“Was he a socialist, a classical liberal, an anarchist, a minarchist, a theocrat, or something else?”
“Lewis’s commentary on political and economic matters is comparatively slim — mostly a few paragraphs scattered here and there, not in a single volume.”
But a recent essay by Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education, gives us a definite analysis.
So according to Reed, what were the politics of C.S. Lewis?
Clive Staples Lewis was born one November day in 1898 and lived his whole life in the United Kingdom, dying in November of 1963.
His life and works of literature have overtaken the entire world with captivating fictions, allegorically representing God and His Story, as well as works of prose taking the blinders off of any who dare read.
The nonfiction works of C.S. Lewis present us with strong, reasonable arguments regarding God’s Kingdom Culture, and our experience (or lack thereof) on this planet. He believes strongly in God’s Providence and Grace, but equally in man’s responsibility and discernment.
Much is known about C.S. Lewis’ theology, but his politics are not as familiar.
Lewis was a very reasonable and principled man. He isn’t afraid to ask questions, lay things out as they are, and stand in the crossroads of the known, unknown, and unknowable.
Lawrence Reed makes the case in his essay that, “Lewis might be perfectly happy to be labeled a Christian libertarian.”
Whether or not that was the case, the examples throughout Reed’s essay clearly align Lewis with a few key principles regarding his political views that include everything the Foundation for Economic Education lists as their core beliefs, namely “individual liberty, free-market economics, entrepreneurship, private property, high moral character, and limited government.”
Reed pulls together many quotes from many sources to make his case:
1. Individualism and individual liberty
C.S. Lewis believed that our individual liberty is real, and important. He believed this is both defined and defended by our faith, as God knows each one individually and calls us each to unique purpose.
“It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense — if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining — then this is nonsense … If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us … In this way then, the Christian life defends the single personality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving him the status of an organ in the mystical Body.”
Lewis explored individualism in The Screwtape Letters. This book was written in the form of a senior demon writing to mentor a younger demon.
“”What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement toward the discrediting, and finally elimination, of every kind of human excellence — moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how Democracy is now doing for us the work that once was done by the ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? … Allow no pre-eminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser, or better, or more famous, or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them down to a level; all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practice, in a sense, ‘democracy.’ But now ‘democracy’ can do the same work without any other tyranny than her own.”
2. Free-market economics and entrepreneurship
“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. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”
3. Private property
“To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labor, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death — these are wishes deeply ingrained in civilized man. Their realization is almost as necessary to our virtues as to our happiness. From their total frustration disastrous results both moral and psychological might follow.”
4. Limited government
“The higher the pretensions of our rulers are, the more meddlesome and impertinent their rule is likely to be and the more the thing in whose name they rule will be defiled … Let our masters … leave us some region where the spontaneous, the unmarketable, the utterly private, can still exist.”
“The modern state exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good — anyway, to do something to us or to make us something. Hence the new name ‘leaders’ for those who were once ‘rulers.’ We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, ‘Mind your own business.’ Our whole lives are their business.”
And as a final word from Lewis, let this reminder sink deep as we consider the pluses or minuses of a free society:
“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely 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.”
As Reed says in closing his essay, the world may not be any smarter today in this country than it was when C.S. Lewis left the earth in 1963, but it was by no lack of effort on his part.
“He gifted us wisdom by the bushels — wisdom we ignore or dismiss at our peril.”
Read Lawrence Reed’s essay yourself by clicking here.