Friday, April 20, 2018

The Abolition of Man

...[T]he book addresses one of the most important questions that has been considered throughout Western and, Lewis insists, human history. Is there a moral reality woven into the fabric of the universe such that we can discover what is true about right and wrong and act accordingly? Or is morality something malleable, a tool for the powerful or for unguided evolution or for the flow of History, something that we need not discover but now that we have come of age can create and shape for ourselves? From Antigone’s challenge to Creon to the serpent’s asking “Did God really say?”—from Plato’s battle with the sophists to Pilate’s asking “What is truth?”—from Rousseau’s reimagined natureless state of nature to Jefferson’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—from Nietzsche’s creative super men to today’s transhumanists—this is arguably the question that lies beneath all of our disputes and controversies.

Abolition addresses this perennial and paramount question, and in doing so takes the side of Antigone and Plato and the Bible and Confucius, and opposes Thrasymachus, Rousseau, Nietzsche, B.F. Skinner, and our modern skeptics. Whereas many of Lewis’s works describe and defend the Author of the moral law in both his special and general revelation, Abolition concerns itself only with the reality of the law itself, and the stark alternatives to a belief in objective morality. “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date,” Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, and thus, if Lewis is correct about the status of the moral law, we should expect his book to be forever “timely.”

The importance of the topic is not sufficient for the book’s standing, however, as there have been many good books written to defend moral reality that have fallen into obscurity. A second reason that Lewis’s work stands out is that it defends reason brilliantly in an age in which reason has fallen into disrepute. In his Screwtape Letters, published not long before Abolition, Screwtape notes that modern people no longer believe in reason. At one point human beings “knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.” Fortunately—from the perspective of Hell—people no longer believe this. Back in the 1940s, Lewis had anticipated the advent of postmodernism, perspectivalism, and even fake news. ....