Author Christopher Snyder is referring to current divisive and destructive political, economic, and social realities when he says “civil discourse gave way too often to violence, protest, and abusive online taunts and insults.” In his timely, compelling narrative, Snyder asks, “How do we protect such democratic hallmarks as free speech and freedom of assembly when the body politic is suspicious of one another, holds divergent worldviews, and discards civility?” Snyder’s answer to this cultural dilemma is to begin talking with others and finding a common language that speaks across people’s differences. He suggests starting with the language of virtue ethics, “laws or principles that guide moral action both privately and (most importantly for this book) publicly.”
Snyder approaches the study of virtue ethics by exploring literary figures in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, especially the characters of Hobbits Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. He relates his findings to the history and current relevance of virtue ethics.
Detailed, somewhat academic, yet accessible, Hobbit Virtues explores the attributes of humility, courage, fellowship, good cheer, telling stories and singing songs, selflessness and sacrifice, mercy, hope, and wisdom. His chapter “Being Small in a Big World,” is especially relevant to the reality of globalization and how people perceive the world and their place in it.
Snyder ends on a note of hope for our culture and the revival of civil discourse through embracing virtue ethics. Employing Tolkien’s imagery, he concludes, “Ancient virtues may lay for many years dormant. It does not mean that they are dead. We Hobbits need merely to discover them, plant them in new soil, tend our little garden with care, and wait with sunlit hope for them to spring leaf and flower again in a new age.” (Pegasus Books)