Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Is Progress Possible?

I have given away almost everything by CS Lewis at one time or another, and then have had to, in time, buy it again.  A few years ago I resolved to keep my copies henceforth, to bring as complete a collection as possible when they put me into some home in later years.* I am glad I was given a used paperback copy of God In The Dock. It was formative in my early Christianity and so fully embedded in my thinking that I no longer have to read some of them.  I can already recall every sentence. Others I had forgotten, and am grateful to be reminded of them. More than once I have thought this essay really needs to be brought forward again.  The topic is neglected now, and Lewis's take on it is still much the best. 

Today I bring forward "Is Progress Possible?" which Lewis wrote sixty years ago in The Observer (an English weekly newspaper), as part of their series of five writers answering the question.  Lewis followed CP Snow. The essay is disturbingly prescient, as Lewis often is. He would not a tendency in society and project it forward, as in The Abolition of Man. He was originally trained in philosophy, not literature.  The link is to a Libertarian Christian site, to which I am grateful.
Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man.

*Given new problems in each eye over the last two years, I wonder if reading will ultimately prove impossible, as it did for my uncle who died this morning. Nothing to be gained by worrying about it now.

1 comment:

Zachriel said...

C.S. Lewis: Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge.

The problem is in the term "oligarchy". While it is correct that all societies necessarily exhibit some aspects of oligarchy (or republicanism), modern democratic societies are highly complex. Rather, people and institutions are constrained and liberated along *many* different dimensions.

Modern democracies are characterized by a distribution of power balanced at many levels throughout; from divided governments with executive, legislative and an independent judiciary; federal, state, and local; the rule of law, corporations, political parties, scientific entities, trade unions, religious institutions, universities, civic organizations, clubs, lobbying groups; individual liberties, including the rights of free speech and free association, and the protection of private property. This sort of division of power does require compromises, and is certainly imperfect, but provides the stability necessary to preserve rights, while allowing for robust markets and an open culture.