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This paper was written by John G. West, Jr..

Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute

Included with the gracious permission of "Dr. Zeus", creator of "Into the Wardrobe", a popular website devoted to C.S. Lewis. The original online copy of this paper can be found here.

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Articles > The C.S. Lewis Archive > Finding the Permanent in the Political: C. S. Lewis as a Political Thinker

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Lewis's most haunting portrait of this kind of despotism came in his novel That Hideous Strength.[11] There the spirit of modern social science becomes incarnate in the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments--NICE, for short. Of course, there is nothing nice about NICE; its social scientists are exactly the type of bureaucratic manipulators that Lewis attacked in nonfiction works like The Abolition of Man.[12]

At this point one can anticipate several objections: First, isn't Lewis being unfair to science by implying that it inevitably leads to tyranny? And isn't he being unfair to scientists by implying that all they want is power to enslave others? And don't many modern problems--from air pollution to congestion on our freeways--require technological solutions that can be provided only by scientific experts?

Lewis was aware of such objections and replied that he wasn't against science or scientists per se and that of course he did not think that science would necessarily lead to tyranny of the sort depicted in That Hideous Strength.[13] One might be tempted to conclude from this that Lewis's objection to science was narrow--that all he really opposed was the abuse of science. But such a conclusion would be misleading. For when Lewis said he wasn't attacking "science" or "scientists" he seems to have had a very specific meaning in mind. He was not attacking science insofar as it was the quest for greater knowledge; he was attacking it insofar it was a quest for power--in particular, for power over man. In practice this meant that while Lewis accepted the legitimacy of natural science he rejected much of the social sciences. Learning about chemistry or biology was acceptable, if not honorable; trying to use chemical or biological maxims to understand the nature of man was not. A glimpse of this view can be found in the character of William Hingest in That Hideous Strength. Hingest is Lewis's prototype for the "good scientist," a brilliant and crusty physical chemist who thinks more highly of his family tree than of his scientific prowess.[14] Hingest is interested in science for the sake of knowledge rather than power, and he takes a dim view of those who want to use science to control man.[15] Indeed, he does not regard as science at all those disciplines that try to use the scientific approach to analyze man. When Mark Studdock talks to him about "sciences like Sociology," Hingest coldly replies: "There are no sciences like Sociology."[16]

As for the objection that we must rely on the advice of scientists, because only they have the answers to today's complicated problems, Lewis could not agree. Lewis does not dispute that scientists have plenty of knowledge; the problem is that most of it is irrelevant. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists. Said Lewis: "I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value."[17]

The cardinal danger of depending on science for political solutions, then, is that science is divorced from those permanent principles of morality upon which all just political solutions depend. Indeed, words like "justice," "virtue," "mercy" and "duty," are terms without meaning within the scientific framework. And so while science is not necessarily tyrannical, it can easily become a tool for tyrants because it has no firm grounding in morality. The same goes for politics: Without a firm grounding in a firm morality, politics easily slides into tyranny.

But if morality is what we need, how do we go about achieving it? Lewis's answer to this query is far more controversial than one might suppose.

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