I’m clearly in over my head (without Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge) but still writing about him. For this I ask your understanding. And now I’m writing about his 1943 book, The Abolition of Man, which has received probably the most attention of all his works. The National Review ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute ranked the book as the second best book of the 20th century. In a lecture on Walker Percy, Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College lists the book as one of six “books to read to save Western Civilization,” — yes that’s right, “to save Western Civilization,”— (the other saviors being Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.)
In this book Lewis would defend something he calls “objective value” a kind of natural law, and he would defend it from something that seems to be the activity of scientists, which would do away with objective value, by reduction, by reducing men created in the image of God to natural beings created in no one’s image, without chests, without feeling, without hearts.
Lewis elsewhere (in his book, Present Concerns) tells us there are Three Kinds of Men, “those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them,” (probably most of us) and then those “who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society,—and honestly try to pursue their own interests but no further than this claim will allow,” probably almost as many, and finally a third class of those “who can say like St Paul that for them to live is Christ. That the will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs.” Are there any at all of these? Well there are certainly some who would place themselves in this third class.
What about the scientist? A class of his own? Lewis doesn’t mention him specifically. But he is definitely not of the third class, the class to which Lewis himself would belong, those who have given themselves over to Christ. As for the scientist Lewis’s three types of men don’t seem to include him.
But the abolition of man (resulting as it seems from the activity of science) is not what this book, The Abolition of Man, is most about. Rather it’s the book’s Appendix that gets most of my and probably most of Lewis’ own attention, not to mention the book’s many admirers. The Appendix alone, perhaps, is what makes this book one of those six books that would, or could “save Western civilization.”
Lewis says that the Chinese speak of a great something called the Tao, that which is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge into space and time…. This conception of the Way, or Road in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Oriental alike is for Lewis the Tao, in his view, the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, about what we are, about what the universe is. In fact Lewis throughout all his writing is trying to make a case for the “really true.”
But there are a couple of great ironies here. For one, while Lewis would describe what he sees as the abolition of man he is in fact giving us in this book a man inherently moral, not needing God, evidently much alive on this earth well before the coming of Christ, and showing a highly developed understanding of right and wrong. (The restoration rather than the abolition of man?) I come away from the reading of the book, and most of all the book’s Appendix, and suggest a fourth kind of man, a natural moral man, one who is clearly present in all the earlier civilizations of which we have objective evidence, and one who comes closest to ourselves, to what we are, or would be.
The other great irony is that Lewis himself employs the method of the scientist and/or historian, not the Christian (whatever that method might be?), to tell us what he has learned about who we are. To that end he has collected hundreds, perhaps thousands or more illustrations of men’s natural morality, of man’s awareness of right and wrong, such awareness not coming from the teachings of one or another religion but in this instance from Lewis’ own efforts at gaining knowledge of self through his reading. All of this strongly implying that there is objective value, a moral law out there, coming in multiple representations and accessible to all of us. A widely read individual like Lewis himself would be continually encountering these and similar texts in his reading, and we should not be surprised by the Appendix, only that he didn’t see the full significance of what he had done. I call this the Montaigne effect because Montaigne’s essays while similarly rich in source materials also have much to tell us of the nature of man.
Lewis, no less than Montaigne, makes no pretense of completeness, and we know there is much more of the same to be found if we were ourselves were to read as widely and to look further. The idea of collecting independent testimonies of a natural moral law presupposes that civilizations have arisen in the world, often independently of one another, and that they point to multiple emergences of moral man on the planet. Montaigne knew this, Lewis seems not to have understood its full significance.
Lewis does group his evidence (why?) under such titles as the Laws of General and Special Beneficence, Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors, to Children and Posterity, the Laws of Justice, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.
These texts even in these artificial groupings are the evidence of a world-wide moral code that the historian/scientist Lewis himself has brought to our attention. For me, this is enough, the testimonies from so many who have come before us, from men like us. And it is enough to strive to be like them. No God, no religion is necessary.
Below are just a few of the quotations that Lewis has grouped together, presented here in no particular order. From all parts of the known world going back thousands of years the writers of these words are saying pretty much the same things about the nature of man, and in this work of C.S.Lewis, far from being abolished man is restored and reinstated.
‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)
‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)
‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)
‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)
‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)
‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)
‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)
‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)
‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)
‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)
‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)
‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)
‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)
‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)
‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)
‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)
‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)
‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)
‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)
‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)
‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)
‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)
‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)
‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)
‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)
‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)
‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)
‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)
‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)
‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)
‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)
‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless. (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)
‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)
‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)
‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)
‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)
‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)
‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)
‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)
‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)
‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)
‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)
‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)
‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)
‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)
‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)