C. S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism, Part 1

Individual Liberty

Throughout his work, Lewis infused an interconnected worldview that championed objective truth, moral ethics, natural law, literary excellence, reason, science, individual liberty, personal responsibility and virtue, and Christian theism. In so doing, he critiqued naturalism, reductionism, nihilism, positivism, scientism, historicism, collectivism, atheism, statism, coercive egalitarianism, militarism, welfarism, and dehumanization and tyranny of all forms. Unlike "progressive" crusaders for predatory government power over the peaceful pursuits of innocent people, Lewis noted that "I do not like the pretensions of Government -- the grounds on which it demands my obedience -- to be pitched too high. I don't like the medicine-man's magical pretensions nor the Bourbon's Divine Right. This is not solely because I disbelieve in magic and in Bossuet's Politique. I believe in God, but I detest theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands ‘Thus saith the Lord,' it lies, and lies dangerously" ("Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State," in God in the Dock, p. 315).

Lewis addressed not only the evils of totalitarianism as manifested in fascism and communism, but the more subtle forms that face us on a daily basis, including the welfare, therapeutic, nanny, and scientistic states. "Of all tyrannies," he stated,

a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals ("The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment," in God in the Dock, p. 292).

Throughout his books, Lewis defended the rights and sanctity of individuals against tyranny not just because he opposed evil, but because he considered a life in freedom -- including both social and economic freedom -- to be essential: "I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind.' But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology" ("Is Progress Possible?" God in the Dock, p. 314).

As Rodney Stark discusses in his book The Victory of Reason, Marcus Tullius Cicero and others had contemplated the concept of the self (individualism) and free will before the Christian era, but it was not until Jesus personally asserted in words and deeds the concept of universal moral equality before and responsibility to God, and not until Christian theologians made it a central feature of their doctrine that the rights of each and every individual were championed and slavery was condemned. This bold advance in thinking arose in part from the revolutionary insight of methodological individualism in the study of human behavior, wherein the individual is considered primary. As Jon Elster notes, "The elementary unit of social life is the individual human action. To explain social institutions and social change is to show how they arise as the result of the actions and interaction of individuals. This view, often referred to as methodological individualism, is in my view trivially true" (Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences, p. 13). Austrian school economist Murray Rothbard similarly wrote, "The fundamental axiom, then, for the study of man is the existence of individual consciousness" ("The Mantle of Science," p. 177). Ludwig von Mises further stated that "the collective has no existence and reality but in the actions of individuals. It comes into existence by ideas that move individuals to behave as members of a definite group and goes out of existence when the persuasive power of these ideas subsides" (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science, p. 80). And Stark has pointed out that although almost every other early culture and religion viewed human society in terms of the tribe, polis, or collective, "it is the individual who was the focus of Christian political thought, and this, in turn, explicitly shaped the views of later European political philosophers" (The Victory of Reason, p. 23).

8/11/2010 4:00:00 AM