Book Review: The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

This review is of The Abolition of Man by C.S Lewis. In this short read from C.S Lewis, we find C.S. Lewis offers reflections on what I might refer to as the deconstruction and redefining of emotional affinity to natural truth in our culture’s evolutionary progression (or regression). C.S. Lewis reflects on humanity’s fight against its nature – by responding to the deconstruction and redefining of natural truth and emotional affinity in academia. As C.S. Lewis remarks on the signs of his times, “human nature will be the last part of nature to surrender to man…the battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?” [1] Undoubtedly, we are living into a conditioned era such as this, where “the ultimate springs of human action are no longer, for them, something given… [rather we are in a time that] they know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce”[2] Such conscience is ever-changing.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
This is not my first time reading The Abolition of Man, and historically this has been one of my favorite C.S. Lewis books. Though, it has been decades since I read last read this short read from Lewis. Interestingly, this time through I found it even more relevant to my personal journey, and it is more relevant to me in an era where a new ethos of living has emerged in our post-modern society. More than ever, I think societal development and/or pressure has forced us to  have lived into a realized Nietzschean ethic, where we “scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all.”[3] This ever-changing conscience and lack of available boundaries has led to a deep tiredness in people.

Those who have conditioned society, though not inherently good or bad, have certainly become those Lewis foretold would sacrifice “their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.”[4] It is impulses and new fulfillments we (as humanity) are attempting to redefine ourselves with, rather than advancing (transforming) the old Natural truths. Though in search of impulses and new fulfillments, I do not believe we find ourselves living into a time of those new morals and ways of living, but rather “we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men…to their irrational impulses.”[5] We have merely traded a communal ethic for human masters. This false sense of freedom, merely has reintroduced to us as a slavery to new ideals. This new slavery is a time in which all “traditional values are to be ‘debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.”[6] Those few and luck are an elite that become the puppet masters for all. Such a societal breakdown results from a new found ideal that “if nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved.”[7] In doing so, they have begun man’s final conquest “the abolition of man.”[8] In this era of the abolition of man, we find a time in which not only is confusing, distrusted and unable to be proven – and with new masters - but we quickly approach a time in which “the conditioners will hate the conditioned.”[9]

Lewis calls this development of humanity an operation - “its kind is to produce what may be called men without chests.”[10] This stems from his conviction that “the head rules the belly through the chest.”[11] Without hearts driven by an emotional affinity for Natural truth, new morals rule, but there is not emotional affinity to sustain them, and even more concerning new masters have the authority rather than a shared communal ethos. Yet, in removing this shared Natural truth from humanity, “we make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”[12] In removing the old Natural truth, in some way we still hope to use aspects of it (emotional instinct) to affirm the new, which just doesn’t work in a culture that has tried to replace instinct all together.

This book is a recommended read for philosophical types and those who want to develop a discernment of the way we live in an ever changing world. For me, my favorite aspects came from the way that we live in a time when many “conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion.”[13] In doing so, they can unplug emotional affinity from natural truth. The loss of emotion for some is detrimental for others. As C.S. Lewis points out, “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.”[14] Throughout The Abolition of Man, we find as teachers and instructors that “the heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”[15] As teachers and instructors,  “…the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists.”[16]

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Quotes and Highlights

 

 

 

 

 



[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 59.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 61.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 46.

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 63.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 67.

[6] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 74.

[7] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 40.

[8] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 64.

[9] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 66.

[10] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 25.

[11] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 24.

[12] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 26.

[13] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 13.

[14] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 13.

[15] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 19.

[16] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000), 21.


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