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C.S. Lewis On The Tyranny of Good Intentions
Unleashing a million little Robespierres vs. Burkean little platoons in an era of COVID.
C.S. Lewis is sadly not a household name anymore apart from The Chronicles of Narnia. Yet for his more deeply read books such as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity there is a certain understanding of human nature Lewis touches upon which strikes one as true every time it is read.
When it comes to Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remonstrations about “two weeks to stop the spread” and year long shutdowns and restrictions, one sees a million little Robespierres unleashed all at once scolding us to wear a mask. Great advice; terrible law.
Or as Lewis puts it himself:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
-- C.S. Lewis, God In The Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (1948)
This is precisely what bothers me about Northam and the Virginia Democrats today.
From the shutdown to Critical Race Theory, from cookie-cutter public education systems to standing on a pile of dead babies and chastising the rest of us on social justice — the Democrats truly have become the party of scolds.
We are a nation of citizens — adults — entrusted with the free exercise of God-given rights.
We deserve to be treated as adults by our own government, not infantilized and told to wear mask, no don’t wear masks, yes do wear masks, now you must wear masks, wear masks or you are literally Hitler, wear double masks as recently as March 2021… only to rip off the face diapers and do what common sense dictated all along.
If there is a clear distinction between a Republican and a Democrat during these trying times, it has to be boiled down to this single truth: Republicans trust our neighbors with their God-given rights and ask to be left alone; Democrats extend privileges to their neighbors and become little Robespierres to see whether or not those privileges should continue to be extended.
Not much more science behind it than that.
This difference between God-given rights and privileges granted by the state is as old as the differences between the American and French Revolutions. So while Americans by and large seek to be left alone, European-style social democrats are allergic to anything not welded to the state. Americans make the distinction between morals (what I do) and ethics (what we ought to do) whereas Europeans conflate the moral and the ethical into one — and woe unto those who transgress.
Thus we are faced with the tyranny of good intentions. It is the difference between trusting one’s neighbor and not trusting one’s neighbor; between treating one another as responsible adults or seeing a threat in every human soul.
The difference perhaps between a genuine care for your fellow citizen who wears a mask out of courtesy in stark contrast to the false posturing of virtue signaling where masks just make you better than those people — and oh by the way, it’s for your own good (tax serf).
C.S. Lewis was right about curing people against their own will. The all-powerful moral busybodies of the left — whether it is masks, CRT in public education, cancel culture, or the myriad of issues crushing free thought and public dissent in Virginia and America — have changed nothing from the Puritannical ways of their past; who the late RTD editor Virginius Dabney called the Mayflower’s “cargo of witch-burners” that landed on Plymouth Rock some 13 years after Jamestown.
So what is the response to a million little Robespierres functioning as their own private Stasi? The answer might be as simple as Edmund Burke and his Reflections on the Revolution in France:
Turbulent, discontented men of quality, in proportion as they are puffed up with personal pride and arrogance, generally despise their own order. One of the first symptoms they discover of a selfish and mischievous ambition, is a profligate disregard of a dignity which they partake with others. To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.
Every time I see a bunch of college kids screaming about the outrage of the day? This is the counterpunch. They might protest, but to them it’s all performative tourism. The answer for these little Robespierres is to shrug and return to the tried, enduring and true — the ‘little platoons’ that we live for and strive for.
The witch burners never leave us. Yet sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves that their history is not our history. Let the little Robespierres and petty tyrannies of good intentions do their worst. Let them adopt a litany of horribles and demand justice. We owe them nothing. Courtesy, yes… but not compliance.
In the interim, it might do us some good to remind the cubicle dwellers in Richmond and at our various courthouses that we elect representatives not landlords.
In the words of Edward Murrow and in the face of other panics, Americans are not descended from weak or fearful men. The tyranny of good intentions remains the most infectious of all tyrannies, but Virginians have an answer for such tyrants.
It’s in our motto after all.
Meanwhile, there are some disturbing links between Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Wuhan Virology Institute and the sort of research both NSAID and the Chinese government was (and still is) sponsoring there.
While I’m not a kook, I’d still like answers. Yet when sources such as these begin connecting dots in a direct way? My eyebrow begins to perk just a touch. Not to suggest that there is some grand conspiracy at the end of the tunnel — after all, Hanlon’s Razor is a thing (never attribute to malice what can easily be attributed to stupidity).
There is more than just a undercooked pangolin to blame for COVID.
Keep watching this one, folks.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.