Lewis: Screwtape on Liberty

If one book can be said to have introduced C. S. Lewis to the world on a wide scale, it would be The Screwtape Letters. They are witty and full of insight, as a senior devil gives advice to a junior devil on how to tempt his human into disobedience to God—who was termed “the Enemy” in the book.

Lewis, though, says it was the hardest book he ever wrote, and I can understand why. He explained it this way:

Of all my books, there was only one I did not take pleasure in writing. . . . The Screwtape Letters. They were dry and gritty going. At the time, I was thinking of objections to the Christian life, and decided to put them into the form, “That’s what the devil would say.” But making goods “bad” and bads “good” gets to be fatiguing.

Screwtape Letters 2Although he vowed never to repeat that exercise, he did, later, write another little treatise that is now commonly included in newer editions of Screwtape. He imagined Screwtape giving a speech at the “Annual Dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils” and called it “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” In it, it’s obvious he still had the flair that produced the original. Take, for instance, Screwtape’s gloating on how mankind’s real enemy has subverted man’s desire for liberty:

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, you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn’t 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.

If you’ve never given The Screwtape Letters a try, why not now? Valuable insights await.

Liberty vs. License: Where I Stand

Comments from one reader of yesterday’s blog post leads me to want to explain something further. Yesterday’s post was concerned with the rush to judgment in Ferguson and the possibility that the greatest potential victim in this entire episode is the death of due process. There has been, in my opinion, too much pre-judging taking place. You saw it in the many nights of protest that included looting and rioting. You saw it in the statement of Missouri’s governor when he said a vigorous prosecution had to go forward. You saw it also in the arrival on scene of Eric Holder, who made it clear he empathized with the protesters. I questioned whether the DOJ would really conduct a fair and balanced investigation, based on Holder’s public position on the event.

Yes, I have serious doubts about the storyline being promoted by Michael Brown’s defenders. First, the main eyewitness was Brown’s partner in the manhandling of a store clerk and the robbery of the store just prior to the fatal incident with the policeman. Is this a trustworthy witness? There are also accounts of the policeman who fired those fatal shots being attacked by Brown. Who is telling the truth? All I’m asking for is an approach that gets all the facts first, then makes a judgment as to guilt afterwards.

I was asked by one commenter if I wasn’t concerned about how the police acted, and that this might be an indication of statist control of society. Let me be very clear here. Anyone who has ever read this blog on a regular basis cannot fail to understand that I sound the alarm on statism constantly. I firmly believe in the rule of law. The end-run the Obama administration always tries to make around the Constitution is a genuine threat to liberty.

That word “liberty” requires some explanation as well. Some people have a terrible understanding of what liberty actually comprises. It is not licentiousness. That’s why I can never be a libertarian politically. Ideological libertarians want nearly a non-existent government, not only in the economic and educational spheres (where I have substantial agreement with them), but also in the moral sphere (where I disagree with them vehemently). They replace the God of the Bible, who has ordained civil government for very specific purposes, with the god “Liberty.”

True liberty always includes personal accountability and a framework, in society, for order. Liberty to do whatever one wants is not true liberty, but license. What I saw on the streets of Ferguson, as business owners had to defend their private property from those who wanted to just grab things for themselves, was license. A police force must stand against those actions. The responsibility of the police is to protect the innocent from those who are out to hurt and destroy.

Did the Ferguson police go too far? There is an honest difference of opinion on that. I suspect that some of those business owners wish the police had been more of a presence than they were. Did the police charge the protesters, killing and maiming everyone in their way?  I didn’t see any footage like that, did you? In fact, they seemed rather tentative at times, worried perhaps about the reputation they were getting. That never would have stopped Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Castro. We are hardly on the verge of a police state, at least at the local level.

Now, does that mean I have reached a definite conclusion about the events of that night when Michael Brown died? Regardless of my leanings, which are based on what I have read and seen thus far, I nevertheless would have to continue to suspend any final judgment. If I were a resident of Ferguson, I would have a clear conscience sitting on a jury to decide this matter. I would look carefully at all the evidence and make my final judgment only after reviewing the facts as presented by both sides.

But there are some things that are clear to me:

  • Scripture requires an orderly society based on the rule of law.
  • Government is not a necessary evil, but an institution established by God to restrain evil and maintain order.
  • Rioting and looting are sinful actions that need to be met with the force of the government and put down with a force equal to the sinful actions themselves.
  • Guilt or innocence will be decided in a court of law, not in the media or on the streets by the loudest voices.

This is where I stand, and I make no apologies for my stance.

Lewis : Willing Slaves of the Welfare State

C. S. Lewis didn’t write a lot specifically about civil government because that wasn’t his priority. Yet when he did write on the subject, he was lucid and devastating with respect to how government can become a terror to individuals. One of his essays in God in the Dock is entitled “Is Progress Possible?” but the subtitle really gets to the point of the essay: “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.” He knew whereof he spoke, writing this in 1958 Britain, which was fast becoming a deadening welfare state at that point.

There’s so much in this essay that I’m going to divide it into two posts. This first one concentrates on the problem of what Lewis calls the “changed relationship between Government and subjects.” He begins with a dissection of our new attitude to crime:

C. S. Lewis 2I will mention the trainloads of Jews delivered at the German gas-chambers. It seems shocking to suggest a common element, but I think one exists. On the humanitarian view all crime is pathological; it demands not retributive punishment but cure. This separates the criminal’s treatment from the concepts of justice and desert; a “just cure” is meaningless. . . .

If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.

Note the clear insight that Lewis draws here: society is beginning to take away the idea of sin and personal responsibility—and punishment for evil actions—and replace it with the concept that all “evil” is just some kind of aberration that can be “treated.” And who is responsible for the treatment? Why, the government, of course. It will decide how to remake you in its own image.

Lewis continues:

Observe how the “humane” attitude to crime could operate. If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease?

One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory “cure.”? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Straighteners will reply: “But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

How contemporary as I survey the scene in America today, where Biblical morality is under attack as “hateful,” and where those who adhere to God’s standard are becoming subject to “re-education” directed by government fiat. Lewis saw this coming and shuddered at the loss of liberty attached to the new attitude:

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 linguistic analysis.

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, 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 good—anyway, 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.

I challenge you to reread these excerpts again and see if a chill doesn’t rise up your spine at Lewis’s description of the modern state. We see his prophetic utterance coming to fruition in our day.

More on this tomorrow.

America’s Image Abroad

Benghazi hasn’t been the only foreign policy fiasco for the Obama administration. Presumed Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was a non-entity as secretary of state. Neither she nor other State Department officials, when asked what she accomplished, could come up with anything concrete.

Her successor, John Kerry, is, if possible, even more inept. He and President Obama have displayed an uncommon disdain for Israel and sympathy for those who would like to commit another holocaust against the Jewish people. Last week, Kerry was caught saying that Israel might become an apartheid state. Yet the only nation in the Middle East that includes both Jews and Arabs in government is Israel. It was an offensive statement, divorced from reality. Israeli officials were deeply troubled by the attitude. They have lost confidence in America as an ally, and for good reason:

One Reason

Overall, the Obama approach to world affairs has been to wash our hands of any real leadership. He offers words, and little else. It’s not only Israel that has lost confidence in the nation that has, since WWII, taken on responsibility for combating the evil ideologies of communism and Islamic terrorism. What is America’s role today?

Atlas Shrugged

From returning a bust of Winston Churchill back to Britain, to the silly “reset” button sent to Russia, to the toothless reaction to the imminent takeover of Ukraine, to . . . well, fill in the blank . . . our policies are now being orchestrated by rank amateurs who are still trying to figure out how this all works:

Foreign Policy

So who is going to lead? On what nation or organization can the future of freedom depend? Well, there’s always the United Nations:

Shock Waves

Sure, that should work.

I’m not saying the United States has never stumbled in foreign policy prior to this administration, but there is one glaring difference today: the world no longer looks to us as the best hope for extending liberty and the rule of law. Obama is not too keen on either liberty or the rule of law, at home or abroad.

Reclaiming the Liberty Bequeathed to Us

Don’t forget the real reason you have the day off today, and keep in mind that the liberty won in that struggle from 1774-1783 was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, few reasonable people at the time predicted victory over the mightiest empire on earth. What was won should not be taken for granted; liberty can be taken away before we realize it. Just look at what has occurred in our nation since inauguration day 2009. Christian character—humility, fortitude, integrity—are essential if we are to reclaim what the Founders once obtained for us.

 Declaration Closeup

How to Make an Award Meaningless . . . or Worse

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award given to American citizens. It should be reserved for those who have embodied the quest for genuine liberty, and who have warned against threats to that liberty. That’s why President Reagan gave one of these medals, posthumously, to Whittaker Chambers, a man who put his personal reputation, his career, and possibly even his life, on the line when he revealed what he knew about the underground communist network within the U.S. government. That’s what this medal is supposed to signify.

President Obama has made a mockery of this award. Yes, I realize that the president has the prerogative to award this to whomever he wishes, and political beliefs are going to influence those choices, but sometimes a line is crossed. Let me talk about three of this year’s recipients.

Very few people have ever heard of Dolores Huerta, but conservative commentators lit up the internet yesterday with information about Huerta the president cleverly chose not to share. Here are some highlights:

  • Honorary Chairman of the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the U.S. and the principal U.S. affiliate of The Socialist International
  • Professed Marxist
  • Believes the War on Terror is really a war on immigrants
  • Board member for the following radical groups: Feminist Majority, Latinas for Choice, the Center for Voting and Democracy, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [the name sounds good, but it’s another Media Matters-type organization]
  • In 2006, she said, “Our theme will be: Republicans hate Latinos”

Giving a medal of freedom/liberty to an avowed Marxist is the ultimate in oxymorons. The two couldn’t be more opposed. Yet what this reveals is that the president himself holds the same views. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be honoring her.

Another recipient was former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Now, what could be wrong with honoring a man who served on the highest bench in the land? That would only make sense, right? Superficially, yes. But the philosophy Stevens brought to the Court was of the farthest-Left variety. He even gave an opinion on a partial-birth abortion case that said to deny a woman the “right” to have her unborn child put to death while being birthed would be to deny her “liberty” to make such a decision. Stevens said nothing about the right of the unborn child to have liberty. The unborn child didn’t matter at all to him. His concept of liberty is radical licentiousness. Licentiousness is a rather long word; let me simplify it: sin. So now we have a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner who won’t even protect the life of an unborn child at the very point of birth. This is tragic . . . and laughable, if one can truly laugh at the plight of innocent children.

I’m not aware of the list of recipients over the past years, but I’m sure Stevens is not the only pro-abortionist who has been so honored. It’s just that in this case, his decisions have made their mark on an entire nation. His influence was not indirect, but direct. He is one of the reasons we still fight the fight against partial-birth abortion. Giving him a medal of freedom is hypocritical at the least; an abomination might be a better term.

Another recipient was singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. This one is almost comical to me. Weirdly, as befits his persona, Dylan showed up to receive his award wearing sunglasses. Well, you know, those White House lights are pretty bright. One may be tempted to ask just what Dylan has done to deserve this award, and to be placed on the same pedestal as Whittaker Chambers. I’m certainly asking.

I grew up in the sixties. I remember Dylan and his songs quite well. The songs were all of the protest variety. Some are catchy, even though the sentiments expressed are classic left-wing. I can understand why people may enjoy some of his songs. It’s more of a stretch to imagine anyone enjoying his voice—nasal, whiny, strange.

Let’s be honest: Obama gave Dylan this award because he likes the protest movements of the 1960s and sees Dylan as a symbol of the counterculture. Obama still lives in the spirit of the 1960s; that’s where he is most at home philosophically. It reminds him of his own Marxist tutors and the influence of radical activists like Saul Alinsky.

One commentator jokingly suggested the real reason Obama thought Dylan deserved the award can be seen in light of his own autobiography, which reveals our president as a regular pot-smoker in his youth. Perhaps, the commentator noted, he really liked one of Dylan’s songs better than the rest: “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”

Sad.

If you want to know what kind of president we have—what his underlying beliefs are, and how he wants to transform this nation—all you have to do is look at his choices for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His choices diminish the meaning of that award, even as his presidency demeans the office itself.

Constitutional Liberty

Rick Santorum has a concept of freedom that is closer to the Founding Fathers’ definition than anyone else running for president. It’s also a concept that is in line with Biblical presuppositions. In his book It Takes a Family, he lays it out clearly [I urge you to read this rather lengthy quote carefully]:

The freedom talked about at our Constitutional Convention did not mean the village elders’ self-centered, No-Fault Freedom. It wasn’t a freedom that celebrated the individual above society. It wasn’t a freedom that gave men and women blanket permission to check in and out of society whenever they wanted. It wasn’t the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be. It wasn’t even the freedom to be left alone, with no obligations to the people we know and to the people we don’t yet know. The Constitutional Convention’s freedom, America’s traditional freedom—or the better word, as I defined it earlier, liberty—was a selfless freedom, freedom for the sake of something greater or higher than the self. For our founders, this liberty was defined and defended in the context of our Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity. Often, in fact, American liberty meant the freedom to attend to one’s duties—duties to God, to family, and to neighbors.

Santorum then explains that he’s not negating rights that belong to individuals, just that these rights were never intended solely for one’s individual welfare, but the general welfare, or the common good. His greatest concern is that the No-Fault Freedom of what he calls “the village elders” will become dominant, if it hasn’t already:

The multiculturalist village elders deny there is such a thing as “common,” and the relativist elders deny there is such a thing as an absolute “good.” As a result, families trying to live and to raise children as decent citizens suffer. When, in the name of “freedom,” public virtue is sunk so low that families must swim against a toxic tide to raise children to be decent and public-spirited adults, something has gone terribly wrong with our understanding of freedom.

Society, he argues, is not just “an unconnected group of individuals, each pursuing his own idiosyncratic vision of his self-centered good.” That perspective is “an image of society as a pile of sand, each grain unconnected to all the others.” Jesus said something about a house built on sand—it will sink and fracture.

If only voters would look past outward displays of bombast and petty arguments and focus instead on substance. If they did, they would appreciate Santorum a lot more.