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Tolkien was right about power, control and centralization

Last month, a letter was written addressing my final column of the year.

Last month, a letter was written addressing my final column of the year. In short, the letter's main ideas were summed up by the title "Giede should look to Islamic State, China for inspiration;" in so many words, the author pointed out that my conclusions about modernity's failings were eerily similar to much of the developing world's leading figures whether they be ayatollahs, politburos, or regional strongmen.

Of course, one can get to similar conclusions from different starting places, as logic clearly teaches; and when one has an answer that seems to match the evidence, how to act upon said answer is usually directed by the particular values an individual holds. Given that I am not a believer in religious violence, Marxian dogma, or insidious nationalism, where the conclusion "liberalism is dead and we have killed it" leads me is altogether different.

So what is my answer? If liberalism is a failed project, where do we go from here?

Thankfully, many men and women much smarter than me have come to the same conclusions about modernity, and still consciously chosen not to jump off the deep end into nihilism, absurdism, or some other still wholly unsatisfactory philosophy. You can read a great deal of their brilliant thought as well as criticism about it at The Imaginative Conservative online. But for the sake of brevity, I shall stick to a single quotation from an author universally loved.

When asked about his politics, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien simply responded that he was an "anarchist of the non-violent variety" and as has clearly come to be shown through his life, letters, and works, this translates to a profound belief in the principle of "subsidiarity," or letting power reside with the nearest level possible.

This is not a new idea, and it is certainly not unique to Tolkien, although his display of it through his fictional works is a great way to get a grip on this idea. What is vital to understand however is that "subsidiarity" or "Tolkien anarchism" if I may call it that, is not a an ideology but rather a philosophy. That is, rather than dictating how proper power systems ought to be formed, it is understood these are simply consequences of right and just relations between human souls.

One more thing needs to be said about this philosophic concept; when subsidiarity is in practice, a thousand different customs and peoples bloom. There is no universal global system; from village to village, nation to nation, rituals, governance, and languages differ - quite the opposite from our homogenizing socio-politico-economic systems that we have currently.

There are many rebuttals that can be easily levelled against this call for a philosophy of intentionality and localism; unscrupulous people at home and abroad could take advantage of it, the lack of universality could devolve to tribalism or even violence, and the question of to whom would power, authority, or property be transferred could fill up courtrooms for a millenia. Not to mention that the gains made by centralization - particularly in technology - have become vital.

There is no easy answer to any of the questions that might be brought forward by the curious, cynical, and supportive alike. And, like the Roman Empire's dissemination into thousands of medieval kingdoms, it could very well take some colossal catastrophe for such a worldwide shift - a catastrophe I anticipate, but do not hope for with any kind of malicious intent, unlike the ayatollahs, politburos, or regional strongmen to which I've been recently compared.

At this point, I would simply argue that given the evidence, a change in outlook is necessary for survival, let alone flourishing. And while we still have time to choose, I would advocate we adopt intentionality and localism.

Can anyone really argue against that?