The Abolition of Man is not a title of C.S. Lewis' I was initially familiar with when I picked it up in a bookstore in Cannon Beach last month. Like so many other things, I had heard of it, but I didn't know much about it. After reading it, I was glad to have read it and found the subject matter relevant even now, but I do not believe that it was as powerful as some of his other works.
By no means am I decrying C.S. Lewis' work here, oh, far from it. Published in 1943, The Abolition of Man seeks to criticize and deconstruct the view that "old fashioned" values such as courage and loyalty are precisely that: "old fashioned." The main thrust of the argument amounts to a defense of what we today call Natural Law, that is, universal moral standards, and also a strong blow against subjectivism. The contents of the book are adapted from a three part lecture series given by Lewis at the King's College. Also found within the book are Lewis' thoughts on certain aspects of modern educational materials, the extent of science's usefulness in ascertaining truth, and other subjects.
I readily admit that this is the first of Lewis' books that I have read which was purely academic in nature. That said, it's a bit harder to wrap my mind around than the familiar direct-and-to-the-point theological instruction than can be found in The Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity. Of course, perhaps it's not quite accurate to refer to Lewis' writing as "direct-and-to-the-point" insomuch as it is eloquent and witty, yet comprehensible. Here, Lewis does write well, explaining the topic in a manner which demonstrates his good understanding of the subject. His prose communicates his point excellently, and I agree with this overall conclusion, but there's just one problem: It's kind of hard to understand just what that overall conclusion is.
I known I explained it already in the second paragraph, but I had to mull it over for a while and read around to piece it all together. I understand that Lewis is basically saying, concerning traditional moral values, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It just took a while for me personally to digest the whole thing. It doesn't help that Lewis is constantly straying into Natural Law theory and referencing the Chinese Tao, which only serves to muddle his message even more. It's a good book and it teaches a good thing, and reading it sure made me feel smart, and I came away feeling like I'd learned something, and I totally agree with what Lewis is saying, but it's still super complicated.
One thing that did stand out for me, however, was the following quote from the end of chapter one: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Now that is the sort of thing I like to hear from C.S. Lewis; wise, witty, and wonderfully insightful, remaining as relevant now as it was back in 1943, perhaps even more so. In the end, while I can't say that The Abolition of Man is my favorite of C.S. Lewis' works, I can neither say in good conscience that I disliked it. It was a fine read during my vacation and I wouldn't mind rereading it sometime in the future.
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