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The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools ()

National Review's List of the Top 100 Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century

    For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some
    men to make other men what they please.
        -C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Undoubtedly, people (at least kids) will be reading The Chronicles of Narnia (see Orrin's review) for years to come.  And The Screwtape Letters (see Orrin's review) are also likely to last, if for no other reason than that they are very funny.  Though folks aren't terribly likely to make the connection to the historical person, the character C.S. Lewis will even live on thanks to the movie Shadowlands.  But the work for which he really deserves to be remembered is this short trio of lectures ostensibly on education.

In the first lecture, Men Without Chests, he  takes as his starting point a deceptively simple reference to The Green Book, an English textbook used in Britain's upper form schools:

    In their second chapter Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall.
    You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it 'sublime' and the other 'pretty':
    and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust.
    Gaius and Titius comments as follows: 'When the man said That is sublime, he appeared to be
    making a remark about the waterfall. ... Actually ... he was not making a remark about the
    waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings.  What he was saying was really I have feelings
    associated in my mind with the word "Sublime," or shortly, I have sublime feelings.'  Here are a
    good many deep questions settled in a pretty summary fashion.  But the authors are not yet
    finished.  They add: 'This confusion is continually present in language as we use it.  We appear to
    be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying about our
    own feelings.'

I say deceptive because for those of us who were brought up using such texts, it is easy to miss the insidious nature of the distinction its authors draw.  But as Lewis points out:

    The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that
    all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker,
    and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.

This may still seem unexceptional; don't we after all believe that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?"  What's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that the textbook authors are teaching children that there is no such thing as objective value, that all judgments about value are subjective.  And this is a big deal, the biggest.  Because to deny that there is such a thing as objective value is to reject something fundamental to our belief system, indeed to the belief system of nearly every advanced civilization.  Lewis refers to this fundamental concept as the Tao:

    It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others are
    really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.

Deny the Tao, deny the existence of objective value, and you deny the validity of the objective standards which nearly every religion depends on to govern conduct.  We require these objective standards, and not surprisingly all religions have arrived at roughly the same ones, because in their absence man has no internal regulators to make him behave in a moral fashion:

    As the king governs by the executive, so reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of
   the 'spirited element.'  The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat, as Alanus tells us, of
    Magnanimity--Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and
    visceral man.  It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his
    intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.  The operation of The Green Book and
    its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.

Resort to pure reason (the Head) or pure emotion (the Belly) does not suffice to instruct us what behavior is right and what is wrong.  There must be objective values--standards that are absolute, universal, and external to man--to provide guidance.  These are then internalized--whether as God's Commandments or Aristotelian Ethics or whatever--and Lewis says, located in the Chest where they essentially form what we call character.  When Lewis says that texts like The Green Book are creating Men Without Chests, he means that they produce students who have no character.

In the second lecture, called The Way, he makes the case against subjectivism.  He makes the case, which I have always found compelling, that once opponents deny that objective value exists, it is impossible for them to then reconstruct a coherent basis for morality:

    This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or
    Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one
    among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is
    rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise
    a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be,
    a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems of
    (as they now call them) 'ideologies,' all consist of fragments of the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched
    from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the
    Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so
    is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. if
    the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of
    new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could
    succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power
    of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun
    and a new sky for it to move in.

Think of any non-religious attempt at morality that you've ever studied.  They all consist of finding little more than new justifications for the same traditional rules of behavior.  And all founder on the same shoal, trying to find a reason why that behavior should be imposed absent an absolute standard (i.e., God's Commandments).  In the end, they must all resort to the unacceptable assertion that you should behave in a certain way because they say so.

Which brings him to the third lecture, the eponymous Abolition of Man.  Suppose that the subjectivists succeed and they destroy the Tao, the concept of objective value.  What will they erect in its place?  The answer of course must be that whoever wields temporal power at any given moment will get to define and impose their own version of "morality".  It is the Natural Law (the Tao) that enables us to convict Nazi war criminals even though they were "following orders."  We understand that it is possible for a legal order to be "unlawful".  This is because we, all of us regardless of our rhetoric, believe in the Natural Law and objective values.  When we truly stop believing, then it will be up to the state, as the only power left, to both pass laws and define morality.  The state itself will "Condition" behavior.  At that point, all orders will be lawful.  All actions of the state will be permissible.  All that remains to be determined is the character of the state and what behavior it will mandate:

   Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

Having abandoned objective values, men leave themselves prey to the diktats of other, more powerful, men, thereby ceasing to be Man at all.  They are no longer made in God's image, but in the image of whomever rules them at that moment.  One needn't be religious to see the tragic nature of this turn of events.

This rise of subjectivism or moral relativism is the single most important trend in Modern Times.  Virtually all of our other problems stem from this rotten seed.  This case has never been stated more succinctly than in Lewis's excellent little book.


Grade: (A+)


C.S. Lewis Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: C. S. Lewis
    -POEM: Death in Battle (C.S. Lewis)
    -REVIEW: of The Hobbit (C. S. Lewis, The Times Literary Supplement, October 2, 1937)
-PODCAST: 60: That Hideous Strength Is Nonfiction: Pain and Passion, Part 11 (Marianne Wright, Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts, Plough)
    -PODCAST: 50: C. S. Lewis and the Problem of Pain: The great Christian apologist is an imaginary guests as the hosts consider the problem of suffering. (Peter Mommsen and Susannah Black Roberts MARCH 15, 2023, PloughCast)
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis & Maksym Kryvtsov: The Experience of War and Godforsakenness (Yuliia Vintoniv, May 20, 2024, Church Life Journal)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis and “Mere Politics”: Some Shrewdly Hellish Political Advice from The Screwtape Letters: In an election year, can an over-focus upon the all-encompassing reach of modern politics pose a danger to a voter’s soul? C.S. Lewis’ Senior Devil Screwtape knew the answer to that one. (Steven Tucker, 5/23/24, Crisis)
    -ESSAY: ‘Loud-mouthed bully’: CS Lewis satirised Oxford peer in secret poems (dalya Alberge, 5/19/24, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis and His Critics (Michael Nelson, Winter 1988, Virginia Quarterly Review)
    -ESSAY: ‘This idle prig’: the truth about CS Lewis and John Betjeman’s long-lasting feud: At Oxford, Lewis complained repeatedly in his diary about his student Betjeman’s attitude to work. A newly discovered letter throws light on their mutual antipathy (Dalya Alberge, 14 Apr 2024, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Things Worth Remembering: C.S. Lewis on Keeping Calm in Chaos: In his 1939 sermon at Oxford, ‘Learning in Wartime,’ C.S. Lewis reminded his audience that by forging ahead in the worst of times, we can touch the divine. (Douglas Murray, March 10, 2024, Free Press)
    -ESSAY: Men Without Chests: Succinct and timeless in its message, C.S. Lewis's "The Abolition of Man" is a required read for anyone looking to diagnose modernity’s problems. (SCOTT HOWARD, FEB 13, 2024, The Freemen News-Letter)
    -ESSAY: Space Operas and Human Folly—Pandora, Perelandra, and the Fall of Man (Tyler Hummel, 5/05/23, Voegelin View)
-REVIEW ESSAY: What Does C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Abolition of Man’ Have to Say After 80 Years?: Review: ‘The Abolition of Man’ by C. S. Lewis (JOSEPH A. KOHM JR., 8/24/23, Gospel Coalition)
    -ESSAY: Men With Chests (Dwight Longenecker, April 3rd, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The Mere Genius of C.S. Lewis (Joseph Pearce, March 24th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Weekend Short: Out of the Silent Planet (LUTHER RAY ABEL, December 10, 2022, National Review)
    -ESSAY: The Christian Cosmology of C.S. Lewis (Stratford Caldecott, November 28th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis’ Seven Categories of Science Fiction (Bradley J. Birzer, May 11th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
   -ESSAY: "That Hideous Strength" Is Evangelicalism's Text for the Future: The future of Evangelicalism will either look less like Willow Creek or Mars Hill and more like St. Anne's or it will not exist. (Jake Meador, July 22, 2015, Patheos)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: When the naked green lady sings: CS Lewis noted how operatic the climax of his novel Perelandra was, writes Christopher Howse. (Christopher Howse, 27 Jun 2009, The Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis: The making of a reluctant Christian superstar: Rev. Steve Morris identifies Lewis’s experience at a remote World War Two airbase as defining the way of talking to regular people about the spiritual life (Steve Morris, 3/06/21, The Critic)>-ESSAY: C. S. Lewis vs. Sigmund Freud on good and evil (Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., March 2002, American Enterprise)
   -ESSAY: A Mind That Grasped Both Heaven and Hell (JOSEPH LOCONTE, 11/23/03, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Why There Are Seven Chronicles of Narnia: A British scholar discovers the hidden design of C.S. Lewis' perennially popular series. (John Wilson, Christianity Today)
   -ESSAY: To See Truly Through a Glass Darkly: C. S. Lewis, George Orwell, and the Corruption of Language (David Mills, July/August 1998, Touchstone) -REVIEW: of After Humanity by Michael Ward (Samuel Gregg, Law & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of After Humanity: A Guide to C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. by Michael Ward. (Chris Butynskyi, University Bookman)
-REVIEW: of The Lion's Country: C. S. Lewis's Theory of the Real by Charlie W. Starr (Louis Markos, Christianmity Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Medieval Mind of C. S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind by Jason M. Baxter (Louis Markos, Christianity Today)

-FILM REVIEW: Freud’s Last Session (JC Scharl, Religion & Liberty)

Book-related and General Links:
-C(live) S(taples) Lewis (1898-1963)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: " c. s. lewis"
    -C.S. Lewis Foundation
    -C. S. Lewis Classics (Harper Collins) (Harper Collins)
    -EXCERPT: A Selection from The Abolition of Man
    -Inklings: C. S. Lewis
    -Into the Wardrobe: The C.S. Lewis Web Site
    -C.S. Lewis and Related Authors (Taylor University)
    -Virtual Narnia
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Pastor's Helper Presents: The C.S. Lewis Collection (linked to Amazon)
    -BIBLIO: Bibliography of Books & Articles By or About C. S. Lewis
    -PROFILE: Apostle to the Sceptics (Andrew Walker, Ship of Fools: The Magazine of Christian Unrest)
    -Literary Research Guide: C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963 )
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis in the Public Square (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis and the Materialist Menace: The following is edited from an address delivered on July 15, 1996 as part of the annual C. S. Lewis Institute at Seattle Pacific University (Discovery institute)
    -LECTURE: Restoration of Man: A Lecture given in Durham on Thursday October 22nd, 1992 by  J. R. LUCAS to mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man
    -ESSAY: THE DESECRATION OF MAN (Carl R. Trueman, January 2024, First Things)
    -ESSAY: CHAPTER 4:  WHAT ARE THE THREATS TO FREEDOM IN MODERN SOCIETY? (EDWARD LARSON, Professor of History and Law, University of Georgia and Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute,  STEVEN HAYWARD, Heritage Foundation)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis and Materialism (John G. West, Jr., Acton Institute for Study of Religion and Freedom)
    -ESSAY: Finding the Permanent in the Political: C. S. Lewis as a Political Thinker (John G. West, Jr., Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute)
    -ESSAY:  THE ABOLITION OF MAN  Sample entry from The C.S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia (Zondervan, 1998)(JOHN G. WEST, JR.)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis: The Man and His Myths (Biblical Discernment Ministries)
    -ESSAY: "Morality, the Tao and Men Without Chests" (Oct 1998, Michael Cassidy, Theologically Speaking)
    -ESSAY: C. S. Lewis on Mere Science  (M. D. Aeschliman, First Things 86 (October, 1998)
    -ESSAY:  The Wardrobe as Christian Metaphor [in The Chronicles of Narnia (Don W. King, This essay first appeared in Mythlore 14 (Autumn 1987)
    -ESSAY : Oz vs. Narnia :  L. Frank Baum's sanitized, all-too-American world is infinitely less compelling than C.S. Lewis' dangerous imaginings (Laura Miller, Salon)
    -ESSAY: C.S. Lewis Comes to American Politics (Elias Crim, Intellectual Capital)
    -ESSAY:  On Ethics:  A World is Not Made to Last Forever: The Bioethics of C. S. Lewis (Martin LeBar,  Visiting Professor Bryan College)
    -ESSAY: Transcendental Argument: Contours of C.S. Lewis' Apologetic (Tommy Allen, Premise)
    -ESSAY: Lewis, Lucifer, and Luminous Beings (Ashley Eckler)
    -ESSAY : When Worldviews Collide : C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud: a comparison of their thoughts and viewpoints on life, pain and death (Armand Nicholi, Jr., M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School)
    -ESSAY : Marketing 'Narnia' Without a Christian Lion (DOREEN CARVAJAL, June 3, 2001 , NY Times)
    -SERMON: A Service Commemorating the Centenary of the Baptism of C.S. Lewis in St Mark's Church, Dundela, Belfast on the 29th January 1899 (Address given by The Rt. Rev. D.A.R. Caird M.A., D.D.,L.L.D.,H.Dip.Ed.)
    -DISCUSSION NOTES: For discussion - The Abolition of Man (Dale J. Nelson, Mayville (ND) State University)
    -DISCUSSION: the abolition of man:   CS Lewis Campfire
    -REVIEWS: C.S. Lewis: (Christian Book Review by Carson Weitnauer)
    -REVIEW: of  C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time Scott R. Burson and Jerry L. Walls Comparing Two Giants of Apologetics (Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.)
    -BOOK LISTS: The Fifty BEST Books of the Century (Intercollegiate Studies Institute)
    -BOOK LIST : BOOKS OF THE CENTURY: Leaders and thinkers weigh in on classics that have shaped contemporary religious thought (, April 24, 2000)

    -ESSAY: THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST NATURAL LAW (Russell Kirk, Heritage Foundation)
    -ESSAY: A Moral Axis: Why Are Ideas Defended? (Tim S. Macneil)

    -Anglican Voice (online magazine of Episcopals United)
    -Acton Institute for Study of Religion and Freedom
    -Premise:  A monthly electronic journal of the  Center for the Advancement of Paleo Orthodoxy
    -ESSAY: THE MEANING OF "JUSTICE" (Russell Kirk,  The Heritage Foundation)
    -ESSAY: Scientific Psychology and Christian Theism (Harold D. Delaney and Timothy E. Goldsmith, Leadership U)
    -REVIEW: A review of Ravi Zacharias' book "Deliver Us from Evil" (Russ Carlson)
    -REVIEW: "Cornerstone Values"    A Critical Review from a Christian Perspective    A review and critique of  Cornerstone Values: A Values Education Curriculum, by John Heenan. (Dr Chris Gousmett)