Monday, May 12, 2014

"I detest theocracy"

C.S. Lewis generally avoided commenting on the political controversies of his day. He usually didn't read newspapers and declined Winston Churchill's invitation to the Honours List because he didn't want to be perceived as a political partisan. But that hesitancy doesn't mean that his opinions had (or have) no political relevance. John Daniel Davidson's essay here called my attention to C.S. Lewis's 1958 column "Willing Slaves of the Welfare State" from which:
.... 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 the linguistic analysts.

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. .... There is nothing left of which we can say to them, 'Mind your own business.' Our whole lives are their business. ....

I 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 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. ....

I do not like the pretensions of Government — the grounds on which it demands my obedience — to be pitched too high. I don't like the medicine-man's magical pretensions nor the Bourbon's Divine Right. .... I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands 'Thus saith the Lord', it lies, and lies dangerously.

On just the same ground I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They 'cash in'. It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science. ....

The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the worldwide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. Is there any possibility of getting the super Welfare State's honey and avoiding the sting?

Let us make no mistake about the sting. .... To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death — these are wishes deeply ingrained in civilised man. Their realization is almost as necessary to our virtues as to our happiness. ....

.... 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? [more]