Resistance, Assimilation and Honor: An Excerpt from C.S. Lewis


I thought this was too good not to share. Here is an excerpt from pp. 69-72 of Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis:

He had in fact been a strict socialist at Oxford. Everything ought to be run by the State; private enterprise and independent professions were for him the great evil. He then went away and became a schoolmaster. After about ten years of that he came to see me. He said his political views had been wholly reversed. You never heard a fuller recantation. He now saw that state interference was fatal. What had converted him was his experience as a schoolmaster of the Ministry of Education—a set of ignorant meddlers armed with insufferable powers to pester, hamper, and interrupt the work of real, practical teachers who knew the subjects they taught, who knew boys, parents, and all the real conditions of their work. It makes no difference to the point of the story whether you agree with his view of the Ministry; the important thing is that he held that view. For the real point of the story, and of his visit, when it came, nearly took my breath away. Thinking thus, he had come to see whether I had any influence which might help him get a job in the Ministry of Education.

Here is the perfect band-wagoner. Immediately on the decision ‘This is a revolting tyranny’, follows the question ‘How can I as quickly as possible cease to be one of the victims and become one of the tyrants?’ If I had been able to introduce the young man to someone in the Ministry, I think we may be sure that his manners to that hated ‘meddler’ would have been genial and friendly in the extreme. Thus someone who had heard his previous invective against the meddling and then witnessed his actual behaviour to the meddler, might possibly (for charity ‘believeth all things’) have concluded that this young man was full of the purest Christianity and loved one he thought a sinner while hating what he thought his sin.

Of course this is an instance of band-wagoning so crude and unabashed as to be farcical. Not many of us perhaps commit the like. But there are subtler, more social or intellectual forms of band-wagoning which might deceive us. Many people have a very strong desire to meet celebrated or ‘important’ people, including those whom they disapprove, to talk or even (anyone may produce a book of reminiscences) to write about. It is felt to confer distinction if the great, though odious, man recognizes you in the street. And where such motives are in play it is better still to know him quite well, to be intimate with him. It would be delightful if he shouted out ‘Hallo Bill’ while you were walking down the Strand with an impressionable country cousin. I don’t know that the desire it itself a very serious defect. But I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful, and so forth.

“Not because we are ‘too good’ for them. In a sense because we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces. The temptation is to condone, to connive at; by our words, looks and laughter, to ‘consent’. The temptation was never greater than now when we are all (and very rightly so afraid of priggery or ‘smugness’. And of course, even if we do not seek them out, we shall constantly be in such company whether we wish it or not. This is the real and unavoidable difficulty.

We shall hear vile stories told as funny; not merely licentious stories but (to me far more serious and less noticed) stories which the teller could not be telling unless he was betraying someone’s confidence. We shall hear infamous detractions of the absent, often disguised as pity or humour. Things we hold sacred will be mocked. Cruelty will be slyly advocated by the assumption that its only opposite is ‘sentimentality’. The very presuppositions of any good life—all disinterested motives, all heroism, all genuine forgiveness—will be, not explicitly denied (for then the matter could be discussed), but assumed to be phantasmal, idiotic, believed in only by children.”

Cross-posted at the Mises Blog.

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