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Most states in Middle-earth seem to be feudalish kingdoms; Gondor, Rohan, Númenor, Dwarves, and Elves were all ruled by hereditary nobles.

Was there any state/society that was more of a democracy/republic? (Umbar perhaps?)

If not, did Tolkien indicate why, other than most of the sagas and myth he was imitating being set in kingdoms?

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    Good answers below: Ents, Shire, Laketown. Tolkien was at best ambivalent about democracy, as seen when he contrasts the greedy, cowardly elected rulers of Laketown with the brave warrior who is heir to the throne. As George RR Martin famously asked, what was Aragorn's tax policy? Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government, and so on. – Royal Canadian Bandit Dec 16 '14 at 8:50
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    Random thoughts: 1) Tolkien grew up during the height of the British Empire. 2) Let's face it; democracies aren't epic. 3) The three trolls in The Hobbit were democratic, and look where that got them. 4) I can't prove it, but Bree seems to be democratic. 5) Ossiriand: "After their leader Denethor was killed in an orc-raid they chose no more leaders...." That implies they chose their leaders, and went anarchist after Denethor. – dmm Dec 16 '14 at 17:46
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    @dmm or went to some other system without a "leader", such as a council whose members have equal standing. – Random832 Dec 16 '14 at 20:01
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit - if you can substantiate the ambivalence, it'd make a great answer – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 17 '14 at 15:13
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    You can't expect to wield supreme executive power, just because some watery tart threw a sword at you. – L0j1k Dec 19 '14 at 6:25
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The most obvious example in my view, and the only one that is mentioned in The Hobbit is the Master of Lake-Town (Esgaroth on the Long Lake).

In the Laketown we have always elected masters from among the old and wise, and have not endured the rule of mere fighting men.

The extended discussion of the Shire's local government does not come until the Lord of the Rings. Pedantically the Shire was still a part of the Kingdom of Arnor, so not a true republic.

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    Re: part of the Kingdom of Arnor - see Canada and older-time Australia :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 17 '14 at 15:12
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    @DVK - I agree that's a good analogy. No-one had worried much about Arnor for a long time, but it might explain where the Shire's odd governance system came from - it was really local government, there was an assumed, but now moribund, national government. – Francis Davey Dec 17 '14 at 17:50
  • Francis Davey - The States in the USA are republics - the constitution says the federal government must guarantee republican form of government for the states - thus they are republics despite being part of a larger nation. And most cities and towns in history probably had republican forms of government despite being parts of countries that were monarchies. Just as there are many kingdoms in Africa that are parts of countries that are republics. Where did you get the idea only an independent nation can be a republic or a kingdom? – M. A. Golding Apr 27 '17 at 23:53
  • @M.A.Golding - I took the sense of the original question to be asking about national and not local governments. "Republic" is used in more than one sense. As you say, it can be used to describe a form of government, but in my own dialect it is much more common to use "republic" for an independent state with a republican system of government. For instance I would never call the City of London a "republic" even though it has had a system of republican government for nearly a millennium. I would not call any American state a "republic" even if their government were republican. – Francis Davey Apr 28 '17 at 8:53
  • Francis Davey - if you meet the Raja of Perlis in Malaysia would you tell hims he is not a king - despite raja meaning king -, because Perlis is not an independent country? If you would accept him as a raja, and thus a king, you have to accept cities and states as republics. And would you describes Pisa or Genoa as republics in the middle ages? They were part of the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy Roman Empire. – M. A. Golding Jun 7 '17 at 5:02
67

As I was typing the question, the answer came to my memory.

Ents seemed to be pretty democratic (seemingly verging in anarchist in everyday life) - they had a council (Entmoot) where the decision on whether to go to war was being made. They had respected leaders but apparently no monarch making decisions - even Treebeard had to convince other Ents, despite being the only "elder" left who was active.

'Only three remain of the first Ents that walked in the woods before the Darkness: only myself, Fangorn, and Finglas and Fladrif – to give them their Elvish names...' {{I'm too hasty... so I skipped the rest of the quote with loooooooooong explanation of why he was the only one of the 3 elders dealing with the matter}}

... Still, I daresay I could get together a fair company of our younger folks – if I could make them understand the need: if I could rouse them: we are not a hasty folk. What a pity there are so few of us!'

... 'Hoo, eh? Entmoot?' said Treebeard, turning round. 'It is not a place, it is a gathering of Ents – which does not often happen nowadays. But I have managed to make a fair number promise to come. We shall meet in the place where we have always met: Derndingle Men call it. It is away south from here. We must be there before noon.'

And it was very explicit that they were deciding, all together:

'...and after that we shall have to decide what to do. However, deciding what to do does not take Ents so long as going over all the facts and events that they have to make up their minds about.

(source: Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers, Chapter IV, Treebeard)

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    I think it's likely that even in this, they were anarchist. If any particular Ent didn't wish to go to war, is there anything saying whether he did or did not have to go? – Tim S. Dec 16 '14 at 13:20
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    A moot is closer to assembly for debate than to any sort of government. In the proper context, it may be something akin to a judicial hearing, but I doubt that's the case for the Entmoot. :) – Brian S Dec 16 '14 at 16:15
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    @TimS. Your point of view would work if the Ents were fighting a war "over seas". An important aspect of "Going to War" for them was not just walking and fighting, but actually "Poking the Beast". If things went badly for the volunteers, things would likely have gone no better for the conscientious objectors. – tjd Dec 16 '14 at 19:42
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    I take the Ents more as operating by a form of consensus than what we tend to mean by democracy, but perhaps the niceties of such a distinction hardly matters in a comparison with hereditary aristocracy. – Glen_b Dec 16 '14 at 22:22
  • I would think that Ents are a band society - being small enough and integrated enough group to be able to achieve binding consensus without any formalities such as voting. – Maciej Piechotka Dec 17 '14 at 4:20
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The Shire is pretty much a representative democracy (or maybe a constitutional semi-monarchy), insofar as it has any government at all. The prologue to The Lord of the Rings says:

The Thain [an inherited office] was the master of the Shire-moot, and captain of the Shire-muster and the Hobbitry-in-arms, but as muster and moot were only held in times of emergency, which no longer occurred, the Thainship had ceased to be more than a nominal dignity. ...

The only real official in the Shire at this date was the Mayor of Michel Delving (or of the Shire), who was elected every seven years at the Free Fair on the White Downs at the Lithe, that is at Mid-summer. As mayor almost his only duty was to preside at banquets, given on the Shire-holidays, which occurred at frequent intervals. But the offices of Postmaster and First Shirriff were attached to the mayoralty, so that he managed both the Messenger Service and the Watch. These were the only Shire-services, and the Messengers were the most numerous, and much the busier of the two.

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Tolkien was very complete in his world, caring to cover all details to reach a very varied experience. In the government types you can find pure anarchy, like the trolls, kingdoms like the kingdoms of men, "communism" from orcs and also democracies. The shire is a small democracy where they have a mayor (they are too humble in their simple lives to have a deeper government). The Ents barely fit on a democracy, they have all their people choosing, fitting on a democratic parliament where every member of the council has equal value, and their decisions affect also their cousins, the Huorns. The mages itself with their council have the whole group deciding what is best for the whole place.

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