The 'End' of Man: Education and the Individual, Pt. 2

As discussed in part one, C.S. Lewis has determined that the authors of a particular elementary English book have, consciously or unconsciously, laced the text with a sort of relativism that neither parents nor students may be able to detect in time to untangle.  He sees this textbook as a single example of a problem becoming pervasive even back in the 1940s-- the problem of raising 'Men without Chests,' a generation of students that revere intellectualism but lack heart. 

"Gaius and Titius," he says, are people who hold to their own intellectual, 'in vogue' system of values with "complete uncritical dogmatism." Intellectualism is their religion, so to speak.  "Their skepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.  And the phenomenon is very usual.  A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional ... values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.  They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that 'real' or 'basic' values may emerge."

Throughout the many works of C.S. Lewis, there is a clear thread of anti-progressivism, as defined in his generation.  He saw the progressives of his day as morally-relative deniers of spirituality, people whose sole motive was to go forward, with no destination except 'more forward-going.'  Consider the example of the man and the waterfall again.  "To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as 'necessary' or 'progressive' or 'efficient'" would force the authors to answer the questions, "Necessary for what?  Progressing towards what?  Effecting what?" ...  "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive" (as stated in Mere Christianity).

So how does all of this forward-going, value-eschewing intellectualism really end up affecting society, beginning at the earliest stages of education?  The question can't be answered without looking into the eyes of the genuine, all-encompassing value system these textbook scholars so slyly attempted to refute.

"The Innovator attacks traditional values in defense of what he at first supposes to be 'rational' or 'biological' values.  But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking [traditional values], and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from [traditional values.]  If he really had started from scratch ... no jugglery could have advanced him an inch... Only by [it] is he enabled even to attack it."  There are things of absolute, irrefutable venerability.  There are things that are absolutely contemptible, for which no explanation is necessary.  As such, the only way to attempt to refute them is to borrow some thread from them.  There is no way to create something new apart from them-- they are the fabric of life, and every thread is a part of their weave.

This melds well into another recurring theme in Lewis' work-- that Satan, common enemy of every man, has no power or authority to create anything, and creation is surely the gift he must envy above all others.  He can only take the creations of God in his hands and corrupt them to a purpose that in turn corrupts mankind. Every human vice is but the product of a corrupted virtue.  How clever a deceit, then, that the devil can manage to convince God's children that anything he has ever produced is new, novel, or has value above that which God has already given it.  How clever to convince us that God had no hand in it at all, and that we are responsible to equalize its imagined venerability and improve upon it-- 'progress' it to something, though we know not what.

The final few pages of The Abolition of Man are a dire warning against the application of moral relativity in the classroom.  "Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted, and indeed... we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.  But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and irresistable scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

"Even more important ... In the older systems, both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him, were prescribed by [traditional values]-- a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.  They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen.  They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike.  It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly.  This will be changed.  Values are now mere natural phenomena ...The conditioners have been emancipated from all that... They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce.  They themselves are outside, above.

"They are not bad men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao (traditional values), they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts [man-made, a spurious experimental result].  Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man."

This series of lectures, I remind you, took place in 1943.  This year marks its 70th anniversary.  Do you see the fruition of any part of his predictions?  Are they really any new revelation, or has he only re-illustrated a societal pattern that has existed since the beginning of time?

I believe this discussion deserves a third part-- inclusion of examples in the scriptures, a spiritual discussion about this 'end of man.'  New post to come.