L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 256, January 25, 2004
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken"
Liberty: The Gold That Does Not Glitter
Special to TLE
January 19, 2004
All that is gold does not glitter,
All that is gold does not glitter,
I am one of those people who has reread The Lord of the Rings dozens of times. The release of the movie version was something I had dreamed about since I was around 10. I memorized Aragorn's "signature" poem quoted above nearly 30 years ago. Just a few years ago, it occurred to me that poem could easily have been written to describe what is happening to freedom in America today, and offers a prophetic view of how we might reclaim our birthright of liberty.
It is entirely possible from what I know of him that Tolkien indeed had some inner meaning relating to the struggle for freedom in mind. He was far more consciously anarchist than I realized until I started reading his letters some years after this first occurred to me. Whether he intended that meaning or not, the image is very strong.
Liberty does not "glitter"; it often appears far less valuable to many than it really is. All too often, the unthinking trade freedom for the seductive illusion of security and stability. Just as Franklin warned us, in the end they are left with neither.
Many who seem at first glance to be doing little to defend freedom may just be following their own inner guide. They seem "lost" to the rest of us, but they always understand their purpose and stay their own course. Their seemingly random and aimless wanderings may well mask some deep, hidden mission of vital importance, even if it is "only" self-discovery.
Freedom as a concept and an ideal is still strong and vibrant in America, whatever the faults of its implementation today. It is too strong to "wither", and the philosophical roots reach so deep that no passing political weather of the day can disturb them. Always they endure beyond the reach of destruction by any tyrant no matter how ambitious.
Just as "Strider" and his forefathers labored and died secret and forgotten for many long years before fulfilling their destiny, so liberty abides throughout this great land. A warning and a promise, it waits in the shadows for the proper time, neither seeking nor needing notice or praise. Even when the fire of freedom might seem to have burned out, it can rise anew like the Phoenix from its own ashes. Despite the gathering gloom the potential is still there for the light to suddenly spring forth dazzling from an unexpected quarter, illumining all for an all-too-brief moment before retreating again to bide its time, hidden safely away beyond the reach of those intending harm.
One of the most powerful images in both the written and screen versions is the broken shards of the sword Narsil. "Not much use, is it, eh Sam?" Strider asks in the inn at Bree the first time we glimpse the sword in the original written version. "But only a broken heirloom," says an unsettled Boromir after he cuts himself on the shard in the movie, though his obvious awe belies his words.
Like the American love of liberty, once even that broken hunk of steel was enough to cut away the power of the most terrible tyrant of Middle Earth. Both mundane tool and sublime symbol, even broken "the blade that cut the ring from" tyranny's hand still waits, gleaming silent and deadly, for the time and the people who will forge and wield it anew. A potential tool, and a symbol of hope.
Hope is what I think people most need, especially what I'll call for the moment the "individualists"; as opposed to the "patriots". A lot of patriots are to a certain degree operating on faith, a powerful force in its own right. The "visualize world peace" crowd are for the most part kooks, but they DO have at least that one element right. An idea is a powerful thing, and people's belief in it can be just as powerful, for good or ill. The existence of that belief is a fact, whether the object of it is provable or not.
Did you ever ask yourself WHY the Dunedain never tried to reforge the sword and regain their kingdom down the long centuries from the time of Arvedui the last king to Elessar the Renewer? It needed the combination of the tool, the knowledge, the right circumstances, and the man with both the courage to use it, and the moral character to do so justly. America (and in the bigger sense the cause of freedom) is not necessarily looking for one man in that sense, but you still need all those same elements before the action begins. Those astute enough to understand the need also understand that the morality and means are just as important as the act itself.
This insight is why anti-American rhetoric saddens and angers me, despite my own wrath at many of the actions undertaken by many in the black army of "orcs" infesting "our" government these days. I feel the same way Aragorn did when Boromir drops the hilt-shard of Narsil in the movie version. Even the broken remains of greatness deserve respect. More, they still retain power, just as that hilt shard was "still sharp" and can still draw blood - and was enough for Isildur to strike that fateful blow "3000 years ago". Just like those shards, the American dream of liberty lies awaiting the hour when it shall be forged anew. The hour, and the people with the will to wield it.
Terrible indeed may be the fire of that forging. Perhaps not, though. All that is needed is the strength of purpose and the will to take up that "sword" once it is forged. Until the American spirit is ready, liberty will remain "no more than a broken heirloom"... But ever the potential and the promise remain.
One day soon, the "crownless" will reclaim their heritage, take up the "sword" of Liberty that was broken and has been reforged, and cast down "The Men Who Would be Kings". Just as the Men of the West in Tolkien's tale, "few indeed [will dare] abide them or look on their faces in the hour of their wrath."
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