C. S. Lewis on Politics

C. S. Lewis on Politics

With history repeating itself today with the rise of the collectivist state over against the individual (all in the name of keeping us safe), the wisdom and insights of Lewis—and others—are needed now more than ever. To repeat, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”

When one thinks about the incomparable C. S. Lewis one normally thinks about the great Christian apologist that he was, or the author of famous children’s books, or the celebrated professor of English literature. One does not usually think of him as one who spoke or wrote much about political matters.

But he did. Scattered throughout his writings are various discussions about political matters, democracy, freedom, equality, law and justice, tyranny and the like. From talks he had given, or essays he had written, political matters quite often appear in the Lewis corpus.

And they are fully relevant for the times we now live in, especially as we see Statism on the rise, and the suppression of individual liberties. Here then are just a few of his writings on politics to whet your appetite for moreI urge you to try to read the whole context of each quote.

In a 1943 piece for the Spectator titled “Equality” (republished in Present Concerns: Essays by C. S. Lewis), he says this:

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people—all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

This introduces a view of equality rather different from that in which we have been trained. I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent. I don’t think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. It was rightly taken away because men became bad and abused it. To attempt to restore it now would be the same error as that of the Nudists. Legal and economic equality are absolutely necessary remedies for the Fall, and protection against cruelty.

But medicine is not good. There is no spiritual sustenance in flat equality. It is a dim recognition of this fact which makes much of our political propaganda sound so thin. We are trying to be enraptured by something which is merely the negative condition of the good life. And that is why the imagination of people is so easily captured by appeals to the craving for inequality, whether in a romantic form of films about loyal courtiers or in the brutal form of Nazi ideology. The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values: offers food to some need which we have starved.

In his 1945 essay “Membership” (found for example in Transposition and Other Addresseshe made similar points, including:

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.

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