Sunday, October 5, 2008

Some Notes on The Abolition of Man

In 1942 some students of C.S. Lewis brought to his attention some textbooks that promoted literary and moral subjectivism. Around the same time, Lewis also received a review copy of The Control of Language. Also at this time, Lewis had undertaken a study of ethics that involved careful investigation of various systems.

It is no surprise, then, that when Lewis was asked to give a series of lectures at the University of Durham in 1943 he chose as his starting point an illustration from The Control of Language, dubbed The Green Book by Lewis.

Neither the lectures nor the subsequent book containing them -- The Abolition of Man -- were initially well received. Lewis found the lack of public response to this work disappointing. In 1943 he wrote that the book "is almost my favorite among my books but in general has been almost totally ignored by the public."

In short, The Abolition of Man charts Lewis's concern that certain ideologies will result in the abolition, or destruction, of humanity. If human beings step outside of God's moral standards, discerned in part from natural law, then we step into the void. No longer are we human beings as God intended, but warped creatures beyond good and evil.

It is interesting to chart the progression of incidents that worked up to The Abolition of Man. First, Lewis gained an incredible amount of popularity with his first series of BBC radio talks in 1941. Second, in 1942 Lewis had been studying various ethical systems in different religions and philosophies. Third, some of Lewis's students had mentioned to him that some literary textbooks they had come across were promoting subjectivism. Fourth, around the same time Lewis was sent a copy of The Control of Language. Fifth, the University of Durham extended a lecture invitation to Lewis, no doubt due in part to Lewis's recent popularity.

Much like the development of Mere Christianity, Lewis once again found himself unsuspectingly positioned to write another classic in The Abolition of Man, a book that remains relevant, particularly in an age where aesthetic and moral truth continues to decay.

Two companion books to The Abolition of Man by Lewis include The Magician's Nephew and That Hideous Strength, with the latter offering more direct and deliberate correlations.

However, the Narnia volume is of interest in that Uncle Andrew -- the magician -- and Jadis -- the White Witch -- represent spectrums of behavior that will ultimately lead to the destruction outlined by Lewis in The Abolition of Man.

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