What was Aragorn’s tax policy?

Friday, April 25th, 2014

What was Aragorn’s tax policy?, George R.R. Martin asks:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

(Hat tip to Alex Tabarrok.)


  1. Excuse me if I’m imagining things, but has this excerpt appeared here before? It seems very familiar for some reason.

    That aside, I feel that Martin (like many) misses the point of what Tolkien was trying to accomplish. Lord of the Rings is not an attempt at a gritty, realistic portrayal of the mechanics of leadership, government, and war. It’s a fable; a synthetic myth painted in good and evil, courage and cowardice, loyalty and betrayal.

    I’m the first to admit that I do like realistic portrayals of the mechanics of leadership, government, and war. However, Tolkien pausing mid-poetic-stride to explain the logistical preparations for the Ork investment of Minas Tirith would shatter the tone just as much as if Homer paused the fight between Achilles and Hector to describe the trade network that supported bronze weapon manufacturing.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I have cited Martin on things he borrowed from Tolkien, but nothing quite like that passage from his recent Rolling Stone interview. (I did have to go back and check though.)

  3. T. Greer says:

    The MR thread was of fairly high quality. I agree with one succinct comment near the end of it:

    Yet which will be the better and more resilient myth? Tolkien’s, surely, despite the absence of public works policy. The purpose of myth is not really to describe the detailed complexities of life.

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    John C. Wright has argued that the reason G. R. R. Martin and nearly all other modern writers ultimately fail and that Tolkien succeeds is that the modern writers are themselves nihilists and their works are a nihilist message. Tolkien on the other hand was a practicing, believing Roman Catholic, and beneath the surface of his great myth is a Christian message.

    Ultimately, LOTR does not consider taxes and day-to-day rule because Aragorn’s triumph represents the Resurrection and Final Judgement and the reestablishment of Eden on Earth.

  5. Isegoria says:

    It didn’t cover Aragorn’s tax policy, but a previous post did discuss Making Mordor’s Economy Work.

  6. Toddy Cat says:

    “Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.”

    True. This is why Aragorn had to be both wise and good to rule a hundred years, not just good.

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