“We now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell.” -C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
A masterful piece of religious prose disguised as satire, C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a series of messages from senior devil Screwtape to his protégé Wormwood on how best to corrupt mortals. Originally released during World War II, its tight 175 pages provide charming, timeless wisdom.
In an addendum released shortly before the author’s death in 1963 – Screwtape Proposes a Toast – Lewis pivots from dispensing universal wisdom to directly criticizing social trends of his day, trends which have gone from mere whispers on college campuses 60 years ago to become orthodoxy with the power of law today. Reading it today, it feels like the author was more prophet than professor.
In the 15-page essay – full text available here – the devil Screwtape outlines how the term democracy can be warped into destroying excellence, first in the halls of education then to society at large to make sure everyone stays “equal.”
“Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose,” Screwtape tells his fellow devils. “The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic.’”
“At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.”
Easy to see echoes of Screwtape in the demands of progressive demagogues, like when Bernie Sanders insisted that everyone should go to college so we have “the best-educated workforce in the world” – willfully ignoring that an education void of rigor has no value at all. Screwtape all but uses the word “triggered!” to describe children in self-esteem first, outcomes last schools.
“Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma — Beelzebub, what a useful word! — by being left behind.”
Screwtape must be grinning at headlines about public schools eliminating gifted programs, knowing how much this hurts the segment of society most likely to build it up: the middle class.
“The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I'm as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they.”
While liberal media outlets have been bemoaning the end of the middle class in America, they have been complicit in it by advancing agendas in the name of equity. A nation of dunces is far easier to rule over – especially a generation of snowflakes who were raised by teachers who thought gold stars for everyone are more important than As and Fs for some. Screwtape continues, with relevant hyperlinks inserted:
“For ‘democracy’ or the ‘democratic spirit’ (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.”
Screwtape hangs a lantern on all of this, saying, “It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy.”
Easy to see the echoes of this in the right to assemble having, irrefutably, descended into mob rule. Screwtape even notes that hell has “philological experts” intent on the “corruption of human language” – apparently hell has internships for leftist reporters who describe mob violence as “peaceful protests.”
Screwtape’s whole toast is worth a read, and shouldn’t take more than half an hour, concluding with a beautiful throwaway line that Lewis couldn’t possibly have framed more perfectly:
“The great sinners seem easier to catch. But then they are incalculable. After you have played them for seventy years, the Enemy may snatch them from your claws in the seventy-first. … They are, if things take the wrong turn, as ready to defy the social pressures around them for the Enemy's sake as they were to defy them for ours. It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss.”
Single-minded contrariness goes very quickly from vice to virtue depending on where it is aimed. The fact that the Republican symbol is the elephant is mere icing on the proverbial cake.