I’ve finished reading the recently released book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law. At the same time I had to spend time refreshing my memory about such things as classical liberalism, natural law, and Mill’s harm principle, so it took me longer than it should have. It is not a large book, less than 150 pages.
One of the things I like about C.S. Lewis is his ability to explain complicated or subtle things simply and clearly. This book reflects that skill. Because Lewis wrote little directly about politics the authors teased his political thought out of his letters, lectures, talks, and books. It is organized into seven focused chapters that build on each other. It left me wondering what Lewis would have thought about our last national election cycle. I’m going to think on it.
In a section titled “The Dangers of Overbearing Government” the authors relate Lewis’ dislike of theocracy [in Lewis’ words]:
I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence, theocracy is the worst of all governments…the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.
And this, from the authors:
As dangerous as theocracy could be, however, Lewis was not so short-sighted as to think religion was the primary pretext for totalizing government aspirations. At the particular time in which he wrote, Lewis thought the greatest threat to Western civilization and Christianity was not theocracy (which holds almost no purchase in the modern West) or nationalistic fascism (which had been largely defeated in the late war), but scientific technocracy. As Lewis confessed:
I dread government in the name of science. That is how most tyrannies come in. In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. They “cash in.” It has been magic, it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science.