Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

C.S. Lewis, West-Coast Straussian?

I’ve remarked previously in this space that C.S. Lewis’s remarkably prescient attack on postmodern relativism, The Abolition of Man, could easily be read as a preface to Strauss’s Natural Right and History. Well, since the movie is out right now, I’ve been reading the Narnia chronicles to my 7-year-old, and came across this passage from The Magician’s Nephew, from the mouth of the devious Uncle Andrew:

"You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true: most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys--and servants--and women--and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny."

But Digory sees right through him, thinking to himself, "All he means is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants."

Discussions - 10 Comments

You sure you’re not reading him Bellow’s Ravelstein.

Lewis has some clever stuff tucked away in there. How insidious! Filling the mind of innocent children with high theology & philosophy!

Rumor has it Strauss himself recommended Lewis’s Abolition of Man in his lectures at Chicago.

Though I think one could just as easily link Lewis’s notion here with Raskilnikov’s "great men" philosophy in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

There are a number of indications throughout his writings that Lewis seems to have anticipated the whole po-mo thing, and wanted to have nothing to do with it. This is hardly surprising since he spent his entire adult life in the academic environs and thus had a good view of cutting edge of silliness and lousy thinking.

The Magician’s Nephew, which is actually the prequel to The Lion, the Withc and the Wardrobe, is my favorite of the series, and I tend to think one of the most visual and compelling in story as well. If I were filming the series, I would do that one next, rather than Prince Caspian.

The Magician’s Nephew is chock full of lessons like this. So is That Hideous Strength.

I read the entire Narnia and Silent Planet series to my boys and, on more than a few occasions, had trouble reading aloud as the joyful imagery, full of Christian hope, would literally choke my speech and cause some strange blurring effect in my eyes.

So, Steven, I have to confess that this one confuses me a bit. First, didn’t Strauss promote the idea that certain men of great wisdom were exempt from "common rules"? Then, secondly, looking at Digory’s "translation" of what Uncle Andrew told him, do you think that Lewis was a Straussian, or not?

To Ohio voter:

No, Strauss didn’t teach that men of great wisdom were exempt from moral codes; rather that they concealed potentially subversive teachings through "esoteric" writing, which is a different thing. My wry title was directed at those silly critics of Straussians who think they are all secretly Nietzschean atheists. (Hence the "west coast Straussian" peg.)

Lewis is not to be confused literally with Strauss, but on the subject of natural law and natural right they are very similar. I have heard several times that Strauss recommended Lewis’s The Abolition of Man to students, and if true it means that Strauss saw Lewis as a kindred spirit.

Yet wasn’t Strauss a proponent of the idea of the judiciously applied and carefully controlled "noble lie"?

Digory says, "All [Uncle Andrew] means is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants." Is the boy's bluntly stated interpretation a refutation of Uncle Andrew's supposed opinion? What is the relationship between the character and the author? Is Digory C.S. Lewis's spokesman? Digory's thought seems to imply contempt. If it does, do we know exactly what he holds in contempt? Does the character's contempt imply contempt on the part of the author? If Lewis also holds something in contempt, is it the same thing his character holds in contempt?

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/7651