Thursday, March 25, 2010

"I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters"

C.S. Lewis would have agreed with Churchill "that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Lewis based his views on a doctrinally correct — and historically justified — conclusion about human nature. Quoted at Kairos Journal:
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows.

That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast. I believe that if we had not fallen...patriarchal monarchy would be the sole lawful government. But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The authority of father and husband has been rightly abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin) but because fathers and husbands are bad. Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused. [C.S. Lewis. “Membership,” in Fern Seed and Elephants (London: Fontana, 1975), 18-19]

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 real reason for democracy is just the reverse. 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. [C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 17]
There is no indication that Lewis was familiar with Lincoln's words: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy."

Thanks to James M. Kushiner at Touchstone for the reference.

The True Ground of Democracy—C. S. Lewis