My fourth and final commentary on C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man concentrates on the “conditioners” in our society who seek to remake man and society in their own image. Lewis saw this happening back in the 1940s. What would he say today about this? He saw the beginnings; we are seeing the fruit of that evil.
Who are these conditioners? Lewis says they are the scientists, philosophers, and educators who have rejected what he calls the Tao, and what has always been called “natural law.” When one rejects natural law, one rejects all objective standards of right and wrong, good and bad.
They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what “Humanity” shall henceforth mean. “Good” and “bad,” applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforth to be derived.
This is man becoming his own god, determining his own ideas of good and bad, and then forcing them on everyone else. Ultimately, where does this lead?
When all that says “it is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains.
Our own “natural desires” will then rule. What’s wrong with that? Lewis explains further:
Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, 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.
In other words, throwing out the natural law, which is implanted into every human being by God (see Romans 1-2), leads to tryanny and slavery, even when it claims to be setting us free from the eternal law that God has established.
The sad results of this disavowal of God’s created order is what we have seen throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st, where men try to rule without any standard apart from their own whims:
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.
Traditional values are to be “debunked” and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.
Tyranny, then, comes in many forms. We don’t see it only in a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. We see it also in any ruler who sets himself up as the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong, good and bad. It can happen in a country where elections take place regularly. It happens whenever a ruler places himself above the law and says he will go it alone.
If that reminds you of anyone on our current political scene, you have understood the warning C. S. Lewis has given us.