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Re: [eldil] Re: Mere ideology: the politicisation of C.S. Lewis

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  • Steve Hayes
    ... I hope he would be reading them here. ... I think you are right. Lewis and Tolkien, I think, did a great job of interpreting premodern worldviews to
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 30, 2010
      On 30 Aug 2010 at 15:59, Robert wrote:

      > If you would forward my comments to Mr. Theroux as well, I would be deeply
      > appreciative.

      I hope he would be reading them here.

      > I think that the whole problem of trying to pigeonhole Lewis' politics and/or
      > economic theorems [and, let us confess, all politics appears to have reduced
      > to economics in our darkening era] is that Lewis' thinking along operated
      > primarily on a pre-Enlightenment, pre-"Victorious Analysis" basis.

      I think you are right.

      Lewis and Tolkien, I think, did a great job of interpreting premodern
      worldviews to moderns, and ideology is something that belongs very firmly to

      > I don't know anything about Natural Law theory, except that it seems to be
      > often on the lips of a certain type of Catholic. I am assuming that Natural
      > Law is something akin to what Lewis dealt with when he introduced the concept
      > of the "Tao" in 'The Abolition Of Man', so if I make mistakes in understanding
      > the ideas begind Natural law, please bear with me. I have to admit that the
      > whole idea of 'law' leaves me a bit cold, whichever phrase it is embedded in;
      > "Natural Law", "the Law of Historical Necessity", "the Law of the
      > Marketplace".

      I to know nothing about "natural law", which I associate in my mind with
      Western scholasticism.

      Lewis's concept of Tao makes sense to me, even if it is not the Dao of

      > I would like to bring the thought of another of the circle of Lewis' friends,
      > Owen Barfield, to play upon the issue of economic thought:
      > "[Francis] Bacon... was at least among the first to draw the analogy in
      > English. so that in the history of thought, we have a here a pretty definite
      > point - round about the beginning of the 17th century - at which the concept
      > 'laws of nature' first begins to reveal itself as working in human minds."
      > Barfield goes to to explain that the idea of Law, from the time of Bacon on,
      > displaced the older idea of Form as a metaphor of "thinking Nature". The
      > older idea of Form, which was useful in explaining 'natura naturans', Barfield
      > maintains, were the "memory of those elements which the best Greek thinking
      > could still apprehend in its time as living Beings" was usurped by the menta
      > habit of thinking of Laws, which dealt with 'natura naturata', as a static
      > thing "which dealt with the rules that govern the changes which occur in the
      > sense-perceptible part of nature."
      > This helps me to distinguish the economic thinking of Lewis, and his companion
      > Tolkien from the algorithmic thinking about The MarketĀ© that is so ubiquitious
      > in our day. The Algorithm arose in the Seventeenth Century as a way of
      > thinking and swept all before it. The United States, it is sometimes helpful
      > for me to remember, is not a Nation based on ties of race, religion, or
      > culture, but literally an Algorithmic state, based not on centuries of
      > precedent and custom, but on ABORSGSIARTATBWTAADR (A Bunch Of Really Smart
      > Guys Sitting In A Room Thinking About The Best Way To Achieve A Desired
      > Result). And the temptation is, when confronted by undesireable results
      > proceeding from the execution of the Algorithm, is to reach for the levers and
      > tweak it until it produces the desired results.
      > The result of the triumph of the Algorithm has been an undeniable increase in
      > the levels of comfort for those who benefit from its application, especially
      > for those close to the levers and those who directly support them. Indeed,
      > the limited liablity corporation and the ersatz personhood rendered to it by
      > legal fiat represents kind of an Incarnation for this Algorithm. The
      > pronouncements of those in charge of these entities indicate there is a kind
      > of reverse-theosis underway in them that strips them of any concern that
      > cannot be quantified by this Algorithm.
      > In contrast, Lewis champions a kind of a pre-Algorithmic ordering of society,
      > where The MarketĀ© digests other concerns besides the merely economic.
      > Novelist Gene Wolfe in a masterful essay on Tolkien says this in a way I can
      > only marvel at:
      > "Philology led him to the study of the largely illiterate societies of
      > Northern Europe between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the true Middle
      > Ages (roughly AD 400 to 1000). There he found a quality -- let us call it Folk
      > Law -- that has almost disappeared from his world and ours. It is the
      > neighbour-love and settled customary goodness of the Shire. Frodo is "rich" in
      > comparison to Sam, though no dragon would call Frodo rich; Sam is poor in
      > comparison to Frodo, though Sam is far richer than Gollum, who has been
      > devoured by the tyranny and corruption of the One Ring. Frodo does not despise
      > Sam for his poverty, he employs him; and Sam does not detest Frodo for his
      > wealth, but is grateful for the job. Most central of all, the difference in
      > their positions does not prevent their friendship. And in the end, poor Sam
      > rises in the estimation of the Shire because of his association with Frodo,
      > and rich Frodo sacrifices himself for the good of all the Sams."

      I think that Tolkien's description of Saruman's enterprises, and the scouring
      of the shire, shows that he had as little love of the industrial capitalist
      period as Berdyaev, when he said, "It was the industrialist capitalist period
      which subjected man to the power of economics and money, and it does not
      become its adepts to teach communists the evangelical truth that man does not
      live by bread alone."

      > "Sam Rayburn, a politician of vast experience, once said that all legislation
      > is special-interest legislation. Of our nation, and of the 20th century, that
      > is unquestionably true; but it need not be. We have -- but do not need -- a
      > pestilent swarm of exceedingly clever persons who call themselves public
      > servants when everything about them and us proclaims that they are in fact our
      > masters. They make laws (and regulations and judicial decisions that have the
      > force of laws) faster and more assiduously than any factory in the world makes
      > chains; and they lay them on us."
      > It need not be so. We might have a society in which the laws were few and
      > just, simple, permanent, and familiar to everyone -- a society in which
      > everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder because everyone lived by the same
      > changeless rules, and everyone knew what those rules were. When we had it, we
      > would also have a society in which the lack of wealth was not reason for
      > resentment but a spur to ambition, and in which wealth was not a cause for
      > self-indulgence but a call to service. We had it once, and some time in this
      > third millennium we shall have it again; and if we forget to thank John Ronald
      > Reuel Tolkien for it when we get it, we will already have begun the slow and
      > not always unpleasant return to Mordor."
      > Unfortunately, I do not believe that the way back is the way forward.
      > Nostalgia for Holy Rus or the Anglo-Saxon Thengs or even the Scotland of David
      > Ricardo will not assist us in our current extreme. We live in a time where
      > children now consider it a judicious investment to bring a firearm to school,
      > but I do not want to return to a time when such schooling was available to
      > very few, if at all.

      I'd question whether we ever had it once. Human beings in whatever generation
      have never been perfect.

      > What Barfield indicates is that we need to have a different way of thinking;
      > "The economic life is today the real bond of the civilised world/ The world
      > is not held together by political or religious harmony, but by economic
      > interdependence; and here again is the same antithesis. Economic theory is
      > bound hand and foot by the static, abstract (algorithmic) characte of modern
      > thought. On the one hand, everything to with industry and the possibility of
      > substituting human labor by machinery, or at very least standardizing it into
      > a series of repetitive motions, has reached an unexampled pitch of
      > perfection."
      > "But when it is the question of distributing this potential wealth, when it is
      > demanded of us that we think in terms of flow and rate-of-flow, in otherwords
      > that we think in terms of the system as a whole, we cannot even rise to it.
      > The result is that all our 'labour-saving' machinery produces not leisure but
      > its ghastly caricature unemployment while the world sits helplessly watching
      > the steady growth within itself of a malignant tumor of social discontent.
      > this incereaasingly rancourous discontent is fed above all things by a
      > cramping penury, a shortage of the means of livelihood which arises not out
      > the realities of nature, but out of abstract, inelastic thoughts about money."
      > Now, I will be the first to admit that I am clueless about the kind of
      > thinking Barfield says we require at this juncture. Whether it is holistic
      > rather than reductionistic I cannot penetrate at this time. If it holistic,
      > it runs the risk of requiring somebody to know a system extensively before
      > saying anything about it, and every time I head down that path, I find myself
      > thinking algorithmically about non-algorithmic thought, and thus get myself
      > all balled up in knots.
      > The closest I have gotten is, maybe, when meditating in a grove of trees about
      > photosynthesis, I entertained a kind of a pre-sentiment that the trees
      > "wanted" to trap the sunlight and turn it into useable energy, not only for
      > themselves, but for all the biosphere, and if I could just 'learn their
      > language', as it were, I could find a way to cooperate with the trees and help
      > them do this.
      > I think another of the neglected Inklings, Charles Williams, with his concepts
      > of Co-Inherence and Webs of Exchange, lends himself to an economic
      > interpretation. Certainly Williams, as a lifelong City dweller, would have a
      > different outlook than the bucolic Lewis or Tolkien. Certainly, a good case
      > could be made for there being different Webs of Exchange; the Chemical, the
      > Biological, the Semantic, the Anthro-Economic which exists over and above the
      > others and which currently is returning evil for good.

      I quite recently read "The socialist sixth of the world" by Hewlett Johnson,
      the "Red" Dean of Canterbury. He reminded me of nothing so much as Ayn Rand
      saluting smoke stacks. He claimed that the Soviet Union had solved the
      problem of distribution, but they quite clearly hadn't.
      Steve Hayes
      E-mail: shayes@...
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/STEVESIG.HTM
      Blog: http://methodius.blogspot.com
      Phone: 083-342-3563 or 012-333-6727
      Fax: 086-548-2525
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