for a place that does not exist, a place without worries, i.e. Paradise on earth, leads Emma to suicide. Her last action of defiance is against herself, as she swallows handfuls of arsenic. Rousseau’s ideal fails her. The return to a more glorified state, with her desires as her moral compass leads her to, on the objective scale, two illicit affairs, a neglected daughter who will soon be sent to a cotton processing facility, and Charles, who will soon discover her love letters and die of heartbreak because of them.

The only other character in Madame Bovary that seems to have the same drive as Emma is Dr. Lariviére. Whereas Emma has no hard principles to hold herself by, the doctor “practi[ces] virtue without believing in it.”[13] This enables him to have a successful practice and to be productive in general. Even though the doctor seems to be just as disillusioned as Emma—hence his disbelief in virtue—he turns his efforts toward a selfless endeavor to salvage what he can of human life, whereas Emma not only makes life miserable for those around her, most notably her daughter and her husband, but also takes her own life. Whereas the doctor has imposed upon himself hard moral principals, Emma decides to follow her subjective feelings and they lead her to the abyss.

By buying into Rousseau’s theory, Emma gives in to an ideal that can never be fulfilled. This imposes an even more dangerous form of individualism on her than the individualism exhibited in Charles, i.e. he not only turns his attention from society at large to his own back porch, but he does away even with the back porch and keeps everything in. This is because he is a product of his flawed society, but Emma’s individualism is idealistic and self-imposed. It is quite obvious that Emma could care less about the greater good. In line with that, she goes through life simply hunting for feelings, looking for ways to entertain herself and relieve her eternal boredom. Because she is concentrated on feelings, she can place no stable value on anything. In addition, she is very severely uneducated, but she thinks of herself as the most refined being on this side of the planet. This last fact is mirrored in Mr. Homais, who is, like Emma a true child of the Enlightenment. Though Homais says that he believes in the God of Socrates, he knows very little about Socrates and philosophy, because if there were ever people who thought they were very wise but were not, Emma and Homais would make prime candidates.

Emma’s utter failure in trying to live out her idealistic, individualistic life, coupled with the monotonous, unexciting, and downright meaningless life of Charles show two seemingly opposite, but deeply similar ways in which democracy can spell the doom of a nation. Whereas Charles clings to equality, in a sense, and is turned into a sheep that can be weaned whichever way one chooses, Emma’s sense of individualism pulls her away from being able to have any positive impact on society. Needless to say, both these need to be avoided and it seems that a basic grounding in ethics, which the doctor exhibits, whether he believes in the underlying metaphysical foundations of it or not, is the cure to such problem. In the end, it seems that Aristotle was right after all when he said that any form of government could work, democracy included, as long as its constituents were selfless.

[1] A famous 4th century prayer mentions “Instill in us… thinking and doing only those things that are pleasing to you…” (Lit. acc. St. John the Chrysostom) though not emphasized in our current times, St. Paul is very adamant that we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes, 5: 17), which is to say to dedicate every action to God.

[2] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. I, Part I, Chptr. III, pg. 50

[3] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part II, Chptr. XI, pg. 509

[4] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part I, Chptr. XIV, pg. 450

[5] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part I, Chptr. XIII, pg. 448

[6] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. I, Part II, Chptr. VII, pg. 244

[7] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part II, Chptr. II, pg. 482

[8] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part II, Chptr. III, pg. 484

[9] De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part IV, Chptr. VI, pg. 663

[10] Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary, Part I, Chptr. VII, pg. 40

[11] Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary, Part I, Chptr. VI, pg. 36

[12] Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary, Part I, Chptr. 7, pg. 39

[13] Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary, Part III, Chptr. VIII, pg. 316