Book Review: Outside Ourselves
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
It’s a slender volume of about 100 pages first published in 1947. From the author’s subtitle, “Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools,” you might never guess this tiny book’s explosive main title and its life-and-death message. I’m referring to The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis.
This is not a book about pandemic global destruction we have been made to worry so much about, even though Lewis had just witnessed the results of the atom bomb. Instead, he wrote about extremely subtle, insidious dangers that would lead humanity to an even worse fate: dehumanization and all the evils that go with it.
Using a disturbing example from a text book he found, Lewis unfolds his message thoughtfully and carefully: There is a standard of value, beauty, goodness, rightness, and truth that comes from outside ourselves, and it has been sought, studied, and preached as far back as human writing can take us. If that standard is neglected or weakened, another standard will ease into its place, a standard promoted by a few lucky people (he calls them “The Conditioners”) with influence and power (such as writers of text books). Unfortunately, given human nature, the new “Tao,” as Lewis calls the standard men operate under, will most likely prove non-benevolent towards mankind. Once the age-old , outside-ourselves, objective standard of morality/behavior/ethics, or whatever you want to call it, has been replaced with some subjective, modern, trendy world view, which rejects God’s laws and the wisdom of the ages, men will inevitably, well, eat each other up. Whether that will be figuratively or literally, I don’t know.
Lewis wrote that Aristotle had it right about the aim of education being “to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” And Plato before him said the same. “The little human will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”
But Lewis was writing then, when that objective standard was still pretty much in place. He was merely raising a warning voice for how things seemed to be subtly trending. What about now? That standard has been, or is in the process of being, faded into grays and completely replaced. As Lewis feared, the world is making a clean sweep of traditional values and starting with a new set. Relatively speaking, it hasn’t taken long, given modern technology. Even without techno-communication one generation is enough to change everything for the worst.
Among other things, Lewis calls to our attention the most basic of values: the human race’s responsibility to care for its posterity and preserve the species. Off the top of my head I can think of several recent trends that point to a stunning widespread rejection of this value: Forty million aborted babies since 1973. Almost irreversible world depopulation. Governmental disparagement of the traditional family. Radical feminism which degrades motherhood. Normalization and promotion of homosexuality and sexual ambiguity. Mass contraception education and routine sterilization. Embryonic stem cell research. Euthanasia. Violent video games being produced and marketed to minors. School shootings. Winked-at child sexualization and abuse. The list, and its far-reaching repercussions, goes on and on and on.
Those of us not yet totally conditioned are still holding on to that objective ideal of human thought and behavior. As do all good things, that ideal came from someplace outside or above man: God, whereas the “new morality” is based on man alone, and as such inevitably descends to man’s lowest common denominators. Under it we need not strive, we need not overcome, we need not rise above ourselves. Convenient, isn’t it?
If I could choose a title for this book it would be simply, Aha.
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