Future of Evangelicalism
C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 3
In his book The Weight of Glory, he similarly noted the need to radically constrain the powers of government, quoting Lord Acton's axiom on the corrupting influence of power:
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trust with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. . . . [S]ince we have sin, we have found, as Lord Acton says, that "all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The only remedy has been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of equality. . . . Theocracy has been rightly abolished not because it is bad that priests should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked men like the rest of us (pp. 168-69).
And he went even further in his condemnation of theocracy, stating, "I detest every kind of religious compulsion: only the other day I was writing an angry letter to The Spectator about Church Parades in the Home Guard!" ("Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock, p. 61)
For Lewis, legal equality under democracy enriches each individual's unique, spiritual life: "Under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive. It is there, of course, in our life as Christians: there, as laymen, we can obey -- all the more because the priest has no authority over us on the political level" (Present Concerns, p. 19).
But Lewis fully understood that democracy, if unchecked, becomes egalitarianism and will trample on liberty as a collectivist force for evil by celebrating pride and envy as it fosters tyranny. Lewis's demonic Screwtape, this time in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," once again explains quite eloquently how this very thing has happened historically, even in the supposed pursuit of liberty:
Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn't know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a toolshed in his own garden.