C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 3

David J. TherouxBy 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)

When Marxist biologist J.B.S. Haldane in his article "Auld Hornie, F.R.S." questioned Lewis for being anti-science and against a "planned world" in his "Space Trilogy" ("Mr. Lewis's idea is clear enough. The application of science to human affairs can only lead to hell."), Lewis wrote the following in "A Reply to Professor Haldane":

It certainly is an attack, if not on scientists, yet on something which might be called "scientism" -- a certain outlook on the world which is casually connected with the popularization of the sciences, though it is much less common among real scientists than among their readers. It is, in a word, the belief that the supreme moral end is the perpetuation of our own species, and that this is to be pursued even if, in the process of being fitted for survival, our species has to be stripped of all those things for which we value it -- of pity, of happiness, and of freedom. . . . Under modern conditions any effective invitation to Hell will certainly appear in the guise of scientific planning -- as Hitler's regime in fact did. Every tyrant must begin by claiming to have what his victims respect and to give what they want. The majority in most countries respect science and want to be planned. And, therefore, almost by definition, if any man or group wishes to enslave us it will of course describe itself as "scientific planned democracy". All the more reason to look very carefully at anything which bears that label.