Sunday, December 09, 2012

The politics of The Hobbit

I once knew a Liberal student politician who was fond of dismissing green and communitarian ideas as "hobbit socialism". (He later went to work for Friends of the Earth and was awarded an MBE.)

But I have always had a weakness for such ideas, so I was taken by a Larry Elliott in today's Observer on the politics of The Hobbit:
Tolkien became a cult figure among hippies in the 1960s, for whom LOTR worked on a number of levels: peace-lovers versus warmongers; military-industrial complex versus local smallholders; the lust for power versus individual freedom. These days he would have celebrated the victory of the people of Totnes in their campaign to keep a branch of Costa out of their town.
Yet those who believe in a small state and self-regulated markets could also claim Tolkien as one of their own. The Shire had hardly any government: families, for the most part, managed their own affairs and the only real official was the mayor, who oversaw the postal service and the watch.
Hobbits enjoyed a pipe and a mug of ale: it is unlikely Tolkien would have been a fan of smoking bans and minimum unit prices for alcohol.
The most encouraging thing about the article is the comments of the economist Elinor Ostrom, the first and so far only woman to win the Nobel prize for economics, who died earlier this year.

I do not know when Elliott interviewed her, but he quotes her views in the article:
Ostrom would have been pleased by this rare meeting of minds across the political spectrum. She talked about the "panacea problem" – policymakers' belief that there was a "best way" of doing things. "For many purposes, if the market was not the best way, people used to think that the government was the best way. We need to get away from thinking about very broad terms that do not give us the specific detail that is needed to really know what we are talking about," she said. 
Governance systems that worked in practice were not those that stemmed from a theory of what ought to work but had, on the contrary, evolved from local conditions. "There is a huge diversity out there, and the range of governance systems that work reflects that diversity. We have found that government-, private- and community-based mechanisms all work in some settings."
What is particularly encouraging about this is that Elliott tells us that Ostrom was once invited to deliver the Hayek lecture by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

What passes for libertarian thought in Britain generally involves either a concern with lifestyle issues that would best be met by moving out of your parents' house and getting your own place or support for the naked exercise of corporate power.

If British libertarianism could find room for a little hobbit socialism it would be the better for it.

2 comments:

Hywel said...

"The Shire had hardly any government: families, for the most part, managed their own affairs and the only real official was the mayor, who oversaw the postal service and the watch."

Seems to overlook the Rangers who kept a watch on the borders for many years.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.