From the Conference, Living the Legacy: The Vision, Voice, & Vocation of C.S. Lewis
University of San Diego, June 21-23, 2013
All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. C.S. Lewis
Fifty years after his passing, what is it about C.S. Lewis that makes him so influential?Here I want first to recommend a new video, C.S. Lewis: Why He Matters Today from our friends at Asbury University, including Devin Brown, and I have taken the liberty of using some of their excellent discussion and wording in the preliminary portion of my talk.
For me, Lewis provided a clear articulation of what it means to be a Christian in his own life. He demonstrated what it means to be a Christian in todays modern world. For Lewis, Christianity was something that captured the mind, fired the imagination, and filled the heart. And becoming a Christian changed the way he viewed the world and the people in it.
1. Lewis showed that reason is the anchor of faith. By presenting a defense of the Christian faith that appealed to reason, Lewis removed obstacles to faith that most people in our world face today. By restoring reason to its rightful place, Lewis showed how Christianity could appeal to those earnestly seeking answers to the great questions of life.
As Lewis noted, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence . . . He wants a childs heart, but a grown ups head.
2. Lewis punctured the pomposity and the pretension of modern elite intellectuals. For example, Lewis revealed that you cannot trust your own reason if we are solely the product of random-chance evolution. Lewis tied faith and reason together in which Christianity is both faithful and rational.
3. Lewis noted that Reason is the natural organ of truth . . . but imagination is the organ of meaning.
The concept of story or narrative was crucial for Lewis. He showed that Christian imagination could expand our sense of whats possible. Christian imagination could re-enchant a world that has been disenchanted by the limited possibilities of modernism and scientism. He showed that speaking about God in non-religious terms is vital, making the truths of Christianity fresh and novel.
4. Lewis restored a Christian vision of humanity, the eternal destiny of every human being. As a result, he fought against the dehumanizing aspects of modern culture.
Now and to move on from the Devon Brown DVDs focus, Lewis was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, theologian, and Christian apologist. He held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 19251954, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 19541963. He is best known both for his fictional work, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain. But as I would like to discuss today, Lewis influence goes far further and this reflects a more profoundly relevant worldview for modern man.
To give a more complete account of Lewiss influence, his books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia, first published between 1950 and 1954, have sold the most and have been popularized on stage, TV, radio, and cinema, and estimates approach 150 million sets having been published. Since 2001, Mere Christianity has sold 3 million copies and The Screwtape Letters 2 million copies. It is estimated that annual sales of Lewiss books range from 3-6 million copies.
In all there are 110 authored or edited books by Lewis and at last count 242 books that discuss him and his work, with additional new ones published every year. The combined box office sales for the three Narnia films totals $1.5 billion (total budget of $560 million), with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the 49th highest-grossing film of all time and the film series is the 24th highest grossing one of all time.
Until the Harry Potter series, the seven volumes of Lewiss Chronicles of Narnia book series were the most influential childrens books in the world, voted so by successive polls of parents, librarians and teachers, and by their sales. And the Potter books havent cut into Narnias market. Indeed, theyve greatly expanded it as sales of the Narniad have increased by 20% during this time.
As some of you may know, Lewis will also be honored in Westminster Abbey on November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of his death, when they dedicate a C.S. Lewis stone in Poets Corner among markers for Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Dickens, and others. To commemorate the occasion, an anthem is being composed setting words by Lewis for the premiere at the November service.
There also exist over 100 C.S. Lewis Societies around the world, including the C.S. Lewis Society of California. In addition to the C.S. Lewis Foundation, there is the C.S. Lewis Institute, numerous centers at various universities, and hopefully a future C.S. Lewis College.
Clearly, Lewis has had a profound impact on the world. But again, what accounts for this influence, which continues to grow? As with Lewis, we live in an increasingly secularized world of massive and pervasive nation states in which traditional religion, especially Christianity, is ruled unwelcome and even a real danger on the basis of a purported history of intolerance and religious violence. This is found in most all public domains, including the institutions of education, business, government, welfare, transportation, parks and recreation, science, art, foreign affairs, economics, entertainment, and the media. A secularized public square policed by government is viewed as providing a neutral, rational, free, and safe domain that keeps the irrational forces of religion from creating conflict and darkness. And we are told that real progress requires expanding this domain by pushing religion, especially Christianity, ever backward into remote corners of society where it has little or no influence. In short, modern America has become a secular theocracy with a civic religion of national politics (nationalism) occupying the public realm in which government has replaced God.
For Lewis, such a view was fatally flawed morally, intellectually, and spiritually, producing the twentieth-century rise of the total state, total war, and mega-genocides. For Lewis, Christianity provided the one true and coherent worldview that applied to all human aspirations and endeavors: I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. [The Weight of Glory]
In his book, The Discarded Image, Lewis revealed that for Medieval Christians, there was no sacred/secular divide and that this unified, theopolitical worldview of hope, joy, liberty, justice, and purpose from the loving grace of God enabled them to discover the objective, natural-law principles of ethics, science, and theology, producing immense human flourishing. Lewis described the natural law as a cohesive and interconnected objective standard of right behavior:
This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all values are rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ideologies, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself. Arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. (The Abolition of Man)
And in his recent book, The Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark has further shown How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and the Success of the West. Similarly and prior to the rise of the secular nation-state in America, Alexis de Tocqueville documented in his 1835 volume, Democracy in America, the remarkable flexibility, vitality and cohesion of Christian-rooted liberty in American society with business enterprises, churches and aid societies, covenants and other private institutions and communities.
In his book, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, William Cavanaugh similarly notes that for Augustine and the ancient world, religion was not a distinct realm separate from the secular. The origin of the term religion (religio) came from Ancient Rome (re-ligare, to rebind or relink) as a serious obligation for a person in the natural law (religio for me) not only at a shrine, but also in civic oaths and family rituals that most westerners would today consider secular. In the Middle Ages, Aquinas further viewed religio not as a set of private beliefs but instead a devotion toward moral excellence in all spheres.
However in the Renaissance, religion became viewed as a private impulse, distinct from secular politics, economics, and science. This modern view of religion began the decline of the church as the public, communal practice of the virtue of religio. And by the Enlightenment, John Locke had distinguished between the outward force of civil officials and the inward persuasion of religion. He believed that civil harmony required a strict division between the state, whose interests are public, and the church, whose interests are private, thereby clearing the public square for the purely secular. For Locke, the church is a voluntary society of men, but obedience to the state is mandatory.
The subsequent rise of the modern state in claiming a monopoly on violence, lawmaking, and public allegiance within a given territory depended upon either absorbing the church into the state or relegating the church to a private realm. As Cavanaugh notes:
Key to this move is the contention that the churchs business is religion. Religion must appear, therefore, not as what the church is left with once it has been stripped of earthly relevance, but as the timeless and essential human endeavor to which the churchs pursuits should always have been confined. . . . In the wake of the Reformation, princes and kings tended to claim authority over the church in their realms, as in Luthers Germany and Henry VIIIs England. . . . The new conception of religion helped to facilitate the shift to state dominance over the church by distinguishing inward religion from the bodily disciplines of the state.
For Enlightenment figures like Jean-Jacques Rousseau who dismissed natural law, civic religion as in democratic regimes is a new creation that confers sacred status on democratic institutions and symbols. And in their influential writings, Edward Gibbon and Voltaire claimed that the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the last gasp of medieval barbarism and fanaticism before the darkness was dispelled. Gibbon and Voltaire believed that after the Reformation divided Christendom along religious grounds, Protestants and Catholics began killing each other for more than a century, demonstrating the inherent danger of public religion. The alleged solution was the modern state, in which religious loyalties were upended and the state secured a monopoly of violence. Henceforth, religious fanaticism would be tamed, uniting all in loyalty to the secular state. However, this is an unfounded myth of religious violence. The link between state building and war has been well documented, as the historian Charles Tilly noted, War made the state, and the state made war. In the actual period of European state building, the most serious cause of violence and the central factor in the growth of the state was the attempt to collect taxes from an unwilling populace with local elites resisting the state-building efforts of kings and emperors. The point is that the rise of the modern state was in no way the solution to the violence of religion. On the contrary, the absorption of church into state that began well before the Reformation was crucial to the rise of the state and the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Nevertheless, Voltaire distinguished between state religion and theological religion of which A state religion can never cause any turmoil. This is not true of theological religion; it is the source of all the follies and turmoils imaginable; it is the mother of fanaticism and civil discord; it is the enemy of mankind. What Rousseau proposed instead was to supplement the purely private religion of man with a civil or political religion intended to bind the citizen to the state: As for that man who, having committed himself publicly to the states articles of faith, acts on any occasion as if he does not believe them, let his punishment be death. He has committed the greatest of all crimes: he has lied in the presence of the laws.
As a result, the Enlightenment set in motion what has become todays secular theocracy that is authoritarian and hypocritical for not just its denial of moral condemnation of secular violence, but its exaltation of such violence as highly praiseworthy.
Lewis realized this serious problem in ways that precious few Christian leaders have for the past 200 years. For Lewis, either Christianity applied to everything in the world, and indeed the universe, or it applied to nothing.
Unfortunately for decades, some Christians, both Conservative and Liberal have embraced an ill-conceived, Progressive (i.e., authoritarian) vision to wield intrusive government powers as an unquestionable and even sanctified calling for both domestic and international matters, abandoning the Christian, natural-law tradition in moral ethics and economics. In contrast, the Oxford/Cambridge scholar and bestselling author C.S. Lewis did not suffer such delusions, despite the gigantic and deeply disturbing advances and conflicts of total war, the total state, and genocides during his lifetime.
For example, in 1951, Winston Churchill regained office as British Prime Minister and within weeks of doing so, he wrote to Lewis offering to have him knighted as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. However, Lewis flatly declined the honor as he, unlike Progressives, was never interested in politics and was deeply skeptical of government power and politicians, as expressed in the first two lines of his poem, Lines During a General Election:
Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear
All that; it is their promises that bring despair.
Earlier, in 1940, Lewis had written in a letter to his brother Warren, Could one start a Stagnation Partywhich at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place? He further stated, I was by nature against Government.
However, while such contemporary, Progressive Christians have clamored for the notion of achieving social justice through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? In this session, I will only begin to touch on some of Lewiss many writings pertaining to the subject of liberty and Christian teachings, because any truly adequate examination would warrant at least an entire book.
Unquestionably, Lewis was profoundly interested in the ideas and institutions that were the basis for free and virtuous individuals and communities, but he was not at all interested in partisanship or campaign politics. He instead focused on first principles, and public-policy matters were only of interest as they pertained to questions of enduring value. As a result, while the work of most modern scholars and other writers quickly become dated and obsolete, Lewiss work has achieved increasing timelessness and relevance. His books sell at an astounding rate, and while Lewis is best known for his fiction, he also wrote superb books in philosophy and theology, literary history and criticism, poetry, and autobiography, as well as at last count more than fifty thousand letters to individuals worldwide.
Throughout his work, Lewis infused an inter-connected worldview that championed objective truth, moral ethics, natural law, literary excellence, reason, science, individual liberty, personal responsibility and virtue, and Christian theism. In so doing, he critiqued naturalism, reductionism, nihilism, positivism, scientism, historicism, collectivism, atheism, statism, coercive egalitarianism, militarism, welfarism, and de-humanization and tyranny of all forms. And unlike Progressive crusaders for predatory, government power economically and socially over the peaceful pursuits of innocent people, Lewis noted that:
I do not like the pretensions of Governmentthe grounds on which it demands my obedienceto be pitched too high. I dont like the medicine-mans magical pretensions nor the Bourbons Divine Right. This is not solely because I disbelieve in magic and in Bossuets Politique. I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands Thus saith the Lord, it lies, and lies dangerously.
Lewis not only addressed the evils of totalitarianism as manifested in fascism and communism, but the more subtle forms that face us on a daily basis, including the welfare, therapeutic, nanny and scientistic states. For example:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be cured against ones will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
Throughout Lewiss books, he defended the rights and sanctity of individuals against tyranny not just because he opposed evil but because he considered life in freedomincluding both social and economic freedomto be essential:
I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he had the freeborn mind. But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; thats the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyones schoolmaster and employer?
As Rodney Stark discussed in his book, The Victory of Reason, the concept of the self (individualism) and free will had been discussed by Marcus Tullius Cicero and others before the Christian era, but it was not until Jesus personally asserted in words and deeds the concept of universal moral equality before and responsibility to God, and not until Christian theologians made it a central feature of their doctrine, that the rights of each and every individual were championed and slavery was condemned. And Stark has pointed out that although almost every other early culture and religion viewed human society in terms of the tribe, polis, or collective, it is the individual who was the focus of Christian political thought, and this, in turn, explicitly shaped the views of later European political philosophers.
This focus produced a radical change in a world in which, despite notable but limited exceptions of political decentralization, slavery and nearly universal and unyielding despotism had ruled, where people were treated as mere members of a group without rights. With Christianity, each and every person is a child of God or holy object (res sacra homo) who has free will and is individually responsible for the choices he or she makes. In this tradition, Thomas Aquinas stated, A man can direct and govern his own actions also. Therefore the rational creature participates in the divine providence not only in being governed but also in governing.
In this regard, Lewis stressed the importance of the natural law of moral ethics, a code of moral conscience that is inescapable and defines each person as human. Such morality exists on its own independent of subjective choices or experiences, just as one may grasp the inherent truism of mathematics or natural physical laws such as gravity. Lewis drew on the natural law insights of such thinkers as the apostle Paul, Augustine, Magnus, Aquinas, Cicero, Grotius, Blackstone, Acton and Locke, and considered modernist dismissals of such work to be fundamentally erroneous. In particular, both Aquinass notion of common sense (communis sensus) as described in his Summa Theologica and the legacy of rational theism found in Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and certain pagan writersthe core philosophical system of the Westhad a powerful effect on Lewis. To him, the culture of modernism is not just an historical aberration of this common sense, but a profound threat to the pursuit of truth, goodness, and civilization itself.
This common sense, or Lewiss notion of common rationality, consisted in part on the intrinsic understanding by each individual as a human being of an objective, universal, and natural legal order of truth and morality (the natural law, or what Lewis called the Tao), upon which each person discerns, chooses, and acts. For Lewis, each individual responds to and can come to know and experience this external reality of truthit is a common knowledge. This insight is similar to that of Adam Smith in his 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he discussed how individuals are born with an innate moral conscience and sympathy for the well-being of others by following the natural law.
Lewis claimed that:
If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason of man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects [of Confucius], the Stoics, the Plantonists, from Australian aborigines and Redskins, he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty. He may be a little surprised (I certainly was) to find that precepts of mercy are more frequent than precepts of justice; but he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the law of nature. There are, of course, differences. There are even blindnesses in particular culturesjust as there are savages who cannot count up to twenty. But the pretence that we are presented with a mere chaosthough no outline of universally accepted value shows throughis simply false and should be contradicted in season and out of season wherever it is met. Far from finding a chaos, we find exactly what we should expect if good is indeed something objective and reason the organ whereby it is apprehendedthat is, a substantial agreement with considerable local differences of emphasis and, perhaps, no one code that includes everything.
Lewis noted that what is common to all these concepts is something crucial:
It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. . . . No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are illogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should obey it.
As such, Lewis firmly rejected the idea that only those who were Christian could understand or be moral because the natural law is fundamental to human existence and serves as the basis for human choice. He noted that if only Christians could be moral or understand morality, then there would exist an unworkable dilemma in which no one could be persuaded of or ever become moral who was not already a Christian, and hence that no one could ever become Christian.
It is often asserted that the world must return to Christian ethics in order to preserve civilization. Though I am myself a Christian, and even a dogmatic Christian untinged with Modernist reservations and committed to supernaturalism in its full rigour, I find myself quite unable to take my place beside the upholders of [this] view. It is far from my intention to deny that we find in Christian ethics a deepening, an internalization, a few changes of emphasis in the moral code. But only serious ignorance of Jewish and Pagan culture would lead anyone to the conclusion that it is a radically new thing.
Lewis argued for the existence of a natural moral law known by all. This natural moral code cannot be escaped; it is the source from which all moral judgments come. Its fundamental truthsmaxims like good should be done and evil avoided, that caring for others is a good thing, that dying for a righteous cause is a noble thingare known independently of experience. They are grasped in the same way that we know that 2+2=4.
As Paul stated, when Gentiles do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.In his book, The Discarded Image, Lewis showed that Pauls statement completely conforms with the view that morality is determined by right reason or the Stoic idea of natural law:
[T]he Stoics believed in a Natural Law which all rational men, in virtue of their rationality, saw to be binding on them. St, Paul[s] statement in Romans (ii 14 sq.) that there is a law written in the hearts even of Gentiles who do not know the law is in full conformity with the Stoic conception, and would for centuries be so understood. Nor, during those centuries, would the word hearts have had merely emotional associations. The Hebrew word which St. Paul represents by kardia would be more nearly translated Mind.
Lewis posed similar arguments in his books, The Problem of Pain and Christian Reflections. However, as with all natural law proponents, Lewis was careful to note that natural law does not afford easy or precise solutions to all questions. Echoing Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics, he noted that, moral decisions do not admit mathematical certainty.
Moral Relativism and Utilitarianism
A central importance of Lewiss discussion of natural law is his critique of the moral relativism of utilitarianism (the end justifies the means) as a theory of ethics and guide to behavior. Lewis claimed that the precepts of moral ethics are not for grabsthey cannot just be innovated or improvised as we go along. Picking and choosing among the code of the Tao is inherently foolish and harmful. He notes for example that attempts to base moral ethics as the product of a physicalism of survival and instinct creates a profound dilemma. On the one hand, the utilitarian (or Innovator, as Lewis calls him) tries to make judgments of the value of human choices by claiming that one decision is good or not. But on what basis is this valuation made, if the only standard that exists is instinct? Lewis shows that all such valuations necessarily must use an objective standard of the Tao to do so, even if only partially. As he stated:
The Innovator . . . rates high the claims of posterity. He cannot get any valid claim for posterity out of instinct or (in the modern sense) reason. He is really deriving our duty to posterity from the Tao; our duty to do good to all men is an axiom of Practical Reason, and our duty to do good to our descendants is a clear deduction from it. But then, in every form of the Tao which has come down to us, side by side with the duty to children and descendants lies the duty to parents and ancestors. By what right do we reject one and accept the other? . . . [T]he Innovator may place economic value first. To get people fed and clothed is the great end, and in pursuit of it, scruples about justice and good faith may be set aside. The Tao of course agrees with him about the importance of getting the people fed and clothed. Unless the Innovator were himself using the Tao he could never have learned of such a duty of justice and good faith which he is ready to debunk. What is his warrant? He may be a jingoist, a racialist, an extreme nationalist, who maintains that the advancement of his own people is the object to which all else ought to yield. But no kind of factual observation and no appeal to instinct will give him a ground for this opinion. Once more, he is in fact deriving it from the Tao: a duty to our own kin, because they are our own kin, is a part of traditional morality. But side by side with it in the Tao, and limiting it, lie the inflexible demands of justice, and the rule that, in the long run, all men are our brothers.
Lewis hence described the natural law as a cohesive and inter-connected objective standard of right behavior:
This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all values are rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ideologies, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself. Arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity.
Lewis then asked if this implies that:
no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place? That we are bound down for ever to an unchanging code given once and for all? And is it, in any event, possible to talk of obeying what I call the Tao? If we lump together, as I have done, the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew, shall we not find many contradictions and some absurdities? I admit all this. Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real developments, is required. . . . But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all. . . . From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao.
Liberty and Equality
As a natural law proponent, Lewis was a supporter of the law of equal liberty but a firm critic of imposed egalitarianism for any reason. He further understood that egalitarianism is too often a cloak for envy (the sin of coveting) and that such appeals for regimentation are tyrannical:
The demand for equality has two sources; one of them is among the noblest, the other is the basest of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority. ...Equality (outside mathematics) is a purely social conception. It applies to man as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic; she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic; she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men. Truth is not democratic; she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favours. Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death. A truly democratic educationone which will preserve democracymust be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly high-brow.
He also recognized innate individual human differentiation and how each individual souls uniqueness is divinely ordained:
It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly senseif we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertainingthen this is nonsense. . . . If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us. . . . In this way then, the Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body.
In an earlier paper, I discussed Lewiss rejection of the determinism of both genetic and environmental causality for mankind. In the so-called modernist perspective, man is viewed as not a moral agent but is conditioned solely by non-rational causes and all that counts is not What is just?, but the utilitarian What works? If man has free will and is considered accountable for his actions, there are limits on the States power. But if individuals act out of necessity, they are not moral agents. Instead of punishment for wrong-doing, pre-emption becomes the means of social control. As championed by authoritarians of both left and right, the State simply eliminates your choice or more exactly makes the choice for you. And this is the basis for the Progressive precautionary principle and government measures based on it of prior restraint. Lewis discussed this problem at length in The Abolition of Man as well as in various essays including The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.
Collectivism and Statism
Lewis hence understood that without this necessary natural-law framing of social, legal and political culture, mankind would no longer be recognized as worthy of rights or even common decency, but instead left defenseless to any and all forms of oppression:
Our courts, I agree, have traditionally represented the common man and the commons view of morality. It is true that we must extend the term common man to cover Locke, Grotius, Hooker, Pynet, Aquinas, Justinian, the Stoics, and Aristotle, but I have no objection to that; in one most important, and to me glorious, sense they were all common men. But that whole tradition is tied up with ideas of free-will, responsibility, rights, and the rule of nature. Can it survive in Courts whose penal practice daily subordinates desert to therapy and the protection of society? . . . For if I am not deceived, we are all at this moment helping to decide whether humanity shall retain all that has hitherto made humanity worth preserving, or whether we must slide down into sub-humanity imagined by Mr. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell and partially realized in Hitlers Germany.
We hence have the basis for the scientistic, brave new world in which the citizen and government become slave and master, exactly what Lewis critiqued in his essay, Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State. And course, what all of this means is the elimination of what makes mankind human in the first place. As Lewis stated:
The question has become whether we can discover any way of submitting to the worldwide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare States honey and avoiding the sting? Let us make no mistake about the sting. The Swedish sadness is only a foretaste. To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his deaththese are wishes deeply ingrained in civilized man.
This theme recurs throughout Lewiss work, including in both his fiction and non-fiction. For example, in the third volume of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, he describes a disturbing world in which a scientific elite creates a totalitarian system in order to coercively engineer a new mankind via the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. for short. The bureaucrats and planners of N.I.C.E. are exactly what he earlier attacked in his masterly book, The Abolition of Man.And in Lewiss novel, The Screwtape Letters, the demonic Screwtape instructs his pupil Wormwood to mislead his human patient by using the convoluted Progressive concept of social justice in order to twist what appears to be Good into Evil and seduce the person into sin:
On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anythingeven to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.
For Lewis, science should be a quest for knowledge, and his concern was that in the modern era, science is too often used instead as a quest for power of some over others. Lewis did not dispute that science is an immensely important tool to understand the natural world, but his larger point is that science cannot tell us anything that is ultimately important regarding what choices we should make. In other words, Lewis shows that what is does not indicate what ought to be. Scientists on their own are not able to address moral ethics, and all social and political questions are exclusively questions of morality. Lewis went further in viewing all those disciplines that attempt to replicate the scientific method to analyze man as non-science (scientism):
[T]he new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. . . . If we are to mothered, mother must know best. . . . Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about science. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a mans opinion no added value.
Lewis further showed:
On just that same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. . . . We must give full weight to the claim that nothing but science, and science globally applied, and therefore unprecedented Government controls, can produce full bellies and medical care for the whole human race: nothing, in short, but a world Welfare State. It is a full admission of these truths which impresses upon me the extreme peril of humanity at present. We have on the one hand a desperate need: hunger, sickness, and dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnipotent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? This is how it has entered before; a desperate need (real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real of apparent) to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals have sold themselves as slaves, in order to eat. So in society. Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerersa war-lord who can save us from the barbarians. . . . Give them what they ask, give ourselves to them bound and blindfold, if only they will! Perhaps the terrible bargain will be made again. . . . The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the world-wide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. . . . All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect, some greedy, cruel and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it had done before?
As thus most consistent with his study of natural law and the nature of man, Lewis settled on democracy (not majoritarianism, but self-government as in Alexis de Tocquevilles Democracy in America) as the least, bad political structure, but only in order to limit centralized, political power: I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Manor more precisely that man is free to choose good or evil.
I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that theyre not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that theyre not true without looking further than myself. I dont deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most peopleall the people who believe advertisement, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Man is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
Similarly, in his book, The Weight of Glory, he noted the need to radically constrain the powers of government, quoting Lord Actons axiom on the corrupting influence of power:
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trust with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. . . . [S]ince we have sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. . . . Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us.
And he went even further, stating, I detest every kind of religious compulsion: only the other day I was writing an angry letter to The Spectator about Church Parades in the Home Guard!For Lewis, legal equality under democracy, further, enriches each individuals unique, spiritual life:
Under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive. It is there, of course, in our life as Christians: there, as laymen, we can obeyall the more because the priest has no authority over us on the political level.
But Lewis fully understood that if unchecked, democracy becomes egalitarianism, trampling on liberty as a collectivist force for evil by celebrating pride and envy as it fosters tyranny. Here for example is Lewiss demonic Screwtape again, this time in Screwtape Proposes a Toast:
Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didnt know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a toolshed in his own garden. . . . Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. . . . And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.. . . Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. . . . dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be undemocratic. . . . And anyway the teachers or should I say, nurses? will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. . . . this would not follow unless all education became state education. . . . Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. . . . And what we must realize is that democracy in the diabolical sense (Im as good as you, Being Like Folks, Togetherness) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth. . . . It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. . . . The overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave states are for us a means (besides, of course, being fun); but the real end is the destruction of individuals. . . . Im as good as you is a useful means for the destruction of democratic societies. But it has a far deeper value as an end in itself, as a state of mind which, necessarily excluding humility, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of gratitude or admiration, turns a human being away from almost every road which might finally lead him to Heaven.
Above all, Lewis was a keen observer of the world he lived in, consistently recognizing the implications of every development, as with the galloping socialism of post-World War II England:
This would be no more than an extreme application of the political philosophy implicit in most modern communities. It has stolen on us unawares. Two wars necessitated vast curtailments of liberty, and we have grown, though grumblingly, accustomed to our chains. The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance. Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the linguistic analysts. As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoic, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us goodanyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name leaders for those who were once rulers. We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, Mind your own business. Our whole lives are their business.
In direct contrast to the moral relativism, utilitarianism, collectivism and authoritarianism of Progressives, the profound lessons from Lewiss extensive writings pertaining liberty are absolutely clear and of the upmost importance to every modern man and woman:
It is in Mans power to treat himself as a mere natural object and his judgments of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners. . . . Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao [natural law], or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own natural impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery. . . . The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.
In Lewiss book series The Chronicles of Narnia, the land of Narnia is held in place by the sacred Deep Magic (or natural law) and to transgress this moral code is the mark of evil. Toward the end of his first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, which was made into the highly successful 2005 film, the children Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy assume their rightful thrones as Kings and Queens of Narnia. Lewis describes how they governed during the Golden Age of Narnia and their most important accomplishments:
And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being cut down and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live [emphasis added].
 Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2006).
 William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 6268.
 Ibid, 7983.
 Ibid, 8384.
 Ibid, 113.
 Ibid, 127.
 Charles Tilly, Reflections on the History of European State-Making, in The Formation of National States in Western Europe, ed. Charles Tilly (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), 42.
 Cavanaugh, 128.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Willmoore Kendall (South Bend, IN: Gateway, 1954), 149.
 C.S. Lewis, Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State, in God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 315.
 Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005).
 See for example: Thomas J. Thompson, An Ancient Stateless Civilization: Bronze Age India and the State in History, The Independent Review (Winter 2005), 365-384; Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988); David Friedman, Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case, Journal of Legal Studies 8, no. 2: 399-415; Joseph R. Peden, Property Rights in Ancient Celtic Law, Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1, no. 2 (1977): 81-95; and Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).
 Lewiss use of the term Tao (literally meaning the way or path) to describe natural moral law should not be confused with the Chinese naturalist philosophy of Taoism (Daoism), the various forms of which uphold nihilism, ethical skepticism, relativism, mysticism, intuitionism, and primitivism.
 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 1819, 83101. Also see C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1952); Lewis, God in the Dock.
 Paul, Romans 2:14-15 [NIV].
 C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 160.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962), 39; The Poison of Subjectivism, in C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 78-80.
 David J. Theroux, Mere Economic Science: C.S. Lewis and the Poverty of Naturalism, Independent Institute Working Paper #67. Excerpted as the article, Economic Science and the Poverty of Naturalism: C. S. Lewiss Argument from Reason, Journal of Private Enterprise, vol. 23, no. 2 (Spring 2008), 95-112.
|David J. Theroux is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute and Publisher of The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy.|