“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.”
CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, foreword.
I wrote this, of course, before the Election results came pouring in. One or the other will have been elected; or perhaps it will yet be unknown. I will quote Lewis throughout, and solely; I will put his words in italics.
The victor, of course, will be corporatism – not the corporatism as advocated by the dull Socialists, who seek to replace one form of corporatism for another. It is moral corporatism that is washing in, unchanged in its rhythm.
There needs to be an idol of some form – that which is not human or like human, but a power greater than ourselves which despises humanity at its core. Milton wrote about a sort of idol like this, but an individual. We now have tribes – faceless agglomerations of inhumanity steeped in rules. It matters little whether they are Religions, Corporations, Governments or other such entities. They are not human. They follow certain rules.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
Lewis has seized upon a mighty truth. Contempt and condemnation are vital, for one to exercise a tyranny in the name of others and in the good of its victims. Name a group of people – Zulus to Atheists – and they are at deadly risk to become inhuman gatherings, perfused with their own certainty that they are right, go about looking at this or that human as though he or she were a sick little bug in need of rescue. It is that contempt, to see others as bugs, where evil begins.
All you then have to do is keep out of his mind the question, “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”
Essentially, Lewis asks – how dare you? to those who engage in the judgment needed to control others for their own good. How dare you? We have given harbor to the prejudice that Islam is the way of the wicked; it is no more the way of the wicked than Judaism. All ways of humanity are the ways of the wicked, for they can be used for unspeakable atrocities committed in their names. There are no entities without sin, same as no humans made so; a truth from the Gospels.
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. Hell has an entry fee; so does heaven. One may reflect on the nature of a culture and civilization by determining which price is best understood, and thereby most frequently used by its members.
The entry fee to Hell is only this – “what portion of your humanity are you willing to irrevocably submit to the (Leader) in order to attain power?” I place (Leader) in parenthesis; any sort of individual or aggregate can be entered here.
The alternative is – will you keep that which you have painstakingly crafted to be good, and bring it to bear at the testing point? Rather than selling one’s self piecemeal, will one bring about effort to do right and oppose wrong?
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father—who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — ”Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
This last American election was a unanimous confirmation of Bulverism. What I imagine is what is right – what is right is what I imagine. Do not bother to search for “right” or “wrong.” Search for what you want. Hence, we vote, not for two candidates, but for “two Americas,” both of which are fantasies. And we vote not to ACHIEVE these fantasies, but which we will call “real.” We have lost the ability to see what is hilarious about this.
When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either. And what are we?
We think that we are all right.
You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred — like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.
We have become a skeptical nation in the matter of theology; this is alright. Doubt in the pursuit of God and righteousness has a firm place. But doubt in the meaningfulness of concepts such as righteousness, maturity, justice – there is no place for such doubt anywhere. Those are simply doubts whether our claim to decency as humans has any merit, whether we are just animals that belong in the corporate zoo. Of course, the ones who say “we” usually refer to “you.”
I see very little that we as a country can put on the table to show our moral character. This is an astonishing run of the tide over the last seventy years, when we were the nation that most powerfully stood for the dignity of all persons.
This election, no matter the outcome, hastens the run of the tide.