A Year of Reading Lewis: The Abolition of Man

L. A. Smith of A Traveler’s Path has kindly agreed to let us take a look at some of her thoughts on Lewis!

I have never read Abolition before. I knew it was an important work, but its subtitle, Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, didn’t inspire me much. In my research on  C.S. Lewis’ third book of his Space Trilogy, I discovered that That Hideous Strength was often touted as the working out in fiction of the philosophical argument proposed in Abolition of Man. So, while the That Hideous Strength was still fresh in my mind, I figured I would tackle Abolition at last.

The influential National Review ranked The Abolition of Man #7 on its list of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century.  I felt quite intimidated by it, but I needn’t have been. Yes, it was a mental workout, but an invigorating one, not an impossible slog. It felt good to get my brain thinking, to follow along with Lewis in the presentation of his arguments. I forgot just how readable Lewis can be, especially when he presents big ideas.

Not to say that this is easy reading, or fluffy. Far from it. And I’m sure that my understanding of it only scratches the surface. But I did get food for thought out of it, and a whole new appreciation for C.S. Lewis’ unique genius.

The book, originally three lectures given in February of 1943,  was inspired by a textbook on English that Lewis was sent for review, which he titled, The Green Book, in order to disguise its true name, which was The Control of Language, A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing. In reading the textbook Lewis found something alarming: the authors were not only attempting to teach critical reading and writing, but in doing so, were imparting a subtle but deadly philosophy, one which states that there are no objective values (ones which are true in and of themselves) and that students should consider statements of value as ones of subjective feeling instead. e.g. “The waterfall is sublime” means only that “I have sublime feelings about the waterfall.”

Read more of this thoughtful essay…

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