Lewis, Politics, & a Dire Warning

In my study of C. S. Lewis while preparing my new book about his influence on Americans, I was constantly confronted with the opposite of what I had been told about him with regard to his views on politics and government. Lewis didn’t like the subject, I was told. Yet he mentioned it rather frequently in his letters to Americans.

Then, as I re-read a lot of his essays, I again was surprised by how often he commented on the principles of good government and how often he critiqued what he witnessed taking place in his own government.

on-politics-and-natural-lawSo I included many of his comments on government in my book. Now I’m delighted to find there is another new Lewis book that emphasizes that insight. I’m in the process of reading it, but I already like its thesis. C. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law is one that some of you might like to purchase (after first getting America Discovers C. S. Lewis, of course).

In light of our current presidential election and what I consider the awful choices placed before us, I think it is instructive to turn to some of Lewis’s commentary on good government.

For instance, in his excellent essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” he ends with these thoughts about voting, which I believe have a direct application to our present situation:

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion.

While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial–virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.

“Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

What are we looking for in our candidates today? Far too few seek virtue and honesty in those we put forward to lead.

Another of his essays—one of my favorites—“Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” takes aim directly at our desire to have the state take care of us. He ends that essay with this dire warning:

What assurance have we that our masters will or can keep the promise which induced us to sell ourselves? Let us not be deceived by phrases about “Man taking charge of his own destiny.” 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 has done before?

And what of those who are already corrupt and are now seeking to be our masters? Sober thoughts as we go through this election season.

Tocqueville’s Prophetic Word

Alexis de TocquevilleAlexis de Tocqueville was a Frenchman who visited America in 1831. He traveled extensively, made many notes of what he experienced, and wrote them down in a massive tome called Democracy in America. It is a classic, and is still being used today in university political science courses. It points out both the strengths and potential weaknesses he saw in this new nation. If you saw Dinesh D’Souza’s movie America, you saw also his depiction of Tocqueville in the film.

It is obvious Tocqueville liked much of what he witnessed in this country, but he also wrote of the dangers that could arise from too much emphasis on equality, when taken to the extreme. He predicted that it could eventually turn America into a totalitarian state if handled wrongly.

There are countless spurious quotes by Tocqueville floating around the Internet, but I can vouch for this one. It’s found in a chapter called “What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear.” The first paragraph, if read carefully, is startling in its predictive nature:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate.

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the troubles of living?

What Tocqueville warns against is an all-powerful state that becomes all powerful by promising to take care of every need. It will provide anything and everything a people wants. The last line is particularly sobering.

He continues,

Thus, it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

In other words, we don’t need to choose; the government will do that for us. Don’t bother yourself with making key decisions in life; that’s too hard for you—the government knows best, so trust us.

Tocqueville concludes with this chilling thought:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

We are seeing this prophetic word come to pass in our time. Are we too far gone to reverse course? I’m not sure, but neither am I going to stop trying to undo the damage.

Lewis: Willing Slaves of the Welfare State (cont.)

Yesterday’s post offered some insightful analysis by C. S. Lewis on the dangers of putting the government in charge of everything in our lives. That same essay, which he wrote in 1958, goes on to issue further warnings. I couldn’t contain them all in one post, so I decided to carry his thoughts over to today also. He writes of freedom and its necessary corollary—an education free from government control:

C. S. Lewis 4I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has “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 the Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology.

If one is dependent on the government for his sustenance, he is not free and cannot criticize it because he depends on it. He becomes trapped in its ideology. Such a person never reaches maturity:

Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best.

This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend.

I see that today, most spectacularly in the global warming/climate change agenda. Politicians don’t really know much about this issue; they simply follow the lead of those who claim they know best. Lewis then takes it to the global level:

We have on the one hand a desperate need; hunger, sickness, and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnicompetent 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 or 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’s the decision before us: will our fears lead us to sell our very souls to enslavement to government power? If we do, Lewis raises another pertinent question:

What assurance have we that our masters will or can keep the promise which induced us to sell ourselves? Let us not be deceived by phrases about “Man taking charge of his own destiny.” 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 has done before?

How far along this path are we in this country? The last two presidential elections give evidence that we are indeed on this path. Will we come to our senses? The future is not fixed. That fateful decision still awaits us.

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.

Constitution Day at SEU: Religious Liberty & Social Justice

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men put their signatures on a document intended to chart a course for the future of the fairly new United States of America. Each year, we commemorate that event as we celebrate one of the best set of by-laws ever created by a nation. At Southeastern, we always seek to use that commemoration to help students, faculty, and staff appreciate more fully what these men did, as they labored over the concepts and wording to be presented to the people for ratification.

In past years, we’ve been blessed to have excellent speakers for Constitution Day: John Ashcroft, the former attorney general; Charles Canady, the current chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court and a former congressman who served as one of the House Managers for the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton; and Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College.

Snyder-AndersonThis year, we reached into the Heritage Foundation, one of the premier public policy research arms in the nation, and were pleased to invite to campus Mr. Ryan Anderson, Heritage’s William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society. Anderson is co-author of a book entitled What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. He’s also an expert on religious liberty and the essential nature of a civil society.

Anderson offered two sessions: “Threats to Religious Liberty in America Today” and “A Conservative Understanding of Social Justice.” Personally, I was gratified to see how well attended both sessions were. I had hoped the subject matter would attract great interest, and I was right.

In the first session, Anderson spent some time laying the groundwork for what the Founders did for religious liberty. How can one understand what the current threats are if one doesn’t have a working knowledge of what was intended? America, he showed, set up a polity whereby no one would be persecuted for one’s religious beliefs. That didn’t mean, though, that the Founders were apathetic to religion; instead, they grasped the truth that government should not be the judge of religious truth. That goes beyond the scope of the civil government.

After surveying the attitudes and reasoning of the Founders, Anderson then turned to the various and ever-increasing threats we now face with respect to religious liberty. He cited a flurry of episodes just in the past few months that have seriously curtailed religious liberty in general, but more specifically, the liberty of evangelical Christians to practice their faith publicly. The Obama administration has pushed an agenda to change freedom of religion into freedom of worship, meaning we can do whatever we want within the four walls of our churches but must never allow those beliefs to affect the public sphere. The “rights” of minorities—in particular, homosexuals—trump religious liberty rights, at least in the minds of those at the helm of our federal government at the moment. Those in attendance—an overflow with some sitting on the floor—seemed appropriately impressed with the danger we now face.

Ryan Anderson Session

In his second session on social justice, Anderson contrasted two extreme views of that term—the rigid libertarian vs. the government welfare models—and showed the weaknesses of both. The liberal, progressive welfare state, he said, does not achieve genuine justice; it merely redistributes money and traps people in poverty. On the other hand, a too-doctrinaire libertarianism doesn’t take into account the common good; it simply advocates individual license to do whatever one desires. A truly Biblical and conservative position, he contended, recognizes the essential nature of the free market as the only path to a vibrant economy and the way out of poverty, while simultaneously encouraging those who succeed to actively work on behalf of those who are struggling.

Anderson’s presentations were cogent, articulate, and well-reasoned. Many who attended have told me how valuable they were to the ongoing conversation we need to have on these issues and how much they appreciated what he brought to the discussion. This is what a university should be. We saw it in operation this week.

Now, let’s work to preserve what we can of our Constitution. We dismiss its wisdom at our peril.

9/11 & the Two Visions of America

Can anything new be said on the anniversary of 9/11? Maybe we don’t need to hear anything new; perhaps we just need to be reminded that there are those out there who hate us. However, what is meant by “us?” America, you say? Yes, in the abstract, but what comprises America anymore? Do I with my Biblical worldview represent the true America, or do Planned Parenthood—as one example—and Barack Obama constitute the real America?

On 9/11, eleven years ago today, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. At the moment, I can’t recall if they sang “America the Beautiful” or “My Country Tis of Thee” or another similar tune. That specific memory eludes me. But sing they did, although some commentators noted that the Republicans seemed to be leading it and a good number of the Democrats looked reluctant to add their voices to the chorus. What a wonderful image it presented: a united nation.

But it was a false image.

It played well for the camera, but the camaraderie was short-lived. The chasm between two very different visions of America is too deep and wide to be bridged for long, even with a common enemy. After the initial shock of the attack, the progressive visionaries began to downplay the severity of the terrorist threat. They even began seeing in their minds’ eye, though not in reality, a kind of pogrom instituted against Muslims in the U.S. All of a sudden, we were the problem, not them. We weren’t sensitive enough to the way they had been treated; we had brought this on ourselves.

That vision of an America that was too big for its britches, and that needed to be slapped down, clashed with the other vision—that of an America that, while often making mistakes in foreign relations, nevertheless had attempted to do the best for others most of the time. It’s the vision of an America that has helped rid the world of truly evil dictators and totalitarian movements such as communism. It’s the vision of an America that retains basic moral values stemming from its faith in God.

These two visions cannot mesh; they are too opposed to each other.

For too long, we have tried to ignore this massive chasm and assured ourselves that we are all Americans who will pull together despite our differences. We need to face reality.

There is no real external union without internal unity.

These two separate visions of America stem from two contrasting worldviews. One is Biblical and God-centered, while the other is secular and man-centered:

  • Beliefs are different on both sides of this divide
  • Purposes/goals are not the same
  • Christian morality battles humanistic immorality
  • One holds to the sacredness of life while the other aborts it
  • One supports traditional marriage and the family while the other redefines sexuality and the very nature of marriage
  • Limited government and constitutionalism inspire the one, whereas a socialistic welfare state is the dream of those who would transform our society and make it into something neither God nor the Founders ever desired

It would be a fascinating object lesson to be able to separate these two groups and let them have their way completely—two entirely distinct nations with two distinct worldviews—and then compare the results. One would go the way of every socialist/communist experiment that has ever been tried, while the other would be an energetic, thriving society where innocent children would be safe in their mothers’ wombs, the family structure would dominate, Biblical morality would be enacted into law, and the government would not be overseeing all aspects of one’s life.

But that won’t happen; we cannot separate the two; we have to make it work somehow the way it is.

What have we learned, eleven years later? Unfortunately, we’ve learned we are not really one people. We are not united. Our foundations are crumbling and we are in danger of turning our backs on the God who gave us life and liberty. If we choose that path, we are lost.

God didn’t make 9/11 happen. It was the brainchild of perverted individuals. Yet when sin abounds, He seeks to use the consequences to get our attention. He will use every circumstance to try to reach into a people’s hearts and lead them to repentance. By all means, may we never forget what happened on 9/11, and may we honor those who displayed great courage on that day. But the best way to honor them is to return to the truth, and to the One who is Truth. That is our only hope.

Cartoon Meditations for a Friday

Let’s just have a few meditations on the economy today, and how it’s affecting the race for the presidency. What better way to accomplish this than to allow the cartoonists to carry the meditation? I know most of what I write about is national, but we can start with one state’s economy:

Of course, if that happens, the rest of the country will be affected also. Did you hear that California governor Jerry Brown just announced that the state debt is far worse than he anticipated? Gee, I wonder if his policies might have something to do with that? Why is it that we think we’re immune to an economic Armageddon?

This mentality can be found at the top as well:

One of my concerns is that a slightly lower unemployment rate will fool voters into thinking things are turning around. Anyone thinking that way is overlooking one significant factor:

In other words, the number of people looking for jobs keeps dropping because they’ve given up. A shrinking unemployment rate masks a shrinking labor force. That’s not progress. All it does is put more citizens on the government dole. Remember Julia?

How widespread is that outlook on life? The more it becomes the norm, the closer we are to utter collapse. Yet the Obama campaign continues to make job creators into villains. That’s bad enough, but the hypocrisy of it only adds to the reprehensible nature of the attack:

Keep in mind the president himself is also part of the so-called 1%. He’s not exactly suffering.