"Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your
fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing
them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake
us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for
nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to
silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies
have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on earth."
Lewis wrote to confront his generation lost under the spell of MATERIALISM that Lewis calls "evil." Now, today, our generation is also materialistic, only worse. Materialism continues to enchant us with the 10,000 distractions that money can buy and the human soul can absorb until we become bloated with the ugliness of physical corpulence.
Materialism fuels the engine of our cherished free market system. We enjoy our toys, our comforts, our novelties, our costumes, our conveniences. We have come a long way in the relatively short time between the laborious squeaking of our wagons plodding westward and our rocket ships propelling to the moon, to Mars, and beyond. Nor has it been only a venture of self-serving greed. Much good has been accomplished in the development of the materials of our life. But materialism becomes bad when it possesses our souls and we fall under the spell of its enchantments.
Materialism, however, would likely be named by Lewis as only one of our enchantments that beguile us today. I suspect he would also include EMPIRICISM, RATIONALISM, and LIBERTARIANISM.
Consider the enchantment of EMPERICISM. Not only do we love our toys. We love to measure things; we love order, predictability, a sense of control, a capacity to master things, to explain them, make them "work." We love to be able to demonstrate results so that we can justify our requests for large grants that will enable us to measure more things large and small, things cosmic in scope and infinite in depth. It is the way of science that formulates hypotheses, sets up experiments to test the hypotheses, monitors and measures the parts and pieces of the experiment and draws conclusions that make possible newer inventions, developments, and even medicines that come to our aid in times of pandemics that threaten our existence. Empiricism serves many worthy ends by which we understand nature and our place in nature; but empiricism slides off the rails when it reduces humanity to objects in an experimental lab.
And the same is true of another enchantment, RATIONALISM. Unlike empiricism that measures experiences, rationalism begins with the structures of reason and thought. Looking at the nature of mind and the way our thoughts proceed within the contours of reason, rationality may be considered a safeguard against "emotional reasoning." In this sense, rationalism has challenged the swamps of superstition, age-old prejudices of race and gender, witchcraft, and fundamentalist views of creation. Not only can we think, we can think about the ways in which we think and come to conclusions. Arising in the 17th century as part of the advent of mathematical reckoning, rationalism helped not only to explore the outer world but also the contours of human consciousness. However, when rational decision making and problem solving fail to take feelings into account, rationality ceases to be humane.
But it is the "enchantment" of LIBERTARIANISM that threatens us more directly today and may be seen as the underlying dynamic of the attack on our nation's Capitol on January 6. Of course, who does not love liberty? "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty," we sing. Liberty is indeed sweet, and precious lives have been lost defending the liberty we enjoy. However, in thinking about what liberty means, I find two very interesting definitions (from The Oxford English Dictionary):
1. "the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed
by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views."
2. "the power or scope to act as one pleases."
And libertarianism is defined as:
"a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in
the free market and the private lives of citizens."
If we tease out the key element between the idea of liberty and libertarianism, it would be the question of "oppressive restrictions at the hands of the state or authoritarian individuals." The matter thus becomes: When does my expression of liberty conflict with your expression of liberty? When two automobiles rush from opposite directions toward a busy intersection where there are also pedestrians trying to move through the intersection, not everyone may act as he/she pleases if a major disaster is to be avoided.
Obviously, in this simplistic example, someone has to yield. And for that to occur, some "authority" will have to determine the process and ensure it is followed. One does not have the liberty "to act as one pleases" within human community. Always, the concern for the common good shapes the laws and ethical behavior of a nation, just as human personality is shaped by the nurturing care of parents who teach their children to share and to live by the norms of justice and mercy for all.
In the extremes of libertarianism, however, a very regressive attitude misleads individuals and groups, losing sight of liberty in the service of a common good with justice and mercy for all. Individuals who live under such a spell, the enchantment of an authoritarian libertarianism serve their own needs without respect for others.
This is the evil of which Lewis warns us, the danger of falling under the spell of enchantment that blinds us to the evils of materialism, empiricism, rationalism, and libertarianism. Like all "isms," materialism, empiricism, rationalism, and libertarianism are indeed "spells," "enchantments," that dominate the human mind. And, as Lewis said, the power of such spells to control human thought, emotions, sensations, and behavior can be overcome only by an enchantment that is more powerful, an enchantment in the service of a higher power. What that might be is my topic for the next blog.