At the beginning of his second lecture in The Abolition of Man, CS Lewis argues that “the practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.” This is stiff stuff from a man’s whose intellect I admire and on whose teachings I have fed all my life.
Notice that he doesn’t say, “a society that uses The Green Book will have problems” or even that “it might destroy it.” He says that an education in that spirit, “Must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.”
These are sobering words because there is no question but that we have, in the United States, not only accepted but embraced “The spirit of the Green Book.”
Here at CiRCE we have developed a writing program called The Lost Tools of Writing. During our journeyman call yesterday, in which we discussed Lewis’s most important book (perhaps the most important 20th century book), I asked the question, “Is The Lost Tools of Writing in the spirit of The Green Book?”
I asked because I know that almost every published curriculum in the last 30 or 40 years is in that spirit and because I believe with Lewis that that spirit is the death of its host.
Our discussion revolved around identifying this spirit, which is really a non-spirit. Lewis describes the fruit of such an education as “men without chests.” He says, “No justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous.”
Then what are we to do? He continues:
Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism… about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use.
I contend that this is the essential difference between the true conservative, who roots his ethics and politics in the permanent things, in nature itself, and the radical, who roots his ethics and politics in his own intelligence. I favor love of country over cunning.
That is why I believe in a sort of democracy in which the common people are left alone to govern their own lives, but not in a sort of democracy in which the common people elect people to meet their needs.
However, Lewis continues, and I hope my digression does not sidetrack you:
We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in manmust rule the mere appetites by means of the spirited element. The head rules the belly through the chest–the seat… of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest–Magnanimity–Sentiment–these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.
The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals.
As Lewis shows thoroughly throughout this book, people who share the spirit of The Green Book will necessarily accuse Lewis of imposing values, of petty tyranny, etc. However, freedom itself, society itself, is done away with by this spirit. It is a spirit, in short, that abolishes humanity and then accuses the lovers of human nature of tyranny or stupidity or resistance to progress.
I was relieved and overjoyed, therefore, when it was pointed out that The Lost Tools of Writing does not participate in this death-spirit. Just after the preceding quotation, Lewis continued:
They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment that Gaius and Titius [the authors of The Green Book] could debunk as easily as any other. It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out.
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, he says someplace:
Much worse than uselessly he leaves the shore,
More full of error than he was before,
Who fishes for the truth but lacks the art.
The Classical Trivium, which The Lost Tools of Writing embodies, is the art of “fishing for the truth.” Its goal is the Magnanimous, i.e. great souled, man, the man with a chest. It is rooted in a love for and a devoted faith in the Truth.
I have long been haunted by the opening words of The Abolition of Man, “I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text books.” I am resolved to resolve his doubt.