This short book, originally given as a series of lectures in 1943, is a powerful critique of moral relativism. It is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is remarkable for it’s clarity and cleverness – although since it is written by C.S. Lewis perhaps that is not that remarkable after all. What I found especially striking however was how prophetic Lewis’ critique was. We are now living in a society that is gorging itself on the rotten fruit of the trees that were seedlings that Lewis warned about in his day. Just as the reader of Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s A Brave New World will get chills seeing the parallels in those fictional societies with our own, even more so will readers of The Abolition of Man see how accurately Lewis predicted the trajectory of Western society. He powerfully lays bare the suicidal absurdity of abandoning objective values and “traditional” morality and instead demanding individual moral autonomy.
This is a must read for anyone wanting to understand, explain, and redemptively engage the postmodern (and post-postmodern) worldview.
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
“For every one pupil who needs to be guarded against a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”
“The very power of [textbook writers] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”
See also Ron’s excellent review of this book