A Prophecy of Evil: Tolkien, Lewis, and Technocratic Nihilism

A Prophecy of Evil: Tolkien, Lewis, and Technocratic Nihilism. By N.S. Lyons. A long but insightful piece.

Let’s start with a comment from reader Stephen Neil to explain why this is interesting:

Brilliant! Trying to create a new type of human being is what ties all revolutionaries together:

  • The French revolutionaries had ‘Citizens’
  • The Nazis had “New Aryan Man’
  • The USSR had ‘New Soviet Man’
  • Islam has ‘New Religious Man’
  • Now the WEF has ‘New Digital Person” — compliant slaves who take their shots, obey Uncle Klaus etc.

It’s a lengthy article, so just a couple of disjointed excerpts to give the flavor:

Lewis and Tolkien

Ultimately the shared strength of both authors may have also been something even more straightforward: a willingness to speak plainly and openly about the existence and nature of evil. Mankind, they saw, could not resist opening the door to the dark, even with the best of intentions. And so they offered up a way to resist it. …

“The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it.”

When Lewis delivered this line in a series of February 1943 lectures that would later be published as his short book The Abolition of Man, it must have sounded rather ridiculous. Britain was literally in a war for its survival, its cities being bombed and its soldiers killed in a great struggle with Hitler’s Germany, and Lewis was trying to sound the air-raid siren over an education textbook.

But Lewis was urgent about the danger coming down the road, a menace he saw as just as threatening as Nazism, and in fact deeply intertwined with it, give that:

The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientists in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.Traditional values are to be ‘debunked’ and mankind to be cut into some fresh shape at will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people…

Who decides on the “fresh shape” of the model citizen? Power is at stake… and power corrupts.

If, “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument,” then ultimately:

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundred men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.

How these “few hundred men” might behave is the subject at the heart of Lewis’ vastly underrated novel That Hideous Strength, which revolves around the National Institute of Co-Ordinated Experiments — essentially a huge NGO of scientists, sociologists, and other assorted “expert planners” that has managed to secure near total freedom of operations in Britain by arguing that the advancement of national and human progress and wellbeing require it be granted complete license to conduct “efficient” scientific research and experiments in social engineering and technocratic governance.

The novel follows the story’s protagonist, Mark, as he is drawn deeper and deeper into the N.I.C.E. after it arrives to take over his little English college town and build a giant modernist headquarters on top of it. (Simultaneously his wife Jane more wisely embarks on a path in the opposite direction.) Mark is recruited into the N.I.C.E. in part because, as a sociologist, he — unlike the rest of his fellow progressive academics who have campaigned to bring the scientific institution to town — is able to quickly begin to grasp the real implications of the N.I.C.E. Asked what he thinks the organization’s purpose is, he replies that the important thing is not the big research grants or fancy new equipment, but the fact that “it would have its own legal staff and its own police… The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state.”

How prescient.

hat-tip David Archibald