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John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

C.S. Lewis and the Materialist Menace

Published at Discovery Institute

The following is edited from an address delivered on July 15, 1996 as part of the annual C. S. Lewis Institute at Seattle Pacific University. The author would like to thank Prof. Michael Macdonald for his encouragement and for inviting the author to present the lecture.

During the summer of 1932, Oxford don C. S. Lewis traveled to Ireland to vacation at the home of childhood friend Arthur Greeves. Lewis had grand plans of writing an allegory during his stay that would explain the intellectual journey leading to his religious conversion.1 Thirty-three years old, Lewis had converted to Christianity less than two years earlier, and he was eager to share his newfound faith with the world.

Lewis initially had tried to tell his story in verse. He struggled with the poem for several months before giving up on it as a failure, which is perhaps just as well. Lewis’s first two books — both poetry — had been commercial flops (his last volume had sold only 126 copies in the first three months after publication).2 Now Lewis decided to start his allegory afresh by writing it in prose. Lewis eventually titled his work The Pilgrim’s Regress, and as the title suggests, the work consciously echoed Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. In fact, Lewis later described his own allegory as “Bunyan up to date.”3

Like the pilgrim Christian in Bunyan’s tale, the pilgrim in Lewis’s story also seeks the celestial city. He just does not realize that fact for most of the book. In the process of seeking personal fulfillment, he stumbles into all kinds of intellectual, spiritual, and moral errors.

Lewis wanted his story to satirize the false ideologies and “isms” then rampant in western culture, especially the ideology of materialism.4 The reigning philosophy of twentieth century science and culture, materialism decreed that everything — animals, human beings, moral beliefs, even reason itself — could be explained as the result of purely physical processes and properties. The roots of materialism reached back into into antiquity, but the fearsome modern strain was born less than a century-and-a-half ago with the writings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche and others.5 Darwin was crucial, because he offered a scientific framework that promised to explain morality and even reason as the product of purely natural processes. He didn’t really succeed in his grand design, but he set the research agenda for those who came after him. Marx, in fact, wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, though Darwin declined the honor.6

Ideas have consequences, and materialism’s consequences for western culture were particularly extensive and particularly poisonous — as the world was finding out even while Lewis started to write his book.

More than a thousand miles away from where Lewis was on vacation, an old man stood weeping at a train station. Desperately clutching his large sack filled with bread, he pleaded with the station-master to let him on the train.

“You can go on the next train,” the official told the man, “but not your bundle. Law is law — no bread can be transported without a license.”

“But how can I return to the village with empty hands?” cried the man. “How shall I face the village? They await my return and their bellies are empty.”7

The place was the Ukraine, where an eery emptiness was settling on the villages and fields as famine spread during the summer of 1932. By the end of the next year, more than 7 million peasants had died from starvation.8 This was a disaster made by man, not nature. The deaths were the result of Joseph Stalin’s policy to subjugate the Ukrainian peasants and force them into government-run collectives. Even while the peasants starved, the Soviet government placed huge quantities of grain in domestic reserves and exported an additional 800,000 tons of grain to other countries.9 As the famine worsened, villagers were prevented from travelling outside their villages to seek help, turning the once-bountiful Ukraine into a giant extermination camp.

The ruthless utopianism exhibited by Stalin was a natural outgrowth of the materialist understanding of human nature. So were the policies of the new regime rising in Germany. Even as the Ukrainian famine reached its peak, German cabinet ministers were enacting sterilization laws designed to weed out the “unfit” among their nation’s citizenry.10 Within six years, the Nazis would set up killing centers to eliminate the chronically ill and people with disabilities. It was in these euthanasia centers that the techniques used to exterminate the Jews were developed.11

Nor was the United States immune from the corrosive effects of materialism. In 1932, Americans elected a buoyant new President who declared in his subsequent inaugural address that “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” In the same inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to grant him extensive new executive powers and warned that if Congress did not, he would unilaterally take the powers upon himself. FDR’s subsequent “New Deal” gave hope to millions of Americans suffering during the Great Depression, but it also laid the foundation for a mammoth welfare state administered by experts from the social sciences — experts who were increasingly dismissive of both moral absolutes and personal responsibility. The impatience of social scientists with traditional morality could be seen in the work of anthropologists like Margaret Mead, who had already published her (now discredited) study of sexual mores in Samoa.12 The denial of personal responsibility among social scientists was perhaps most notable in the field of criminology. One criminology textbook published in 1932 baldly stated: “Man is no more responsible’ for becoming wilful and committing a crime than the flower for becoming red and fragrant. In both instances the end products are predetermined by the nature of the protoplasm and the chance of circumstances.”13

Lewis’s attack on materialism thus came at a critical juncture in world history. The time was ripe for someone to challenge the materialist menace. Amazingly, Lewis finished a draft of The Pilgrim’s Regress by the end of his two-week vacation. It was finally published in May 1933, the same month Hitler held a midnight bonfire in Germany for 20,000 books that went against the Nazi party line.14 It is unlikely that Lewis’s book was among the books burned, but not because Hitler would not have found it offensive. The Nazis show up in Pilgrim’s Regress as dwarves who are vassals of Mr. Savage, a Nietzschean superman who sits on a high chair “dressed in [animal] skins” and who wears “an iron helmet on his head with horns stuck in it.”15 That this was an unflattering portrait of national socialism is undeniable, but the Nazis first had to know about Lewis’s book before they could burn it, and I doubt they even had heard of it. Only 1,500 copies of Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress had been printed, and alas, even these did not sell very well. A few weeks after the book’s publication, Lewis joked to Arthur Greeves that he expected Pilgrim’s Regress “to be at least as big a failure” as his last book of poetry.16 After three successive flops, Lewis must have wondered about his future career as a writer.

Yet he kept writing. Eventually, he even became successful at it, and he became one of the twentieth century’s most powerful and prophetic voices on behalf of cultural sanity. Like Winston Churchill, who stood alone against the Nazis when many turned a blind eye to their evil, Lewis was one of a handful of voices in the wilderness to mount a credible defense against the materialist onslaught during the first half of our century. The argument he began in Pilgrim’s Regress he continued in such books as That Hideous Strength, The Abolition of Man, and Miracles, as well as in essays such as “Behind the Scenes,” “The Poison of Subjectivism,” “Bulverism,” “Transposition,” and “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.” The observations made in these writings are as relevant for us today as when they were first written. Hitler and Stalin may be dead, but the materialist philosophy that gave birth to them and their regimes is not. Indeed, western society is still in the grip of at least four of materialism’s most damning cultural legacies: the rejection of reason and objective truth, the debunking of objective morality, the denial of personal responsibility, and the encouragement of coercive utopianism. Lewis has something to tell us about all four.

The Rejection of Reason and Objective Truth

Materialism’s first deadly legacy is the rejection of reason and objective truth. Nineteenth-century materialists depicted our thoughts as the irrational products of environment or heredity or brain chemistry. As a consequence, the intellectual classes became convinced that only the reality was material, and thus the only true explanations were reductive. If you wanted to explain a flower, you described its cell structure, not its beauty. If you wanted to explain human beings, you looked not to their greatest achievements, but to the raw materials that made them up. As Leo Strauss put it, modern thought tried to “understand the higher in terms of the lower: the human in terms of the subhuman, the rational in terms of the subrational…”17

One possible result of the denial of reason is that people will become so skeptical that they will believe in nothing. But most people cannot live without something to give meaning to their lives. Thus, the ultimate consequence of denying reason is not nihilism but a leap into irrationality. The philosopher Nietzsche foresaw this at the end of the last century. If objective truth was dead, the only thing that could save us from the abyss according to Nietzsche was to create our own meaning by a sheer act of willpower. We will ourselves into believing something that will give us meaning.

In the Nietzschean cosmos, what is prized is not truth, but creativity, freshness, and power: Whoever is strong enough or creative enough to impose his vision on other people is the hero. In many respects, we live in Nietzsche’s universe. The highest praise of a work of art or a piece of scholarship in today’s society is not that it is true, but that it is “fresh” or “original.” When one looks at what passes for scholarship today—the paradigm approach in the sciences, deconstruction in literature, and the more extreme forms of ethnic and gender studies—it becomes readily apparent that most scholars have given up even the pretense of seeking objective truth. What they are concerned about is power—how long their particular ideology will control the terms of debate.

The first step to extricating ourselves from this morass is to understand the fallacies of the materialistic reductionism led to it, and Lewis can help us do this.

Lewis’s first sustained attack on reductionism came in The Pilgrim’s Regress. The core of his critique comes in book three, “Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim,” which literally means “through the darkest abode of the Spirit of the Age.” In the book, John — the name of Lewis’s pilgrim — is arrested by the flunkies of a giant who symbolizes the materialistic reductionism that was the Spirit of the Age. John is subsequently jailed, leading to a nightmarish sequence. Lewis relates that the eyes of the giant had the property of making whatever they looked on transparent: “Consequently, when John looked around into the dungeon he retreated from his fellow prisoners in terror, for the place seemed to be thronged with demons. A woman was seated near him, but he did not know it was a woman, because, through the face, he saw the skull and through that the brains and the passages of the nose, and the larynx, and the saliva moving in the glands and the blood in the veins… And when he averted his eyes from her they fell on an old man, and this was worse for the old man had a cancer. And when John sat down and drooped his head, not to see the horrors, he saw only the working of his own inwards… and suddenly he fell on his face and thrust his hands into his eyes and cried out, It is the black hole… I am mad. I am dead. I am in hell for ever.'”18

John is ultimately rescued from this dungeon by a towering woman in blue — Lady Reason, who slays the materialist giant with her sword. Lady Reason tells John that the giant had deceived him about the real nature of human beings: “He showed you by a trick what our inwards would look like if they were visible… But in the real world our inwards are invisible. They are not colored shapes at all, they are feelings. The warmth in your limbs at this moment, the sweetness of your breath as you draw it in, the comfort in your belly because we breakfasted well, and your hunger for the next meal — these are the reality; all the sponges and tubes that you saw in the dungeon are the lie.”

“But if I cut a man open I should see them in him,” replied John.

“A man cut open,” returned the Lady, “is, so far, not a man: and if you did not sew him up speedily you would be seeing not organs, but death. I am not denying that death is ugly: but the giant made you believe that life is ugly.”19

Lewis’s point was that reductionism really doesn’t explain that which is human at all. In fact, in the name of explaining man, reductionism explains him away. As Lewis later wrote: “You cannot go on eseeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To esee through’ all things is the same as not to see.”20

In a wonderful 1956 essay titled “Behind the Scenes,” Lewis articulated his own view of the proper relation between man and his material components. He likened life to a stage play. In one sense, nothing in the play is real. It is all imaginery. It is not really set in the countryside, the people on stage are not really who they pretend to be. The only “realities” are the physical sets and costumes and lighting. The play is “appearance” and the sets are “reality.” Yet, as Lewis points out, “in the theatre of course the play, the appearance’, is the thing. All the backstage realities’ exist only for its sake and are valuable only in so far as they promote it.”21

Lewis here was calling us back to a teleological view of the universe of the sort offered by Aristotle. According to Aristotle, you understand something not by what it came from, but by what it has become. We understand what an oak trees is not by dissecting an acorn but by examining a fully grown oak tree. Similarly, we understand human beings by who they are as an integrated whole, not by trying to break them down into their material or psychological building blocks. When we do look at the subrational, we ought to judge it in light of the overall purpose of a whole human being.

The materialist may scoff at this approach, but as Lewis relished in pointing out, the materialist has his own problems: For the materialist who debunks everyone else’s ideas as the subrational products of their brain chemistry or environment cannot avoid being debunked himself. If he is honest, says Lewis, the materialist will have to admit that his own ideas are merely the “epiphenomenon which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of a blind evolutionary process.”22 The point Lewis is driving at is that if all thoughts are merely the products of non-rational causes, this includes the materialist’s own thoughts. In other words, there is no reason according to materialism for materialism itself to be regarded as true.

Even people who try to water down their materialism by granting that reason can be a valid way to truth have a problem, according to Lewis. For if the universe is how the materialist describes it, it is not at all likely that reason should have ever developed. “People who take [the materialist view],” explained Lewis, “think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has just happened, by sort of a fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think. By one chance in a thousand something hit our sun and made it produce the planets; and by another thousandth chance the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature, occurred on one of these planets, and so some of the matter on this earth came alive; and then, by a very long series of chances, the living creatures developed into things like us.”23

In sum, materialists have no ground to stand on if they deny the reality of reason outright, and very little ground to stand on if they claim to accept reason in part.

The Debunking of Objective Morality

Closely related to materialism’s attack on reason is its debunking of objective morality, which is its second sorry legacy. Materialists early in our century denied the existence of objective standards binding on all cultures, claiming that environment dictated our moral beliefs. Such relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology, and sociology. In the words of a college sociology text popular in the 1980s, “We must recognize that judgments about good and bad, moral and immoral, depend very much on who is doing the judging; there is no universal standard to appeal to.”24

The triumph of moral relativism has been particularly evident in our colleges and universities, many of which are populated by social scientists who berate us for our rampaging “ethnocentrism,” our unmitigated arrogance in believing that our “values” might somehow be “right.”

Gone is the old undergraduate curriculum with its heaping doses of the Bible, of Plutarch’s Lives and Aristotle’s Ethics; in its place is an unrelenting parade of the horrors culled from the cultures of barbarians. Students used to study the great moments in the history of Western civilization; now they learn about the cannibalism of tribes in South America, or the sexual proclivities of some obscure race in the South Pacific. The point of such lessons, of course, is to “broaden” students’ horizons sufficiently so that they will no longer believe that their “values” are sacrosanct.

Exposed to this message for four years, even the most sturdy students are apt to become infected. And those who do not succumb from the disease will likely find themselves incapacitated. I recall having breakfast with a friend who was about to obtain a degree in one of the social sciences from a large secular university. Our discussion was wide ranging, but when the subject of morality came up she became curiously bewildered. Taught for years that moral beliefs are a function of culture and personal predilections, she maintained that there were no objective grounds to justify moral judgments against other cultures.

“What about the Nazis?” I asked. “Surely we have an objective basis to condemn what they did?” She thought a moment, looked more bewildered than ever, and then answered to the effect that she was personally revolted by what the Nazis did — but she could still find no objective basis for her revulsion.

Lewis attacked moral relativism in his opening chapters of Mere Christianity, where he pointed out that all people — even criminals — appeal to a universal standard when trying to excuse their own behavior. And even those who claim that right and wrong are mere conventions will hotly protest when someone wrongs them! Lewis’s line of argument here is similar to that presented by Augustine in his Expositions on the Book of Psalms.25 However, Lewis’s most sustained assault on moral relativism comes not in Mere Christianity but in The Abolition of Man, a small incisive volume based on lectures he delivered at the University of Durham in the early 1940s.

In Abolition of Man, Lewis pointed out that we cannot escape making moral judgments. Every action presupposes a goal toward which the actor acts, and the goal (no matter how clinically it is expressed) represents a judgment of value. We cannot exist without making moral judgments, argued Lewis. The only question is what those judgments will be. Speaking within the western natural law tradition, Lewis proposed that at the foundation of all moral judgments is one set of ethical first principles shared by all human beings. These first principles include obligations to treat other people justly and to keep one’s promises. It from these first principles that all other moral judgments and ethical systems are derived. Strictly speaking, these first principles cannot be demonstrated themselves, for they are the first principles from which everything else is demonstrated. One recognizes them in the same way that one intuitively knows that 2+2=4, or that if a=b, and b=c, then a=c.

But what about the social scientists’ claim that different cultures have had radically different moral codes? In the face of these differences, how can Lewis maintain that human beings have access to a moral common ground? Lewis responds with typical candor in an essay titled “The Poison of Subjectivism”:

The answer [to the claim that cultures radically differ on their moral codes] is that this is a lie — a good, solid, resounding lie. If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man. From the Babylonian Hymn to Samos, from the Laws of Manu, the Book of the Dead, the Analects, the Stoics, the Platonists, from Austrialism aborigines… he will collect the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery, and falsehood, the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, and the weak, of almsgiving and impartiality and honesty… There are, of course, differences. There are even blindnesses in particular cultures — just as there are savages who cannot count up to twenty. But the pretence that we are presented with a mere chaos—though no outline of universally accepted value shows through — is simply false…26

Those who want to explore this topic further can read the appendix to The Abolition of Man, where Lewis has helpfully compiled many of the common moral maxims held across cultures and across history.

The Denial of Personal Responsibility

If materialism has been hard on reason and morality, it has been equally destructive of personal responsibility, which is its third poisonous legacy. By claiming that human thoughts and actions are dictated by our biology and environment, materialism undermined personal responsibility. The results can be seen in our criminal justice system, our civil justice system, and even our welfare system. Ever since sin entered the world, human beings have sought excuses for their behavior, but materialism handed us an inexhaustible supply of excuses. No matter what we do, it can be attributed to a cause other than our own choices: our social environment, our subconscious drives, our brain chemistry. An article a few years ago titled “Roots of Crime” told about a researcher who was testing juvenile delinquents’ hair in order to prove that their violent behavior was the result of vitamin deficiencies.27 In this new scheme of things, even Hitler can be excused for his crimes, for in the words of one historian, he “was a prisoner of his pathological unconscious drives.”28

Against this modern ethic that no one is responsible, Lewis strove to make people aware of just how responsible they really are. Lewis’s defense of personal responsibility was undergirded by his commitment to Christianity. The Christian gospel proclaims salvation only to those who recognize themselves as guilty people in need of divine forgiveness. But materialism offers modern man a whole slew of methods to avoid facing our guilt. If nothing is our fault, then what is there to be guilty about? Lewis countered this mentality not so much by direct disputation, but by trying to place a miror in front of us that would cause us to recognize the evil in our own souls. This is most apparent in his fictional works, where there are key moments of self-revelation when major characters realize that they are really to blame for the fix they are in.

In the novel That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is a young sociologist who has spent his life cravenly currying favor with others in order to promote himself. When he subsequently finds himself in the middle of a totalitarian conspiracy, he first wonders what bad luck put him there. “Why had he such a rotten heredity?” he whined to himself. “Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational? Why was his luck so bad?”29 Finally hitting bottom, he suddenly sees with brutal clarity who he really is and how his own choices led him to the mess he was in.

One cannot read Lewis’s fiction without being convicted of the fact that we are more accountable than we would like to think. Lewis calls us to responsibility by reminding us that every action has a consequence, and that no wrong choice — however small — is insignificant. As Uncle Screwtape tells his demon nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”30

The Proliferation of Coercive Utopianism

The fourth legacy of materialism is coercive utopianism. Although the belief that all thought and behavior are predetermined by material causes would seem to deny the power of human beings to reshape their world, materialism in fact inspired a fierce strain of coercive utopianism. Claiming either that they were merely the servants of the forces of materialism — or with Nietzsche, that they could overcome materialism by a sheer act of will — materialist reformers tried to create secular utopias in Russia and Germany. In America, meanwhile, significant parts of the cultural elite began to believe that we could engineer the perfect society through social science and planning.

The coercive utopians in Germany and Russia were both targets of Lewis’s scorn. Unlike many intellectuals of his time who hated one form of totalitarianism only to embraced another, Lewis abhorred both facism and communism as the poisonous fruit of the same evil tree. Both ideologies were totalitarian; both led to the deaths of innocent millions; and so both were to be regarded with equal contempt.31

But fascism and communism were far from the only forms of coercive utopianism about which Lewis was concerned. Tyranny comes in many forms, most of which are more subtle than Stalin’s gulag or Hitler’s death camps. Lewis knew this, and his most compelling writings for us today focus on these more subtle forms of oppression. In particular, Lewis feared that the modern welfare state would become ever more intrusive as government planners allied themselves with the tools of materialist social science.

If people act because of environmental and biological necessities, as the materialists claim, the government no longer need deal with them as free moral agents. Under the new system, preemption replaces punishment as the preferred method of social control. Instead of punishing you for making the wrong choice (which was the traditional method), the state simply eliminates your choice. Instead of laws telling us to wear seat-belts, we have passive restraints that automatically strap us into the car seat. Instead of simply being told to pay our taxes, our taxes are automatically deducted from our paychecks. Instead of holding us responsible for the correct use of any number of helpful — but potentially hazardous — products, the government simply prevents those products from reaching the market. In the hands of the social planners, the nation is their laboratory.

Lewis’s painted a grim portrait of this kind of despotism in his novel That Hideous Strength. There the spirit of modern social science becomes incarnate in something called the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments — NICE, for short. Of course, there is nothing nice about NICE; its social scientists are exactly the type of technocrats that Lewis feared. In the name of science and humanity, they claimed the right to remake society without bothering to obtain society’s consent — let alone the consent of the individuals involved.

While we are a long way off from the nightmare vision depicted by Lewis in That Hideous Strength, we certainly should be able to understand some of what he’s getting at. For public policy decisions in our country are increasingly made precisely by the type of unelected experts that Lewis talked about. During the past three decades our legislators have transferred much of their authority to a vast array of independent regulatory agencies staffed by unelected experts who are largely unaccountable to average citizens. Environmental policy is a good example. Decisions about how — and whether — to save certain endangered species are made not by elected officials, but by government biologists and bureaucrats. Decisions about whether we can have fires in our fireplaces are made not by elected officials but by professional bureaucrats specializing in air quality. Now some of these decisions we may well applaud; some we may not. But the fact remains that we — and those we elect — have very little to say in the matter.

But, you may ask, what’s wrong with that? Surely it is better for experts to make decisions about these things than the average voter or politician? After all, don’t today’s increasingly complicated problems demand that we hand over the reins of power to the experts?

Lewis didn’t think so. He did not dispute that technocrats have plenty of knowledge; this knowledge may even be necessary for good public policy. But it is not sufficient for good public policy. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, according to Lewis, and technocrats are not equipped to function as moralists. “I dread specialists in power,” he said, “because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”32


More than five decades after the publication of That Hideous Strength, more than six decades after the publication of Pilgrim’s Regress, and more than thirty years after C. S. Lewis’s death, we still live in the shadow of what George Gilder calls “the materialist superstition.”33 Lewis was a prophet, but it takes more than a prophet to make a revolution. Yet a prophet can prepare the way for a revolution, and Lewis helped do that.

At the end of The Abolition of Man, Lewis called for a new natural philosophy that would understand human beings as they really are, not try to reduce them to automatons or guinea pigs. “When it explained,” said Lewis, “it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the I it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou.”34

Lewis was not quite sure what he was asking for, and — being a realist — he certainly was not convinced that the revolution would actually come about. Yet during the next decade it just might. We live during an era of tremendous and tumultuous change, and nowhere is the tumult more evident than in the sciences. Recent developments in biology, physics, and cognitive science are raising serious doubts about the most fundamental assumptions of materialism. In biology, scientists are discovering such irreducible complexity in biological systems that the only reasonable explanation seems to be a non-material designer. In physics, our understanding of matter is becoming increasingly non-material. In cognitive science, efforts to reduce mind to the physical processes of the brain have failed repeatedly. Even in social sciences such as psychology researchers are beginning to question their materialist assumptions and rebuild their disciplines on foundations more conducive to human dignity and personal responsibility.35

In other words, for perhaps the first time since the materialist onslaught we have an opportunity to bring about the collapse of materialism and to re-found the sciences along the lines envisioned by C. S. Lewis more than half-a-century ago. For the sake of cultural sanity — and survival — let us hope that we succeed.


1 For a detailed account of how Lewis came to write The Pilgrim’s Regress, see Lindskoog, Finding the Landlord: A Guidebook to C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 1995).

2 William Griffin, Clives Staples Lewis: A Dramatic Life (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 34.

3 Lewis to Pocock, January — , 1933. Marion Wade Collection, Wheaton College.

4 Lewis was not the first to use Bunyan’s tale as a springboard for satirizing contemporary errors. Nearly a century earlier, Nathaniel Hawthorne had written “The Celestial Railroad,” a take-off on Bunyan that lampooned transcendentalism and other intellectual currents prevalent in the first half of the nineteenth century. See “The Celestial Railroad,” in Hawthorne: Selected Tales and Sketches (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1950), 474-492. Lewis may have known about and paid tribute to Hawthorne’s previous satire. See Lindskoog, 78-79.

5 Key materialist works include The Descent of Man by Darwin, The German Ideology: Part I by Karl Marx, and Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ by Nietzsche.

6 Gertrude Himmelfarb, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (Chicago: Elephant Paperbacks, 1996), 383.

7 This account is adapted from Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937), 488-489.

8 Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 306.

9 Conquest, 265-266.

10 Norman Baynes, editor, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1942), I: 363.

11 Leo Alexander, “Medicial Science Under Dictatorship,” New England Journal of Medicine, 241: 39-47, July 14, 1949.

12 See Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).

13 Nathaniel Cantor, Crime: Criminals and Criminal Justice (New York: Henry Holt,1932), 266.

14 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 241.

15 C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 101-103.

16 Quoted in Lindskoog, xxviii.

17 Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern, 207.

18 Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, 48-49.

19 Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, 61-62.

20 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 91.

21 “Behind the Scenes,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 248.

22 C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 72.

23 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943), 31. A more detailed account of Lewis’s argument on this point can be found in the first several chapters of Lewis’s book, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York: Macmillan, 1960).

24 Ian Robertson, Sociology (New York: Worth, 1981), 68.

25 Quoted in The Political Writings of St. Augustine, ed. by Henry Paolucci (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway), 153-158.

26 “The Poison of Subjectivism,” 77.

27 “Roots of Crime,” American Bar Association Journal, December 1983, 1814-1815.

28 Quoted in Ron Rosenbaum, “Staring Into the Hear of the Heart of Darkness,” The New York Times Magazine, June 4, 1995, 39.

29 C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1965), 224.

30 The Screwtape Letters, rev. edition (New York: Macmillan, 1982), letter XII, 56.

31 See C.S. Lewis, “To the Author of Flowering Rifle,” in Poems of C. S. Lewis, 65.

32 Lewis, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” God in the Dock, 315.

33 George Gilder, “The Materialist Superstition,” The Intercollegiate Review, Spring 1996, 6-14.

34 Lewis, Abolition of Man, 90.

35 See “The Death of Materialism and the Renewal of Culture: A Symposium,” The Intercollegiate Review, spring 1996.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute