The Abolition of Man

I was assigned to read C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man this week for class, and enjoyed it immensely. For someone who grew up reading his work (I started as a child with the Chronicles of Narnia, as most did, and in junior high graduated to his Space Trilogy. Shortly after that, I read Mere Christianity, then The Screwtape Letters in college and Miracles for a class three years ago), it was surprising that I had never managed to read this short (60 pages) work.

But it turned out that at this point in my life, it was nothing new. Basically, in the book Lewis argues for natural law over and against logical positivism. He says that all people have an innate conception of right and wrong, and that modern people subjectivize values at their peril. The end point of this subjectivization, Lewis argues, is the “Abolition of Man” — a future in which a small elite with a mastery of psychology rule over the rest of humanity. This elite are ruled only by their own whims, and the ruled have become robot-like.

I say that it’s nothing new because Lewis has included a fictional version of this future society in the final book of the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. Also, I have seen something similar in Walker Percy’s book Lost in the Cosmos (which has been called “The Abolition of Man in late-night comedy format” in a recent book).

All this to say, I think that Lewis is very perceptive in his analysis of mid-20th century culture and where it was headed. Although it does make me wonder: how can all this debunking of morality be stopped? That is, Is this an argument that is likely to deter people from debunking morality and cause them to obey the Tao (Lewis’ word for a universal sense of morality), or might it just make the debunkers aspire to be part of the elite in the distant future?

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