The more I learn of the Inklings’ outlook on Modernity, the more I come to love them.  I know I’ve written about Lewis’s The Abolition of Man previously in this space, and I should read them (and write) about them far more often.  What is most impressive and accurate to me about the approach that is as clear in the most esoteric and unknown Inkling works as it is in the Tolkein inspired movies, is the profound sense that some humanity has been lost in Modernity.  Modernity (which is a word thrown around too often but also not often enough) as a phenomenon in itself is glossed over too often and too quickly, especially by “international Relations” scholars, a category to which I belong.  (n.b. The proximate cause of this is a dreadfully famous essay by Martin Wight.  I’ve discussed the ultimate cause in a post on Descartes, Hobbes, Schmitt, and Strauss).  I suspect because Tolkein, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams wrote novels, or poetry, or literary criticism, and because the art of rhetoric had already been unjustly discredited and its study fallen into disuse that Political Science neglected the commentary on politics, society, technology, economics, &c. that is so clearly running through everything they’ve written.  What has my attention at the moment is Barfield’s essay “The Coming Trauma of Materialism.”  A quote:

“Materialism” in my title means, not any materialist philosophy … but the mental habit of taking for granted, for all practical purposes and most theoretical ones, that the human psyche is intrinsically “alienated” from nature in the manner indicated, a habit so inveterate as to have entered into the meanings of a great many common words and thus to have become accepted  as common sense itself.  Materialism in this sense is not, for instance, incompatible with deep religious conviction.  The habit is one which owes a good deal to a certain secondary consequence of Cartesianism that is not often recalled or alluded to.”

Again, I’ll remind about the previous post on the makros anrhopos vs. the retreat into consciousness.  The retreat does not take for granted the intrinsic alienation of psyche and physics.  To thwart my own confusion, materialism is compatible with deep religious conviction because of the transformation of common sense.  Modernity and its sciences take a leap of faith.  What Barfield says two paragraphs later about Darwinism is simply magisterial, and speaks directly to something that I can only describe as an “Enlightenment of Biology.”  Even in this small passage above we see the basis of a grammatology and a post-modernity, but a post-modernity that first returns to the past before progressing.  No small feat, and still ignored.  Whatever.  I still have papers to mark and a dissertation to write.


In December 1981, Gadamer did an interview with Professor Fr. Ernest Fortin at Boston College.  It was published in 1984 in Interpretation, Vol.12 No.1.   The interview’s intention is for Gadamer to speak about Leo Strauss, but is more wide ranging than that.  The opening gives us this depiction of Weimar Germany after World War One:

“The general feeling was one of disorientation.  One day  — I was only a youngster then — a number of us got tougher and asked: “What should we do?” “How can the world be reconstructed?” The answers were very different.  Some thought we ought to follow Max Weber; others; Otto von Gierke; others still, Rabindranath Tagore, who was the most popular poet in Germany immediately after World War I, thanks to some moving translations of his plays. (He was a good friend of Paul Natorp and occasionally came to Germany. I saw him once: an enormous figure with the face of a prophet. Fantastic! Natorp himself was a giant in the guise of a dwarf.) These concerns were shared by the young Leo Strauss as well. He too was looking around in search of some orientation.”

What’s interesting, from the perspective of the formal subject of the interview, is that Strauss and Gadamer do not “have their first real acquaintance” until 1933.  I learned of Tagore from this interview, and am very glad for it.  It is certainly worth a moment’s reflection that a man who could write to Gandhi to warn him about the inhumanity of his politics could have had a potential influence over the same intellectual environment in which Heidegger eventually flourished.  The especially interesting comparison though is with the Kronjurist himself, Schmitt.  I will let Tagore speak for himself:

Have you not seen, since the commencement of the existence of the Nation, that the dread of it has been the one goblin-dread with which the whole world has been trembling? Wherever there is a dark corner, there is the suspicion of its secret malevolence; and people live in a perpetual distrust of its back where it has no eyes. Every sound of a footstep, every rustle of movement in the neighbourhood, sends a thrill of terror all around. And this terror is the parent of all that is base in man’s nature. It makes one almost openly unashamed of inhumanity. Clever lies become matters of self-congratulation. Solemn pledges become a farce,—laughable for their very solemnity. The Nation, with all its paraphernalia of power and prosperity, its flags and pious hymns, its blasphemous prayers in the churches, and the literary mock thunders of its patriotic bragging, cannot hide the fact that the Nation is the greatest evil for the Nation, that all its precautions are against it, and any new birth of its fellow in the world is always followed in its mind by the dread of a new peril. Its one wish is to trade on the feebleness of the rest of the world, like some insects that are bred in the paralysed flesh of victims kept just enough alive to make them toothsome and nutritious. Therefore it is ready to send its poisonous fluid into the vitals of the other living peoples, who, not being nations, are harmless. For this the Nation has had and still has its richest pasture in Asia. Great China, rich with her ancient wisdom and social ethics, her discipline of industry and self-control, is like a whale awakening the lust of spoil in the heart of the Nation. She is already carrying in her quivering flesh harpoons sent by the unerring aim of the Nation, the creature of science and selfishness. Her pitiful attempt to shake off her traditions of humanity, her social ideals, and spend her last exhausted resources in drilling herself into modern efficiency, is thwarted at every step by the Nation. It is tightening its financial ropes round her, trying to drag her up on the shore and cut her into pieces, and then go and offer public thanksgiving to God for supporting the one existing evil and shattering the possibility of a new one. And for all this the Nation has been claiming the gratitude of history, and all eternity for its exploitation; ordering its band of praise to be struck up from end to end of the world, declaring itself to be the salt of the earth, the flower of humanity, the blessing of God hurled with all His force upon the naked skulls of the world of No-Nations.

I know what your advice will be. You will say, form yourselves into a nation, and resist this encroachment of the Nation. But is this the true advice? that of a man to a man? Why should this be a necessity? I could well believe you if you had said, Be more good, more just, more true in your relation to man, control your greed, make your life wholesome in its simplicity and let your consciousness of the divine in humanity be more perfect in its expression. But must you say that it is not the soul, but the machine, which is of the utmost value to ourselves, and that man’s salvation depends upon his disciplining himself into a perfection of the dead rhythm of wheels and counterwheels? that machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bull-fight of politics?

You say, these machines will come into an agreement, for their mutual protection, based upon a conspiracy of fear. But will this federation of steam-boilers supply you with a soul, a soul which has her conscience and her God? What is to happen to that larger part of the world where fear will have no hand in restraining you? Whatever safety they now enjoy, those countries of No-Nation, from the unbridled license of forge and hammer and turn-screw, results from the mutual jealousy of the powers. But when, instead of being numerous separate machines, they become riveted into one organized gregariousness of gluttony, commercial and political, what remotest chance of hope will remain for those others, who have lived and suffered, have loved and worshipped, have thought deeply and worked with meekness, but whose only crime has been that they have not organized?

But, you say, “That does not matter, the unfit must go to the wall—they shall die, and this is science.”

No, for the sake of your own salvation, I say, they shall live, and this is truth. It is extremely bold of me to say so, but I assert that man’s world is a moral world, not because we blindly agree to believe it, but because it is so in truth which would be dangerous for us to ignore. And this moral nature of man cannot be divided into convenient compartments for its preservation. You cannot secure it for your home consumption with protective tariff walls, while in foreign parts making it enormously accommodating in its free trade of license.

You may continue listening to him speak for himself here.

From paragraph #171 of Natural Right & History, in the discussion of the mutability and immutability of natural right:

The Thomistic interpretation is connected with the view that there is a habitus of practical principles, a habitus which he call “conscience” or, more precisely, synderesis.  The very terms show that this view is alien to Aristotle; it is of Patristic origin.

“It is of Patristic origin” or perhaps, “it is of the Patristic, Origen”.  See his homilies on Ezekiel.  One cannot emphasize this point enough: the moral conscience is apparently not a Greek invention.  Is this invention the crisis of classic natural right? Is this what allows Thomas to so easily turn natural right into natural law? What about the comparison between the Nichomachean Ethics 1134b and Rhetoric 1.13.2?  To the Kuzari?  But first:

The doctrine of synderesis or of the conscience explains why natural law can always be duly promulgated to all men and hence be universally obligatory.  It is reasonable to assume these profound changes were due to the influence of belief in biblical revelation.  If this assumption should prove to be correct, one would be forced to wonder, however, whether the natural law as Thomas Aquinas understands it is natural law strictly speaking, i.e., a law knowable to the unassisted human mindto the human mind which is not illumined by divine revelation.  (p.163, emphasis not in original)

I’ll note only two circumstantial coincidences.  The Platonic chariot appears in a dialogue that occurs outside of the city walls.  Maimonides notes that the Account of the Chariot (III 6) implies an understanding of its audience as being outside the city: comparing two mean, one from a settle population and another from desert nomads, “the former knew that city people know in what state the ruler rides, [Isaiah] did not describe that state, but said only: I saw the ruler…whereas the people of Exile required these details [from Ezekiel].”  The biblical Chariot, like the Platonic one, is outside the city.  The biblical Chariot is a picture that is only possible outside of the Second Table, outside of the “minimum requirements for society” (NRH 158). The second circumstance: I usually write in this space in the dead of night, seeking the morning sun; at this moment, I am writing in the middle of the afternoon awaiting the evening dusk.

p.s. Origen postulates a parallel between Ezekiel and Christ on the basis of Luke 3:23, Matthew 3:13, and Luke 3:21. See the Scheck translation, p.32-3.

p.p.s. There are many, many, benefits to the current fashionable love for habitus, doxa, and field in my academic community. But much, much more resides on the surface of these concepts than their first impression admits. And the first impression is already powerful.

I want to collect a few thoughts on C.S. Lewis, grammatology, and world politics.  Lewis is much more closely related to these themes than we realize.  I’ve written about Lewis in this space before, about his enigmatic thoughts on miracles.  I’ve just recently written about the possibility of the paradigmatic treatment of miracles being a critique of miracles.  But I want to think a few thoughts out loud about Lewis’s small and excellent book The Abolition of Man.

First, a small vignette from my childhood.  Growing up, I remember two distinct stacks of reading material on my Father’s bedside table: the first comprised of Mad Magazine; the second of Lewis’s oeuvre.  The result was that for many childhood years I mistook the tattered and torn copy of Mere Christianity to be the source of my father’s laughter.  I always assumed it to be a work of comedy.  Years later my father would urge me to read Lewis’s lecture on Historicism.  By either chance or fate my future wife was already urging me to read The Chronicles of Narnia.  Foolishly spurning the good advice of both, and always looking for an excuse to buy a new book, I settled on the thin and double-spaced edition of Abolition.  This was at least eight years ago.  I suspect I’ve returned to this book at least once a year since.  However, it wasn’t until the last two years or so that its connection (and what I believe to be Lewis’s implicit political philosophy) to the wider world of twentieth century political philosophy began making itself clear.

In his 2002 book Our Posthuman Future, Fukuyama begins with a discussion of the two great dystopian pictures from the twentieth century: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.  The thrust of Fukuyama’s introduction is that Huxley’s dystopia is more subtle and therefore more challenging than Orwell’s: “the evil is not so obvious because no one is hurt; indeed, this is a world in which everyone gets what they want.”  Fukuyama notices a kinship between Huxley and Lewis, as Huxley presents us with a picture of the confluence of technology and biology bringing about the “abolition of man”, bringing about an evolution in the definition and conception of “human nature”.  That is, Fukuyama admits that history will not end [has not ended] if human nature changes, and Huxley imagines just such a scenario (leaving aside criticisms of his end of history thesis itself).   Fukuyama gives us hints of where his argument is going in The End of History.  In the seventeenth chapter – The Rise and Fall of Thymos – devoted to human nature and the struggle for recognition [cf. this post], Fukuyama deploys Lewis’s language and imagery:

The attempt of liberal politics in the Hobbes-Locke tradition to banish the desire for recognition from politics or to leave it constrained and impotent left many thinkers feeling quite uneasy.  Modern society would henceforth be composed of what C.S. Lewis called “men without chests”:  that is, people who were composed entirely of desire and reason, but lacking that proud self-assertiveness that was somehow at the core of man’s humanity in earlier ages.  For the chest was what made man man:  “by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” (EOH 188; AOM 25)

Fukuyama goes on to draw a parallel with Nietzsche’s revival of thumos.  I will leave this argument aside and note in passing that it is Nietzsche – and the turn to value creation and self-assertion out of sentiment – that Lewis takes as his interlocutor in Abolition.

Lewis is a grammatologist.  His reflections on thumos, on heart, on that nucleus that makes us human, begin with reflections on a grammar book.  He begins from a reflection on how we speak about the world around us.  (nota bene, Lewis begins with speaking and ends with seeing.  There is a Socratism in his method).  In the opening lines of The Weight of Glory, Lewis calls the difference between the words ‘love’ and ‘unselfishness’ “of more than philological importance”.  From the very beginning of Abolition:

The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker’s feelings, the proper translation would be I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings’, in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible. But we need not delay over this which is the very pons asinorum of our subject. It would be unjust to Gaius and Titius themselves to emphasize what was doubtless a mere inadvertence.  The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant. It is true that Gaius and Titius have said neither of these things in so many words. They have treated only one particular predicate of value (sublime) as a word descriptive of the speaker’s emotions. The pupils are left to do for themselves the work of extending the same treatment to all predicates of value: and no slightest obstacle to such extension is placed in their way. The authors may or may not desire the extension: they may never have given the question five minutes’ serious thought in their lives. I am not concerned with what they desired but with the effect their book will certainly have on the schoolboy’s mind.

This book is an ascent.  An ascent from what is most common in our speech to what is most permanent: judgments of value, or intellection of the Tao.  Do not be fooled by Lewis’s shorthand descriptor:  The Abolition of Man is a book about Natural Right.  “The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in” (p.44).  See also the prefatory notes to his appendix, especially point number 2, which reads like a prediction of Fukuyama’s repetition of Kojeve:

“The idea of collecting independent testimonies [of Natural Right] presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre—’carried’ like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.”

Is this a Darwinian conservatism or a doctrine of original sin? Lewis has something like a world state in mind: “Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.  Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.”  All these things said and quoted, I will leave the last words to Lewis, and I take this point of his to be his most innovative and useful for thinking through the ideas of human nature and natural right:

“At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely `natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”

Okay, one last word.  Actually, a question: why haven’t more philosophers taken to writing children’s books?

Further reading on the Lewis books blog.

In Carl Schmitt’s The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Schmitt makes a handful of comparison’s between Hobbes’s political theory, and Descartes on the mechanization of man, or the interpretation of man as a machine.  This is possible, of course, because in Les Passions de l’Ame Descartes articulates the division between body and soul.  At any rate, the decisive difference in how one can interpret the relationship between Descartes and Hobbes seems to be this.  One can side with Schmitt and believe that Hobbes took the mechanization of man from Descartes and constructed the “huge man” (makros anthropos), if one likes.  But this comparison of Hobbes and Descartes in the mechanization and “hugeness” of man in the form of the state is contrasted by Strauss’s interpretation of this relationship, where Hobbes follows Descartes’ “retreat into consciousness” for the sake of dismissing Descartes’ refutation of the Deus Deceptor in order to refute it on human bases alone (i.e. in the coming into contact with the world, pragmata).  So, either they are similar because the make man big, or they are similar because they reduce him to his ineluctable conscience.  The latter, not the former, allows for the full horizon of modern philosophy to reveal itself.    This horizon is also fully aware of its theologico-political presuppositions, or the account of miracles that opposes the premodern account of the same.  Now the “Account of the Chariot” begs to be read as a critique of miracles, or at least as being fully aware that it is contemporaneously an account and a critique of mystery.  Schmitt turns to sovereignty; Strauss turns to conscience, to synderesis/syneidesis.

In September 1975, Rabbi Stanley G. Weber defended a dissertation called “Leo Strauss on Jerusalem and Athens”, supervised by George Parkin Grant in the Department of Religious Studies.  The dissertation was meant to “enucleate the thought of Leo Strauss on the relation of Jerusalem and Athens” with a special interest in the relation between Judaism and Philosophy.  This is interesting for a whole host of reasons.  First, Political Philosophy has always had a home at McMaster, despite the never ending persecution to which it’s been subjected by the last 20+ years of administrations.  Second, 1975 is incredibly early to be writing a dissertation on Strauss’s thought.*  Really, Grant is one of the few (only?) people who in 1975 could have supervised such a thesis, being a reviewer of Strauss’s On Tyranny and the Strauss-Kojeve debate.  Grant was the first to bring attention the the omission of the last paragraph from the French edition in the English “Restatement”.  Confer footnote 37 in Grant’s famous Lament for a Nation, where he draws on Strauss to make sense of the Canadian modern predicament.  That whole paragraph is clearly a reflection on Strauss’s famous line, “Tyranny is a danger coeval with political life” and Kojeve’s response to it in view of the “world state”.  In Lament (1965) Grant points us to What is Political Philosophy? and The City and Man.  In his 1966 Appendix to Philosophy and the Mass Age, Grant points us again to WIPP but now substitutes CM for Thoughts on Machiavelli.

Returning to Rabbi Weber, it appears only Professor Kenneth Green has come across his thesis, granting it a citation in Jew and Philosopher, but I can find it only in the citations not in the text.  Rabbi Weber was mentioned in the Ottawa Citizen on May 27, 1961 [link].  This is a stunning thesis, which deserves much more publicity than it’s received.  Especially interesting is that Rabbi Weber appears to have met Strauss, listing his “two days with Strauss” among the abbreviated works.  More to come…

*Richard Zinman, I believe, also wrote a dissertation on Strauss.  But this was awarded (according to his CV on the Olin Center page) in 1976.

Miracles: A Preliminary Study by C.S. Lewis is a small and important book that has been in the back of my head now for many, many months.  The cover states:  For the reader who has difficulty in finding use for miracles, the author restores them to their reasonable place as part of God’s way with man.  This is a book with seventeen chapters.  The ninth chapter bears the title “A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary”, followed by “Horrid Red Things.”  Confer “The Beast with Red Cheeks” from End of History or “Men without Chests” from Abolition of Man.  A quote:

“The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well.  In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature.  You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back.  Then at last the true landscape will become visible … The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.”

I assume Lewis has much to teach the careful reader.