Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Men without chests"

For its 60th anniversary issue National Review asked various of its supporters and contributors to indicate a book "that shaped our minds." Steven Hayward chose one that certainly affected me. Hayward:
...I can point to one book that, at an early moment, deepened my philosophical conservatism: C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Still in high school, I became curious about Lewis’s short preface to his anti-utopian novel That Hideous Strength, in which he said that the background teaching of the novel was explained in Abolition. In that book, published in 1943, Lewis deduced from some faint clues of contemporary literature what would become our descent into what we know today as postmodern nihilism. Lewis warned that the “fatal serialism of the modern imagination,” its relentless moral reductionism that ends in total nihilism, would generate “men without chests.” Our conquest of nature, he warned, would culminate in the conquest of human nature, which meant in practice the conquest of some men by other men. In other words, he foresaw the ideology of despotism, which could never remain soft or benevolent.

The Abolition of Man, barely 100 pages long, culminates in a simple but elegant argument on behalf of natural law — nay, of human nature itself. Human nature is the most controversial and overarching political question of our time. (And perhaps we should start calling leftists “human-nature deniers”?) Lewis reminds us, finally, that “a dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not a tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.