Lewis & the Public Square (Part 3)

I’ve been sharing some of the paper I’m going to present at the upcoming C. S. Lewis Foundation summer conference. The theme of the conference is on how Christians can participate in the public square. The last section of my paper draws on Lewis’s insights on that matter.

In my previous excerpt, Lewis was writing about some of the pitfalls of democracy. He continues in that vein:

Lewis Letters Volume 3Lewis had an exchange on this issue with one of his regular American correspondents, Mary Van Deusen, who had raised the concern about communists infiltrating the government. Lewis responded that that raised the whole issue of one of the problems of a democracy.

A democratic form of government, he explained, rested on the will of the majority. What if, he queried, a majority should someday introduce communism, or even devil worship or human sacrifice? How should we respond in such situations? “When we said ‘Govt. by the people’ did we only mean ‘as long as we don’t disagree with the people too much’”?

He concluded, “Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority’s duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal.”

To forestall that terrible scenario from becoming reality, Lewis encouraged Christian involvement in the public square. When Van Deusen wrote to him about some very good people getting positions in the American government, he was pleased. One of his greatest fears about America, he shared with her, was “that politics were not in the hands of your best types and that this, in the long run, might prove ruinous. A change in that, the beginning of what might be called a volunteer aristocracy, might have incalculable effects.”

In fact, Lewis, in another of his essays, comes out strongly in favor of specific political activity with regard to appealing to legislators. While rejecting the idea of setting up a Christian political party, he nonetheless proposed what he called an “interdenominational Christian Voters’ Society” that should operate as a kind of pressure group.

If a political party sought the support of this society, it would have to pledge first its support for the society’s goals for the nation. ‘“So all it comes down to is pestering M.P.’s with letters?’ Yes; just that. I think such pestering combines the dove and the serpent. I think it means a world where parties have to take care not to alienate Christians, instead of a world where Christians have to be ‘loyal’ to infidel parties.”

Lewis’s insight here has something to offer American Christians as we look toward our next presidential election. What matters most, loyalty to a party or to our Christian convictions?

I’ll share the final excerpt next Saturday.

Should Convention Delegates Be Unbound?

The Republican party is getting anxiety attacks from the latest move to deny Donald Trump the nomination at the convention. There is an organized effort to release the delegates at the convention from the restriction that they must vote for whoever won the primary or convention in the individual states.

Is this anarchy? Is it a threat to the voice of the people?

While not an exact comparison, let me offer a history lesson today.

We are so used to referring to our nation as a democracy that we fail to grasp what the Founders actually established. They called it either a federal republic or a constitutional republic. Regardless of the precise wording, the one word they always avoided—actually abhorred—was “democracy.”

Constituitonal Convention

James Madison’s notes at the Constitutional Convention, and the comments made elsewhere throughout this Founding Era, reveal a profound antipathy to anything resembling a direct democracy. They constantly called to mind the ancient Greek city-states that were often democracies. The problem? The citizens were often deluded into following the rantings of popular speakers who would lead them astray by appealing to their emotions. Many Founders referred to democracy as “mobocracy.”

The word that describes those kinds of speakers/politicians is “demagogue.” As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a demagogue is “a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.”

The Founding generation wanted cooler heads to prevail in political discourse and the decisions to be made by the federal government. That’s why they deliberately chose to divide up the representation in a number of ways.

Constitutional Republic

First, they did give the people a direct say by letting them choose their representatives in the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, was to be chosen by state legislatures, thereby giving state governments representation as well. A lot can be said about how we later changed that—for the worse—but I’ll let that slide for now.

The president, in the Constitution, is not chosen by a direct vote of the people, but by specific “electors” chosen by the state legislatures. The goal was to ensure that popular enthusiasm wouldn’t allow a poor choice. They hoped the electors, who were supposed to be the wisest of statesmen, would choose better. In fact, the first time a direct vote by the people became common was in 1828, three decades after the Constitution was ratified.

Again, that electoral college approach has been altered by states simply allowing the slate of electors for whichever political party wins the popular vote to cast the official votes. Keep in mind that in the disputed election of 2000, the Florida legislature would have been well within its constitutional rights to choose its electors rather than waiting for all those recounts to be completed. They didn’t do that purely for political reasons: they would have been accused of overturning “democracy.”

Unfortunately, that’s where we are today in our understanding of how the system is supposed to work.

One of the big arguments in the decades following the ratification of the Constitution was whether the congressmen elected by the people in the House could vote their conscience or whether they were bound to vote according to what the majority of their constituents wanted.

Andrew JacksonThe ones pushing for the latter position were primarily the Democrats who, with the advent of Andrew Jackson, began to believe that congressmen were mere ciphers who cast the official votes for whatever their constituents desired. The feeling began to grow that the people are always right.

But the overwhelming view of the Founders was just the opposite. They knew that people could be misled and congressmen had a responsibility to consider seriously every proposed bill that came before them and vote according to what they believed was best for the nation, regardless of what their constituents wanted.

If they went against the wishes of those who elected them, they then went back to the people to explain why they did so. If they could convince the voters that they did the right thing, they were reelected; if they were unsuccessful in convincing them, they resigned themselves to the results of the next election.

That’s called living by principle and following one’s conscience. That means a representative is exactly that—a representative—which differs from a public functionary who must do whatever the people demand, even if it goes against sound logic and good policy.

Why even have congressmen if they are mere functionaries robbed of their own minds? Just take a nationwide vote on everything and do whatever the people want at a given moment? Sorry, but that sounds very scary to me. Public opinion is anything but stable and principled.

So how does this relate to the upcoming Republican convention?

Republican voters in the states made their decision on who they thought the nominee should be. They send delegates to the convention to make it official. What are those delegates? Are they thinking people who should have an opportunity to evaluate the voters’ decision or are they mere ciphers who are forced to vote a certain way even if they believe it would be to the detriment of their party and the nation?

I’ve read quite a bit about whether these delegates are truly free to vote as they wish. I think the evidence comes down in favor of that overall. Yes, some states have told them they have to vote according to the results of the primary. One Virginia delegate has now challenged that in court.

In other states, the Republican party itself has dictated they have to vote according to the results on the first ballot, at least, or in some cases, beyond that. But party rules can be changed at the convention.

A hypothetical: suppose the presumed nominee, prior to this convention, should do something particularly outrageous, along the order, let’s say, of advocating a lifetime tenure for the president, or giving the president the authority to dismiss federal judges whenever he disagrees with a court decision. If such a presumed nominee were to do something like that, do you think it would be wise to force the delegates to vote for that person regardless? Or would the party then rethink its rules?

Donald TrumpThe nomination of Donald Trump has divided the Republican party in a way no previous nomination ever has. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates 52% of Republicans are not satisfied with Trump as the nominee. That is unprecedented in the lead-in to the national convention.

Trump won only 44% of the vote in the primaries, and that figure is only as high as it is because he added to the percentage once his remaining opponents dropped out and the voters were resigned to having no other choice. Other polls indicate that up to 70% of the general electorate can’t stand this man.

Trump’s antics—whether one focuses on his character, his lack of policy knowledge, or his highly disorganized campaign—have not changed since his pledge to become more presidential in his bearing and manner.

Most political prognosticators (I know, they can be massively wrong at times) see an electoral disaster looming for Republicans.

Why, then, is the party establishment circling the wagons around Trump? They argue, with some discernment, that a circus at the convention would doom the party for sure in November. It might.

I would argue that going forward with Trump is the surest path to a Hillary Clinton presidency. Anyone else nominated would stand a better chance of beating her than Donald Trump.

So if the delegates were unbound, yes, there would be some instability introduced into this election even if Trump were to win the nomination anyway. And he would be an even more damaged candidate afterward.

If Trump were to lose the nomination at the convention, who would be nominated in his place? I don’t know. Perhaps that would be an even bigger tumult and the eventual nominee would be trounced in the general election.

However, it is also conceivable that someone might get the nomination who could unite the party in a way that Trump never can. If that should occur, and this nominee is a good communicator of Republican principles, there is a chance that the most despised Democrat nominee in history could be kept out of the White House.

I’m often accused of helping Hillary Clinton become president by not supporting Trump. I firmly believe, however, that those who are in Trump’s corner are the ones who are assuring a Clinton victory. He is electoral poison. Trump as the Republican nominee will put Clinton in the presidency.

So I do understand the anxiety over a contested convention, and I know there could be disastrous results, but I think we already have a disastrous result in a Trump nomination.

Free the delegates to be true representatives, not mere ciphers.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 2)

Last Saturday, I posted a portion of the paper I’m delivering to the Academic Roundtable at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Today, I’d like to offer another excerpt dealing with how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak to the culture and government in the public square.

C. S. Lewis 8Lewis called on his fellow Christians to engage the culture in every possible way. Education was certainly a key component for furthering the Biblical worldview; he called it “only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next.”

He expressed concern that the State might “take education more and more firmly under its wing.” By doing so, it could potentially “foster conformity, perhaps even servility, up to a point,” but it still would require people to do the teaching, and “as long as we remain a democracy, it is men who give the State its powers,” he noted optimistically. “And over these men, until all freedom is extinguished, the free winds of opinion blow. Their minds are formed by influences which government cannot control.”

Lewis believed in those “free winds of opinion” that could not be controlled by the government, but he did mention the condition: “as long as we remain a democracy.” While he favored a democratic system, which would allow for the free interchange of ideas in the public square, he also offered cautions that democracy, in itself, provided no absolute guarantee of success.

Screwtape Proposes a ToastThat warning came through the mouth of Screwtape in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which he has the diabolical fiend say,

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of Democracy in the strict sense of that word; the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage; but on the whole less often than other forms.

And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being like Folks, Togetherness) is the finest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political Democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.

For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs [emphasis added], only one result is possible.

Democracy, in Lewis’s view, while very important for expressing points of view on policy and the standards by which a society ought to conform, was not a cure-all for society’s ills. Wherever there are people, there are problems.

He believed in democracy, he said, because he believed in the fall of man. “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.” That was a false grounds for wanting democracy, he asserted.

Instead, he came at it from the opposite side: “Mankind 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.”

Part 3 next week.

The Lewis-Chambers Missed Opportunity

Another of C. S. Lewis’s regular American correspondents was Mary Van Deusen, someone with whom he shared thoughts on deep theological issues and on current events. One of her chief concerns, in the early 1950s, was the knowledge of how communists had infiltrated the American government. In one response to her, Lewis talked about how that issue showcased one problem with the modern concept of democracy:

C. S. Lewis 6Your question about Communists-in-government really raises the whole problem of Democracy. If one accepts the basic principle of Govt. by majorities, how can one consistently try to suppress those problems of public propaganda and getting-into-govt, by which majorities are formed. If the Communists in this country can persuade the majority to sell in to Russia, or even to set up devil-worship and human sacrifice, what is the democratic reply?

When we said “Govt. by the people” did we only mean “as long as we don’t disagree with the people too much”? And is it much good talking about “loyalty.” For on strictly democratic principles I suppose loyalty is obligatory (or even lawful) only so long as the majority want it. I don’t know the answer.

But of one thing he was certain: “Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority’s duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal.”

WitnessJust a few months before this response, Van Deusen had encouraged Lewis to get the book Witness by Whittaker Chambers, who had been an underground communist agent in the 1930s, but who had then turned his back on communism and found God. As a senior editor for Time magazine, Chambers had even referenced Lewis in an essay he wrote called “The Devil.” As one reads that essay today, one can see the connection with The Screwtape Letters.

Chambers’s book that Van Deusen wanted Lewis to read was a bestseller in 1952, as it exposed not only the communist underground, but positively pointed to the need for Western civilization to return to its Christian foundations. Many have described Witness as one of the most elegantly written autobiographies of the century, and I agree with that conclusion.

When Van Deusen suggested he get the book, Lewis merely answered, “I’m afraid I can’t find a W. Chambers book. It’s better not to send the book. They all get lost in the pile on my table.” This could be one of the great lost opportunities of the twentieth century. One would have loved to know Lewis’s response to that book, which, although written as an autobiography, is a wordsmith’s delight. But it was not to be.

Lewis: False Equality

What could possibly be wrong with the concept of equality? C. S. Lewis shows us that it has its boundaries, and he also reveals its darker underside. Here are his thoughts, taken from two separate essays:

When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget but as an ideal we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. . . .

The demand for equality has two sources; one of them is among the noblest, the other the basest, of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority. . . .

Equality . . . 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 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.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

Representative Government: An Insight from C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis didn’t write extensively on government, but when he did, he had insight into the basics. He uses the word “democracy” in the following quote, whereas I would prefer “representative government,” but his point is crystal clear and right on the mark:

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. 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 they’re not true. . . .

I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. . . . The real reason for democracy is . . . mankind 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.

Looking at that cartoon, I concluded that another comment by Lewis in the same essay was also appropriate for today:

Democracy demands that little men should not take big ones too seriously; it dies when it is full of little men who think they are big themselves.

How very true.