Ayn Rand was no fan of C.S. Lewis. She called the famous apologist an “abysmal bastard,” a “monstrosity,” a “cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-metaphysical mediocrity,” a “pickpocket of concepts,” and a “God-damn, beaten mystic.” (I suspect Lewis would have particularly relished the last of these.)
These insults and more can be found in her marginal notes on a copy of Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, as printed in Ayn Rand’s Marginalia: Her critical comments on the writings of over 20 authors, edited by Robert Mayhew. Excerpts appear below, with Lewis’ writing (complete with Rand’s highlighting and underlining) on the left and Rand’s notes on the right.
|C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
|Ayn Rand’s marginalia
| I am considering what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scientific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.
. . .
| So in the pre-science age, there was no power of majorities over minorities –and the Middle Ages were a period of love and equality, and the oppression began only in the U.S.A. (!!!) The abysmal bastard!
| The later a generation comes – the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct – the less power it will have in the forward direction, because its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.
. . .
|It is unbelievable, but this monster literally thinks that to give men new knowledge is to gain power (!) over them. The cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-metaphysical mediocrity!
| There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.
. . .
|So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make them weaker!!!
| In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.
. . .
|And which brought such great joy, peace, happiness and moral stature to men!! (The bastard!)
| We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ‘body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.
. . .
| This is really an old fool – and nothing more!
And what does he think an abstraction is, that great “advocate of reason”?
Here’s where the Korzybski comes out in him.
| Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
. . .
|The lousy bastard who is a pickpocket of concepts, not a thief, which is too big a word for him. Either we are mystics of spirit or mystics of muscle – reason? who ever heard of it? – such as in the Middle Ages?
| Nothing I can say will prevent some people from describing this lecture as an attack on science. I deny the charge, of course: and real Natural Philosophers (there are some now alive) will perceive that in defending value I defend inter alia the value of knowledge, which must die like every other when its roots in the Tao are cut.
. . .
| And how!
What’s that, brother?
| The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientificendeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse.
. . .
|The cheap, drivelling non-entity!
| There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious – such as digging up and mutilating the dead. If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. ‘All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and ‘a sound magician is a mighty god’ In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit. The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work; but his goal is that of the magician.
. . .
| This is monstrous! !!!
So Bacon is a “magician” – but Christ performing miracles is, of course, a spectacle of pure, rational knowledge!!
This monstrosity is not opposed to science – oh no! – not to pure science, only to applied science, only to anything that improves man’s life on earth!
| It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour.
. . .
|!!! You bet your life, you God-damn, beaten mystic at the Renaissance!
| You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.
. . .
| The abysmal caricature who postures as a “gentleman and a scholar” treats subjects like these by means of a corner lout’s equivocation on “seeing through.”! By “seeing through,” he means “rational understanding”!
Oh, BS! – and total BS!
|[Lewis ends his essay with the previous passage. On the next page, above the beginning of the Appendix, Ayn Rand made her last statement, apparently a summary of the essence of the whole essay.]
|The bastard actually means that the more man knows, the more he is bound by reality, the more he has to comply with an “A is A” existence of absolute identity and causality – and that is what he regards as “surrender” to nature, or as nature’s “power over man.” (!) What he objects to is the power of reality. Science shrinks the realm of his whim. (!!) When he speaks of value judgements, he means values set by whim – and he knows that there is no place for that in nature, i.e. in reality. (The abysmal scum!)