The Abolition of Man (CS Lewis)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, May 1, 2019.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    This is the nonfiction version of That Hideous Strength. Lewis anticipates the modern gender-dysphoria craze and calls it for what it is: the negation of human nature. He begins, though, on a smaller scale. He starts by reviewing a grammar school textbook. The authors are committed to the ethical position of emotivism. This means that if I see a beautiful waterfall, I am not really saying anything about the waterfall (since that statement isn’t scientifically verifiable). I am simply saying, “Hoorah waterfall.” If I dislike something, I don’t mean it is bad. I mean it creates unhappy feelings in me. So the claim is now “boo waterfall.”

    The smart reader will see that this is idiocy. We’re going to spend some time on it, though, since the intellectual fallout is still with us. Lewis notes, alluding to Coleridge, that the authors think if I say “The waterfall is sublime” what I really mean is “The waterfall creates sublime feelings in me.” Or maybe, “I have sublimity in me.” Yet that’s the very thing it is not. If I stand in awe of a waterfall, it is precisely because I don’t have venerable or sublime feelings in me. Quite the opposite.

    That’s not all. If one says to the other, “I have sublime feelings,” his friend won’t reply, “No, I don’t have sublime feelings.” Quite so, but irrelevant. This idiocy self-destructed after the 1960s.

    Lewis points out the danger it did to school children. They were no longer taught to value the good in literature. Today we call this the hermeneutics of suspicion. Instead of seeing and appreciating noble sentiments, young people are taught to find “oppressive power structures” in every piece of non-leftist literature.

    Lewis’s most famous line in this work is “men without chests,” but perhaps we don’t fully get what he is saying. Man’s head seems evident enough--reason. The stomach is the appetites. What is “the chest?” Lewis says we have lost the old categories our fathers had: sentiment and practical reason. In an age of deconstructionism, we have no need to teach sentiment. It’s not entirely postmodernism’s fault, though. Our modern academia and scientific establishment operates on the assumption that if it isn’t testable, it doesn’t exist.

    Unfortunately, it won’t help us much to bash the moderns if we can’t get a grip on what “sentiments” are and why the pedagogue should care. Lewis suggests we should train our emotions. There’s something to that, but it doesn’t quite capture what sentiment is. Let’s go to that manliest of English writers, Samuel Johnson. In his illustrious dictionary he takes his cue from John Locke and sees sentiment as a “thought or notion.” True, but I think it is more than that. Even in his day something about “sentiment” connoted “feeling,” yet without the vapid subjectivity the word has today.

    It refers to a phrase Lewis uses elsewhere: practical reason. We don’t really have that concept today, and we are much poorer for the loss. Therefore, the best translation might be “concept.” Many concepts arise in our minds without our always being aware of it. That’s why it is important to train our sentiments. For example, Samuel Johnson said that a long perusing of Dryden would give us proper sentiments.

    Lewis ends with a now-fulfilled prophecy on the scientific establishment. Nature now means quantity, which includes man. We have “mastered nature,” and so man. I think Lewis expected today’s transhumanism, but apart from Wells he might have been the only one. In other words, we have abolished man.

    In terms of writing style this might be Lewis’s best. The syntax and diction are near-perfect. Chapter Two did go on for quite a bit, though.
  2. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    I should give this a go. Not so long ago I read a comparison between current and older classrooms. Back in the day, children saw pictures of great men, ideas, and works of art. Today, their own scribbling fills the walls.
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    The audio edition is quite fine
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    One teacher once told me, "You need to decorate your classroom?"

    Me: Why?

    I do have reasons, actually. I used to go "whole hog" but I move from classroom to classroom, and we have to take down all the stuff anyway for standardized testing.
  5. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    You read my mind -- I just looked this up on Audible.
  6. Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Puritan Board Sophomore

    It's an excellent read, and the linking with That Hideous Strength is apt.

    As an aside, I was reading Perelandra recently (I read the whole trilogy yearly, it's such a pleasure), and was struck anew at how he nails feminism in his dialogue between the Unman and the Green Lady.
  7. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Reminds me of Orwell’s two minutes of hate.
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