Future of Evangelicalism
C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 3
By David J. Theroux
This is the third and final part in a series on C. S. Lewis' moral, social and political thought. In the first installment, author David Theroux explained Lewis' views on the human Liberty and Natural Law. The second part explores Lewis' thought on Moral Relativism and the manipulation of "equality" and "justice" language for collectivist and statist aims. The following addresses scientism and the corrupting influence of power, and draws all of the themes together in conclusion.
For Lewis, science should be a quest for knowledge, and his concern was that in the modern era science is too often used instead as a quest by some for power over others. Lewis did not dispute that science is an immensely important tool to understand the natural world, but his larger point is that science cannot tell us anything that is ultimately important regarding what choices we should make. In other words, Lewis shows that "what is" does not indicate "what ought" to be. Scientists on their own are not able to address moral ethics, and all social and political questions are exclusively questions of morality. Lewis furthermore viewed as nonscience, or scientism, all those disciplines that attempt to replicate the scientific method to analyze man: "[T]he new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. . . . If we are to mothered, mother must know best. . . . Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about science. 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" ("Is Progress Possible?" pp. 314-15).
Lewis "dread[ed] government in the name of science" even more. For him, the connection was clear: "That is how tyrannies come in."
In every age the men who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of that age render most potent. . . . We must give full weight to the claim that nothing but science, and science globally applied, and therefore unprecedented Government controls, can produce full bellies and medical care for the whole human race: nothing, in short, but a world Welfare State. It is a full admission of these truths which impresses upon me the extreme peril of humanity at present. We have on the one hand a desperate need: hunger, sickness, and dread of war. We have, on the other, the conception of something that might meet it: omnipotent global technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for enslavement? . . . The question about progress has become the question whether we can discover any way of submitting to the world-wide paternalism of a technocracy without losing all personal privacy and independence. . . . All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men; none perfect, some greedy, cruel and dishonest. The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not corrupt as it had done before? ("Is Progress Possible?" pp. 315-16)