Sunday, January 2, 2022

"Wicked men like the rest of us"

A Facebook friend today quoted a passage attributed to C.S. Lewis. It is the sort of thing he likely wrote but I haven't found the source yet. It did set me searching online and I came across this quotation from a 1945 essay: “Membership” (collected in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses).
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.... But since we have learned sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. 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. ....

Do not misunderstand me. I am not in the least belittling the value of this egalitarian fiction which is our only defence against one another's cruelty. ....
C.S. Lewis, "Membership," The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses Macmillan, pp. 113-114.

The essay can also be found in this pdf of C.S. Lewis, Transposition, and other Addresses.

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