C. S. Lewis Book Club book #9–The Abolition of Man. We read this slight but challenging volume in September as a seamless addendum to That Hideous Strength. Lewis was definitely on to something–he argues against a systematic and humanistic approach to education that culminates with a willing sacrifice of intellect. The end of real education is the abolition of mankind, according to Lewis.
Not surprisingly, the book’s reasoning is brilliant. As only Lewis can do, he cleverly picks apart the philosophy of modern education, using 2 textbook writers as anonymous fodder, while he separates the responsibility of the educator from the responsibility of education.
This is a timely topic, given the new Core Curriculum agenda that’s being mandated now for public schools by the federal government. Lewis considers the fine line between propaganda and influence, and he asserts that the distinction had already been compromised in his day, the 1950s! He could see the rise of post-modern philosophies, and passionately creates a case against a post-modern mindset, which criticizes absolutes and welcomes universal thought (or the inability to think independently).
Lewis stated, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. . . . The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.” (13, 19)
My conclusions from The Abolition of Man are as follows:
1. Every philosophy or belief stems from a moral compass. Even the amoral perspective is a moral compass.
2. Education should equip each student to reason and achieve based on his moral starting point. We act according to what we believe. More people should discover what they really believe and how that belief affects their behavior.
3. Truth–or as Lewis calls it, Tao–exists in every religion and culture. It doesn’t change because an individual rebels against its existence. And the basic characteristics of Tao are startlingly similar in every major culture.
4. Propaganda, brainwashing, and government control are direct results of a departure from belief in fundamental truth and a lazy proletariat. Propaganda also occurs in moral and religious circles. Real truth doesn’t have to be sold through deceptive packaging. Truth woos; lies manipulate.
Lewis claimed, “Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker, as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.” (58)
Unfortunately, the awkward question that begs to be asked is–What speaks authoritatively to you and me?
And what will we do with that truth?