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C. S. Lewis on politics

C.S. Lewis on politics. Source: Lewis 1966:81.

I am a democrat… I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretentions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent.

But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt.

C.S. Lewis on politics. Source: Lewis 1966:81-83.

A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme – whose highest real claim is to reasonable prudence – the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication

C.S. Lewis on politics. Source: Lewis 1966:82.

“Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique.

That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. Hence, in whatever direction the change is made, it is for me damned by its modus operandi. The worst of all public dangers is the committee of public safety. The character in ‘That hideous strength’ whom the Professor never mentions is Miss Hardcastle, the chief of the secret police. She is the common factor in all revolutions; and, as she says, you won’t get anyone to do her job well unless they get some kick out of it.”

Roy Campbell and the Inklings. Source: Carpenter 1978:191-192.

Roy Campbell, the South African poet, briefly joined the Inklings in 1944-46. Lewis objected to what he called “Campbell’s particular blend of Catholicism and Fascism”, though Tolkien was more sympathetic. Carpenter states, erroneously, that Campbell had fought on Franco’s side in the Spanish Civil War, and had become a Catholic in the process.

In fact Campbell had become a Catholic before the war, and it was the killing of Catholic priests and nuns by the Republicans (including the priest who had catechised him) that led him to sympathise with the Nationalist cause, which he supported with the pen, though not the sword (Pearce 2001:186).

What Carpenter says of Tolkien, then, applied equally to Campbell, “during the Spanish Civil War, Tolkien largely sympathised with Franco’s cause in Spain, not because he approved of fascism but because he saw Franco as the defender of the Catholic Church against communist persecution.”