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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.cslewis.drzeus.net
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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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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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