Sunday, July 5, 2009

Democracy a la Lewis

I am finishing up the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis.


There were several times whilst reading that I gulped, and felt very convicted of some bad habits, thoughts and beliefs I've had. It's a powerful book, wielding the almighty weapon of mockery. Lewis employs the voice of a senior demon (Screwtape) advising and admonishing a junior tempter (Wormwood) in his quest to capture a human soul.

The piece of advice I found most intriguing, considering my political studies, the state of the world, and the year this book was published (1942), was Lewis's, I mean Screwtape's, counsel to future tempters:

"Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won't. It will never occur to them that Democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them...

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal."
It was refreshing to read a Christian author who forewarned what has come to pass (how many people really understand the meaning of democracy?) I hear politicians (all presidents included) and the media consistently bandying about the term Democracy in a way that makes no sense.

I've often wondered if the term itself has effectively changed away from meaning a system of government wherein the power is distributed as widely as possible so that the majority rules.

But what does it mean now? Just getting to vote?