Oct 2, 2011

The paradox of Power in Middle Earth

Fantastic sagas can teach us a lot about good governance. The ring gives power, but in the long term it brings destruction to its holder. On the hands of Sauron, the ring would bring slavery and death; evil would rule.

How come the members of the Council of Rivendell manage to appoint a Company of nine fellows that succeed on a mission to carry a terribly tempting ring across Middle Earth up to Mordor? The short answer is that power is handed to Frodo, precisely the one who is less likely to use it and abuse it. In fact, Gandalf rejects possessing the ring because he knows that the ring will corrupt him. The spell of the ring tempts people, some of them pass the test, but others do not. Even Bilbo and Frodo, the good folks for the Shire, are tempted, but overcome the temptation, almost always.

The power is given to Frodo, precisely the one who does not want to use it. Because of his strong will that rejects the temptation of the ring he successfully overcomes a lot of obstacles until he takes the ring to Mount Doom for its destruction. Why does the council in Rivendell trust Frodo to be the bearer of the ring? He was certainly one of the weakest of all. The council knew that Frodo did not want the power in the first place. The shocking lesson is that, at the end, not even Frodo resists the temptation of the ring: once at Mount Doom he resists throwing it into the fire for its destruction. Gollum, who was following Frodo, bites Frodo’s finger and by accident Gollum falls into the lava, the ring is destroyed.

The Lord of the Rings shows that few people can hold power without being corrupted by it, and even they can give up against the temptations of power. Only an accident, motivated also by the desire of power, can destroy the ring, the source of temptation. Evil destroys itself.

What does this teach us about self-governance? The lesson is simple, give the power to those who do not want it, how paradoxical this is. Those who don’t want power, in general, do not compete for power. Therefore they will not rule. Those who compete for power, want power, and will abuse it. Economists call this “self-selection.”

The lesson of The Lord of the Rings is plain: societies that agree on giving power to those who are less likely to abuse it are more likely to overcome evil, slavery, and suffering. But nothing is guaranteed, at the end, only the desire of power defeats the very source of power.

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