Maybe “Modern Man…” Is More Modern Than Many Have Mused

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 83, Winter 2000 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

by Jason Pratt of Dyer, TN

I’ve been a student of C. S. Lewis’ theological writings for over ten years, and for much of this time I’ve been reading Lewis’s works aloud on tape for a hobby. (This helps me to use Lewis’s tools in propounding my own sound philosophical base for theism in general and Christianity in particular.)

This hobby has given me something of an “ear” for Lewis. And I’ve occasionally run across works that I never transcribed because they didn’t ‘sound’ right. Recently, I purchased Kathryn Lindskoog’s Light in the Shadowlands on the personal recommendation of philosopher (and Lewis scholar) Victor Reppert. Surprise, surprise; the pieces that had set off warning bells in my head appeared on her list of suspicious material. In fact, I had had that response for every work on her list which I’d actually been exposed to. In this article, I’ll be presenting my own evaluation (for what it’s worth) of one of the works on that list: “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought” (hereafter represented as ‘MM’).

There are at least two pieces of what I consider stunning evidence of tampering; and when I combine them with the other evidence, I suspect outright forgery. I will list the evidence, along with a bit of side analysis to qualify the limitations of the evidence. I will present the stunners first, than quickly list some other evidence. (I haven’t the space to go into detail about the latter here.)

A.) In section 3 of MM, which the author entitles “Developmentalism or Historicism”, he writes “The chief origin of [developmentalism or historicism] is Darwinianism… [W]hat I call Developmentalism is the extension of the evolutionary idea far beyond the biological realm: in fact, its adoption as the key principle of reality.” The stunner is that the author, in total and utter contradiction to everything I can find by Lewis in other works, makes developmentalism an offshoot of philosophical evolutionism, instead of the other way around. There are several excellent examples of Lewis’ opinion about this in the collection Christian Reflections, of which “The Funeral of a Great Myth” is the most thorough. We are asked to believe that after writing several explicitly detailed and almost poetically constructed versions of the argument that philosophical evolutionism is a marriage of a biological theory with a pre-existent philosophy of developmentalism (the essays and speeches from CR which present this idea all date from about 1943), Lewis casually but decisively reverses the order of logical priority in this throwaway essay supposedly written in 1946, with virtually no argument for why one idea should preceed and beget the other; whereupon he then returns to his previous position as expressed in his 1952 essay “The World’s Last Night”. It would take overwhelming evidence to convince me that Lewis wrote this, and apparently none is forthcoming.

B.) In section five of MM, which the author labels “Practicality”, he states that narrow practicality is a feature of irrational animals, and is “unhuman”. He might only mean that this level of practicality, if it could be reached, would be animal-like and unhuman. (Sometimes Lewis half-humorously suggests that the bulk of humanity is perhaps this narrowly practical. I’m thinking at the moment of this sentence from page 51, Section 2, of The Abolition of Man: “Much less do I find it easy to believe that the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity.”) But only two pages earlier, in section two of MM, he attributes intense practicality and concreteness to “the female”. That opens him to the charge of misogyny, though in my opinion he skirts that blunder. Nevertheless, I find it almost impossible to believe that Lewis, having written a controversial section on the negative results of social interaction between men and women then proceeds less than two pages later to equate a specifically “female” behavioral trait with “unhuman” and “irrational animals”!

This would be a shocking lack of tact from an author who is otherwise known for brilliantly synthesized and organic works, and who considered good writing to be “sound structures; seasoned wood, accurately dovetailed, the stresses all calculated; skill and labour successfully used to do what is intended”. Lewis, while he may occasionally admit to not knowing very much about how women think, generally treats them with dignity and respect. I suppose one could write this off to a Mrs. Moore-induced headache. Perhaps; but however it got there, it sure is a stunner.

Now for 12 examples of additional evidence:

1.) This essay has virtually no provenance, and is the only one in Present Concern without a history that can be checked. Hooper tells us it was written for Bishop Stephen Neill, but as Ms. Lindskoog points out, he did not release it until Neill had died. He tells us that the essay is dated October 1946, and although Lewis wrote everything by hand, only a typed copy has survived. The rest of Hooper’s blurb about MM consists of describing what Bishop Neill was doing in the years leading up to 1948, although the relevance of this information is not apparent. This is Hooper’s longest individual introduction in Present Concerns, and it gives us the least useful information.

2.) The opening sentence reads “we ought always to imitate the procedure of Christ and His saints”. Perhaps the author meant Christ and His apostles (e.g., Peter, John, James, Paul, Jude and other apostles who left canonical writings)? Unless I’m mistaken, Lewis calls these men apostles. Perhaps the author meant all Christians (i.e., in a Pauline sense)? That would include Lewis as well — a man who describes himself elsewhere in Present Concerns as not deserving “a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation.” (First paragraph of the “Equality” article.) This opening sentence would make more sense coming from the pen of a committed Catholic than an Anglican who said he did not accept the Catholic beatification of saints.

3.) In my opinion, MM has some sloppy sentences. For example, “Any mixed society thus becomes the scene of wit, banter, persiflage, anecdote – of everything in the world rather than prolonged and rigorous discussion on ultimate issues, or of those serious masculine friendships in which such discussion arises.” The ‘of’ right after the ‘or’ is an error. Consider the sentence telescoped to basics: Any [x] thus becomes the scene of everything in the world rather than [y], or of [z]. It should be “rather than [y] or [z]”, not “rather than [y] or of [z]”. (I owe this point to Ms. Lindskoog from an unpublished letter.)

4.) The sections of this essay have headings. So far as I know, it was not Lewis’s habit to insert headings into his essays.

5.) The second section’s heading is “The Emancipation of Women”, but that section is not about emancipation. Instead, it describes bad habits that were supposedly being fostered when colleges (or society in general) forced males and females to mix socially.

6.) The author contrasts the proper glory of the “masculine” mind with the proper glory of the “female”. Lewis generally used “masculine” in a philosophically technical way that did not necessarily equate it with the “male”; and though an argument could be made that this is what MM’s author intended (I’ve made such an argument myself!), contrasting “masculine” with “female” shows he intended “masculine” to equal “male”. At the very least, I have a hard time believing that Lewis would not have used the proper set parallels (male/female, masculine/feminine). (I owe part of this point to an unpublished letter from Ms. Lindskoog.)

7.) The author uses quotidian and persiflage, words with rather obscure meanings, in an essay which otherwise looks as if it was written for general readers.

8.) Lewis, for the first and apparently only time in his career, uses the uncommon term Darwinianism instead of his usual evolutionism or Darwinism. Twice. (Darwinianism not a misspelling.) This is so bizarre that I almost made it Stunner C. (I owe this point to research done by Douglas D Beyer; but I should point out that he didn’t know why he was looking up the term, and so this paper may not represent his opinions about the matter.)

9.) In every other version of Lewis’ argument against developmentalism that I recall, Lewis used acorn to oak, spermatozoon to man, Rocket (an early steam engine) to modern locomotive. But in MM the author switched from trains to boats. If the essay was written in the 1960s, 70s or 80s, that would make sense, because by then the word rocket stood for the most advanced technology, not the most antiquated. But in 1946, when Lewis allegedly wrote MM, such was not the case.

10.) The term Historicism is casually introduced in this article at least four years before Lewis’s’ intricately detailed essay “Historicism” was printed in The Month. To the best of my knowledge, these are the only two times Lewis ever uses the term. The Historicism essay is one of my very favorites: a meticulously detailed, well-meshed, entertaining romp through pseudo-historical philosophers. (I grant the possibility that Lewis might have written them in this order.)

11.) When I read this essay, I get a mental impression of the work sputtering along in low gear. Finally, the last half of the last paragraph (the part that begins “Before closing…” and discusses the use of apologetic/evangelism teams) has no relevance to the immediate topic at hand (the few strengths of the modern mindset).

12.) Our suspicions about this essay are increased if we believe we have good evidence that the same editor has been tampering with other pieces. But I don’t need to go that far. My own impression, all things taken into account, is that someone somewhere, sometime after Lewis’ death (and possibly after Bishop Neill’s death), decided to write a quick-n-dirty summary of some of Lewis’ philosophical points (as opposed to specifically theological points); pulling ideas from numerous works and stitching them together (not very well) to serve as an ostensible overarching structure for the piece.

In fact, this is the sort of work I imagine a college professor might receive if she assigned a certain extra-credit project for a not-completely-hopeless student who was nevertheless in danger of failing History of Modern Philosophers 105. The project: “Write a paper presenting your answer to the question ‘What reasons might C.S. Lewis give for the difficulties Christian apologists have in reaching their audience today?'” In this case, the student writes as if he were in fact Lewis (i.e., in the first person). If I were a college professor, I’d probably give the paper a C+ for effort.