The University Bookman

 
 

Winter 2017

Books in Little: Lewis as Political Thinker

book cover imageC. S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law
by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson.
Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Hardcover, 170 pages, $45.

Frank Freeman

C. S. Lewis, although a conservative, can surprise the reader, especially the evangelical one, with some of his comments. For instance, in Mere Christianity, he suggests that a truly Christian society would be morally traditional and hierarchical (thus pleasing the Right) but would also forbid usury and would support generous social programs to help the poor (thus pleasing the Left). He also wrote that it is a ridiculous state of affairs when a society simply consists of people trying to convince other people to buy things they don’t need.

Professors Dyer (University of Missouri) and Watson (Calvin College) prove that although, on the face of it Lewis was apolitical because of his ignorance of current events and abhorrence of newspapers, this does not mean he was not a political thinker. They contend, and have the quotes to back them up, that Lewis was a classic Lockean liberal who also gave a nod to John Stuart Mill’s “harm” principle. Thus on the three issues he spoke of in most detail—homosexuality, religious education, and divorce laws—he advocated no state laws should be used to legislate Christian morality. Thus:

It is clear that Lewis’s positions on the legality of marriage and divorce, homosexuality, and religious education illustrate what looks very much like a commitment to Mill’s harm principle. In a letter concerning homosexuality, Lewis wrote that the state should not criminalize sinful acts just because they are sinful.… Christians should not insist that the state enforce their understanding of education and marriage because (given Lewis’s view of marriage and education) this would interfere with or harm the liberty and interests of their nonbelieving neighbors.

However, Lewis’s consent to the harm principle, they argue, is limited in scope.

The authors’ conclusion is that Lewis’s main contribution to political thought is his powerful reaffirmation of the natural law of right and wrong, what he called the “Tao,” in The Abolition of Man. Without this foundation, Lewis argued, men “without chests” would become the tools of the scientific clergy who conspire with rulers to engineer society. And so, except for the few times he gave specific opinions on specific issues, Lewis gives principles to be worked out by Christians striving to live their vocations in the world.  

Frank Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.

Posted: March 5, 2017 in Books in Little.

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A culture is perennially in need of renewal. A culture does not survive and prosper merely by being taken for granted; active defense is always required, and imaginative growth, too.

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