Inspiration: The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Today I finished the book, The Abolition of Man, which includes three essays by C.S. Lewis. As always, I am delighted and enlightened with Lewis, for his words speak to the human core, and to every man under the sun. He speaks with wit and clarity, and always reaches the heart of the matter in such a way that, to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, their souls are left touched with a great, unspeakable weight and ache, and all the better for it.

Below are some quotes from all three essays, in their order as appears in the short book, and to which encourage you to read them in full, or to, at the very least, take as much away from them as I have. If nothing else, this is a record book to remember what inspired me and enlightened me as I read this book, and, moreover, a reminder of what I already knew, deep within.

“For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature we will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” pg. 27, “Men without Chests”

“Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that “a gentleman does not cheat,” than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.” pg. 35, “Men without Chests”

“The Chest–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 his 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.” pg. 36, “Men without Chests”

“And all the time–such is the tragi-comedy of our situation–we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” pg. 36-37, “Men without Chests”

“Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey “people.” People say different things: so do instincts. […] Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest.” pg. 49, “The Way”

“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 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.” pg. 56, “The Way”

“From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” pg. 67, “The Abolition of Man”

“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.” pg. 70, “The Abolition of Man”

“It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.” pg. 74, “The Abolition of Man”

“My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.” pg. 75, “The Abolition of Man”

“I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned.” pg. 75, “The Abolition of Man”

“Their extreme rationalism by “seeing through” all “rational” motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour.” pg. 76, “The Abolition of Man”

“Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of man.” pg. 76, “The Abolition of Man”

“We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may “conquer” them. […] The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. […] The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psycho-analyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. […] But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified.” pg. 79, “The Abolition of Man”

“It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, our selves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.” pg. 80, “The Abolition of Man”

“We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet, at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own “natural” impulses. […] A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” pg. 80-81, “The Abolition of Man”

“There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis–in commensurable with the others–and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey.” pg. 86, “The Abolition of Man”

“But you cannot go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.” pg. 86-87, “The Abolition of Man.”


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