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Book Review | The Abolition of Man

 

 

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis is a work so astute that it borders on the prophetic and leaves one wondering if, in fact, man has already been abolished. The book is a compilation of three lectures given by Lewis, author, professor, and philosopher, in February 1943. The Abolition of Man is a philosophical discussion on objective values and the consequences of subjective reasoning.

 

The Abolition of Man is Lewis’ response to “The Green Book,” a pseudonym he used for a grammar book then used in British schools. Lewis claimed that “The Green Book” taught students that all statements of value simply reflect the emotional state of the speaker and carry no meaning. Lewis argued that in undermining the concept of inherent and objective value, educators were removing what separates men from animals and would ultimately abolish man as independent from nature. In the year 2021, the reader can see Lewis’ work as not only accurate, but clairvoyant.

 

Lewis entitled his first chapter/lecture “Men Without Chests.” In it, Lewis claims that by teaching that all statements of value are subjective and unimportant, the authors of “The Green Book” deviated from what he called the Tao. Lewis uses the Tao to refer to the concept of inherent value and truth present in various traditions. We would refer to this as Natural Law.

 

By deviating from the Tao, the authors removed a man’s “chest,” the emotional and sentimental drive to do what was right.

 

In the second chapter/lecture, “The Way,” Lewis discusses the attempt to find a basis for value outside the Tao. Lewis called the one who invents his own system of values the “Innovator.” He argued that no “natural” or “rational” reason such as instinct could be used to justify a system of values and any appeal to statements of judgement were appeals to the Tao.

 

The Innovator, frustrated by the realization that he cannot justify his system of values, determines that he will extend man’s conquest of nature to the conquest of human nature. The Innovator will throw off any system of values and make man what he chooses based simply on his preference.

 

This is discussed in the third chapter/lecture, entitled “The Abolition of Man.” Here, Lewis claims that men who gain power over nature through scientific advancement also gain power over the population. He argued that man’s conquest of nature is not a progressive march but a generational struggle that would give rise to one generation whose power exceeds all others. From within this generation would arise a small group of men called the “Conditioners” who would mold man into the image they choose.

 

Lewis wrote, “The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.”

 

The Conditioners will impose a system of values on the masses, a system of their own making intended to shape the populace. Lewis claimed that, “the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the power of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.”

 

The men they control will not really be men at all, simply puppets of the Conditioners. The Conditioners themselves, having thrown off the Tao, are governed by their strongest emotional impulse. In conquering human nature, man has instead been conquered by nature and is no longer man but an animal, controlled by impulse.

 

The Abolition of Man serves as a warning from Lewis that in his conquest of nature, man was about to take one step too far, sending him over the precipice. By eliminating what makes man separate, the Tao, man was about to abolish himself.

 

The Abolition of Man is reminiscent of Romans chapter 1, in which Paul described that after man rebelled against the law that was evident to all men, God gave man over to his desires and he essentially became an animal. Romans 2:14-15 supports Lewis’ concept of the Tao by saying, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”

 

Lewis’ discussion of the Conditioners leaves the reader to wonder if we have already reached their generation. Throughout the book, Lewis discussed, without naming it, what we call “Critical Theory” in which language is deconstructed and is stripped of any true meaning. Critical Theory, a Marxist philosophy and sociological movement that had already been formulated by the time Lewis wrote his book, has become the dominant view in academia and culture and propagates the idea that truth and morality are relative. This philosophy has given rise to the idea that man can shape himself into whatever he wishes. Nowhere is this idea more apparent than the transgender movement.

 

While we have not reached the final stage Lewis warned of, it is close on the horizon. Politicians, educators, celebrities, corporations, media, and particularly Big Tech wield enormous power and seek to enforce the values of tolerance, relative morality, and inclusion. If one adheres to the Tao, they are “canceled” by the Conditioners. This book serves as a warning, particularly to those with the power to mold: It is not yet too late, but it soon will be.

 

The Abolition of Man consists of academic lectures and it reads as such. For example, Lewis frequently interspersed Latin phrases, or even phrases written in Greek script, sometimes with no explanation of their meaning. Despite this, The Abolition of Man is a work of brilliance. Lewis’ key points are evident and, with a little effort, one will see that virtually every sentence is intentionally and masterfully crafted to dismantle subjective reasoning and to drive home his nearly prophetic warning.

 

Lewis was a true genius and The Abolition of Man places his genius on full display.