Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of an important person whose reach and legacy has only grown larger with time: C.S. Lewis. (You thought I was going to say some other name perhaps?)
Lots to say about this great man, of course. I’m teaching his short book The Abolition of Man in one of my courses this semester. It is perhaps the single best and most artful short critique of the modern modes of moral relativism and nihilism—a book that I sometimes say can be read as a preface to Leo Strauss’s more dense and detailed Natural Right and History.
I still have my first dog-eared copy of Abolition that I read in high school, almost 40 years ago. (Eeek.) Among the prescient passages I marked at the time include this extension of Nietzsche:
The last men, far from being heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future. . . Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men.
And thus, behold the constituency and ruling ethos of the modern Democratic Party.
There’s lots more worth taking in frequently from this great book. But I’ll just add one more:
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.
Leo Strauss gives the political version of this same thought in his essay “Liberal Education and Responsibility,” where he says “wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism.”
One of the most familiar quotations from Lewis for our times is this, from a later essay published in the indispensable collection God in the Dock:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s 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.
Much much more to say about this great man. Pete Wehner says some of it here.