Wednesday, August 8, 2018

We do know real things

.... Through his popular non-fiction books, his fiction, and his innumerable lectures and radio addresses, Lewis explored the question of “just war,” relativism, subjectivism, and ethical and moral purpose. Of these books, The Screwtape Letters probably sold the best, but the one that has lasted to this day—especially in terms of reputation and stature—is his short but vigorous Abolition of Man. As with Mere Christianity, published in 1952 but based on several of Lewis’s World War II addresses, The Abolition of Man began as a series of lectures, ostensibly to consider the state of the English language and the teaching of it. Owen Barfield, one of Lewis’ closest friends and a deeply important scholar in his own right, pronounced The Abolition of Man not only Lewis’s best non-fiction work, but also the best example of one of Lewis’s two best traits: his “atomic rationality.” (The other trait was his romantic mythmaking.) Since its initial publication seventy-five years ago, The Abolition of Man has served as one of the finest non-reactionary bulwarks against the faddish ideologies and various subjectivisms and other nihilistic nonsense of the political and cultural Left. No student can read it without calling into question the whole of his education. ....

From the opening sentence to its fascinating appendix on the deep cultural understating of the natural law, The Abolition of Man destroys the idols of the modern and post-modern age. Lewis particularly notes that if we do not understand the meanings of meanings, grammar, and style, we lose our ability to think clearly. One cannot separate the word from, in Stoic terms, the Word. To demean one is to demean the Other. (Russell Kirk would make a similar argument, twelve years later in his nearly forgotten masterpiece, Academic Freedom.) Lewis begins The Abolition of Man with a chapter entitled “Men Without Chests.” ....

Following in the line of not only Plato and St. Augustine, but also of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, teachers and professors must align themselves and their students with the eternal verities and the natural laws (what Lewis chooses to label “the Tao”), recognizing that we do know real things, true things, and false things. ....

In the modern world, though, we have trained the head and encouraged the heart, while neglecting the soul. Or, as Lewis so scathingly put it, we are producing men without chests. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” ....