It’s hard to believe that C. S. Lewis is only now making the list at #29. He has been my favorite author for years now. Sorry, Jack!
The Abolition of Man is a treaty on the importance of Natural law, –an objective truth or a moral code– that transcends time and culture. Lewis refers to this as the Tao, a system of truth that is embedded in all cultures throughout history. It is not an American or British truth, or even a western one. There are objective truths that all recognize, whether they follow them or not. As he states, he does not like the company of children, but he recognizes that as a default in him, not in children. This is similar to the color-blind man; my inability to see color says something about me, not about the existence of color.
When we stop teaching children to look for ideas and truths larger than themselves, “we have cut out of his soul, long before he is old enough to choose, the possibility of having certain experiences which thinkers of more authority than they have held to be generous, fruitful, and humane…That is their day’s lesson in English, though of English they have learned nothing. Another little portion of the human heritage has been quietly taken from them before they were old enough to understand” (9). This vivisection causes society to produce “men without chests,” and we somehow are surprised when people behave poorly, criminally, or, even worse, immorally. As Lewis states, “we remove the organ and demand the function.”
We avoid feelings and beliefs as contradictory to the mind, to nature, to science. We seek to conquer nature in the name of progress. However, “man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man” (68). It is interesting that these talks were given during World War II, at the time when Hitler and his cronies were focused on conquering nature via eugenics and other human experimentations. How, Lewis would ask, could you say that he was wrong if there is no overarching moral standard in which torturing humans and killing the innocent are counted as wrong? Conquering nature results in conquering ourselves. The abolition of Man.
Lewis states that this book is not an argument for the existence of a theistic God, but I think it is a clear apologetic for one. How can we have moral laws and objective truths without a lawgiver and one who exists above the laws? While it is not a defense for a Christian God per se, it does point to a designer of a coherent and morally good universe.
This is a difficult work in spite of its 81 pages, but well worth the effort.