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Friday, January 02, 2004

Equality and Democracy

While still pondering the ideas mentioned in my post on Nature vs. Nurture I ran across two related writings by C.S. Lewis.

The first is an article published in Present Concerns simply titled "Equality" written in 1943. In that article Lewis makes the point that democracy is valuable because it is medicine for what ails mankind. In other words, equality before the law and representative government are necessary because man is fallen and so no man can be trusted with too much power over others as Lord Acton would agree. Contrarywise, many people defend democracy (e.g. Rousseau's concept of the "general will") on the grounds that everyone is wise and deserves a share in government. Lewis views this defense as dangerous because it is not true and that tyrants will take advantage of the fact. Lewis notes that "Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters."

Although "egalitarian fiction" is necessary in the political realm and in the eyes of the law, Lewis views inequality as a real and necessary force in the world (in marriage, the church, in families, in business, and in education to name a few). To submit to the tabular rasa position that all people are intrinsically the same but for their environment breeds a stunted and envious mindset Lewis calls "I'm as good as you" and it is this "special disease of democracy" that seeks to cut everyone down to the same level, to lop off all the tall stalks so to speak. In fact, Lewis notes that there is a human craving for inequality (a joyful and loyal obedience or a noble acceptance of obedience) and that when men cannot honour a monarch or worse they will instead turn their allegience to athletes, film stars, and other celebrities.

I think this relates to the previous post in that the "legal fiction" of equality of individuals necessary to prevent oppression (as evidenced by Nazi ideology) has been transposed or "writ large" in the western scientific community to the fiction that entire groups are equal in all their attributes. This is partly a reaction to the Holocaust but also the natural outworking of the "I'm as good as you" school of thought inherent in democracy. Other places where "I'm as good as you" rears its head is in the denegration of "dead white males" and the repudiation of "western thinking" on college campuses and the more strident forms of feminism.

Lewis expands on this theme in the essay "Membership" published in The Weight of Glory which was originally given as a talk to a Christian audience in February 1945. In this essay he highlights the differences in individuals by attacking the modern notion of "the collective" and how it is precisely those differences that allow each Christian to take his proper place in the body of Christ on earth and eternity. However, his technique is not simply to attack collectivism, but also the opposite error of believing in the infinite worth of the individual. Here Lewis argues that although God died for all and so in one sense loved all equally, it is not because men are inherently worthy of love. In fact, Christianity teaches quite the opposite. It is only in receiving the love of God that men find their worth.


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