Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
8Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
C.S. Lewis, Democracy and Relativism

C.S. Lewis, Democracy and Relativism

Ratings: (0)|Views: 706|Likes:
Published by cdpearce392
This short essay enters in the "Objectivism/Relativism" debate via the opposed vantage points of C.S. Lewis and Friedrich Nietzsche respectively. It highlights this opposition in terms of Lewis's identification of relativism with democracy and Nietzsche's association of it with aristocracy. Lewis connects the intellectual tendencies of democracy with hostility to tradition and virtue, both western and non-western, and therewith to the idea that moral values are "relative" and are ultimately rooted in individual and cultural preferences. Nietzsche on the other hand associates democracy with "objectivism" and the idea that there is a "one size fits all" truth with a capital "T." For Lewis successful societies need a grounding in "absolute" moral truth and so relativism will ultimately mean the demise of democracy and civilization. For Nietzsche on the other hand the capacity for "spiritual" relativism is the highest virtue and any society which fails to appreciate this fact will lack the most enlightened kind of leadership and as a result will never attain to its most laudable goals.
This short essay enters in the "Objectivism/Relativism" debate via the opposed vantage points of C.S. Lewis and Friedrich Nietzsche respectively. It highlights this opposition in terms of Lewis's identification of relativism with democracy and Nietzsche's association of it with aristocracy. Lewis connects the intellectual tendencies of democracy with hostility to tradition and virtue, both western and non-western, and therewith to the idea that moral values are "relative" and are ultimately rooted in individual and cultural preferences. Nietzsche on the other hand associates democracy with "objectivism" and the idea that there is a "one size fits all" truth with a capital "T." For Lewis successful societies need a grounding in "absolute" moral truth and so relativism will ultimately mean the demise of democracy and civilization. For Nietzsche on the other hand the capacity for "spiritual" relativism is the highest virtue and any society which fails to appreciate this fact will lack the most enlightened kind of leadership and as a result will never attain to its most laudable goals.

More info:

Published by: cdpearce392 on May 04, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

05/11/2014

pdf

text

original

 
1
C.S. LEWIS, DEMOCRACY AND MODERN RELATIVISM 
Colin D. PearceUniversity of Guelph-Humber
Some decades after his death C.S. Lewis remains one of the best selling and mostwidely read authors in the world today. Lewis is well known for his Christian apologetics andhis children’s stories and like that other “objectivist,” Ayn Rand, he has consistentlymaintained a huge following outside the groves as academe.By contrast, the name of William Graham Sumner is all but forgotten in this day andage. And yet he is a vital piece in the intellectual puzzle of which Lewis is a part. He was anEpiscopalian clergyman who went on to become one of the fathers of modern, intellectual“relativism.” After he left the Church and arrived at Yale in the 1880’s he worked mightily onhis classic and foundational studies in the field of sociology called
 Folkways
(1907) and
Science of Society
(1920). In an introductory memoir to
 Folkways
his student William Phelpsexclaims “And how he hated metaphysics, philosophy, theology and all kindred subjects!”Sumner had said that “Philosophy is in every way as bad as astrology.” And connected to thisopinion was his view that the word “immoral” never means anything “but contrary to themores of the time and place.” Sumner is quite certain that there is “no permanent or universalstandard by which right and truth…can be established and different folkways compared andcriticized.” When Lewis characterizes the “modern view” it is fundamentally that of Sumner which he describes. Thus his battle against “relativism” is implicitly both for philosophy (or “astrology”) and against Sumner.Lewis wishes to confront the view that “ethical standards of different cultures vary sowidely that there is no common tradition at all.” This view he describes as the one that says“there is not one morality but a thousand.” To Lewis’s way of thinking such a claim is nothing but “a good, solid, resounding lie.” The modern view according to Lewis “does not believethat value judgments are really judgments at all.” They are “sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, anddifferent from one community to another.” The modern mind follows Sumner in insisting that“to say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; (which) feeling …we have
 
2 been socially conditioned to have.” But it is “(O)ut of this apparently innocent idea,” Lewissays, that “the disease that will certainly end our species” will be spawned. The “fatalsuperstition that men can create values” or that “a community can choose it ‘ideology’ as menchoose their clothes” makes all human purposes pointless. “Unless we return to the crude andnursery-like belief in objective values,” Lewis says, “we perish.”But behind Sumner’s relativism, albeit unacknowledged by him, is the larger intellectual presence of Nietzsche, today usually described as the father of “postmodernism” or “deconstruction.” And it is in dealing with Nietzsche that we see Lewis implicitly facingSumner. “(T)he Nietzschean ethic,” Lewis says, “can be accepted only if we are ready to scraptraditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find noground for any value judgments at all.”But despite this, Lewis and Nietzsche agree that the danger with democracy is that ittends to become too democratic for its own good. It overthrows standards that it itself needsfor its own success and continuance. But unlike Nietzsche, Lewis points the finger at“relativism” as the villain of the piece because it is a “lie” at both the level of theory and of  practice. “If relativism triumphs,” Lewis asks, “will democracy be able to sustain anyreasonable standards?” Lewis feels sure that relativism will cause democracy to lose respectfor virtue and merit and as a result Plato’s description of the chaos of the democratic regime inBook VIII of The Republic will come true. “If ‘good’ means only local ideology,” Lewissays, “how can those who invent local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves?”“Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy.”For his part, Nietzsche might allow that relativistic thought, if it were to “seep” into popular thinking could lead to great social problems, but this would not of itself say anythingabout the truth of relativism. Indeed, for him relativism or perspectivalism has to be the final“truth.” Nietzsche would readily concede that the bulk of the population will always be“objectivistic” in its thinking. It will, like Dr. Johnson, always be inclined to refute “Mr.Hume” and others like him by giving the stone in its pathway a good kick. What distinguishesdemocracy or “the majority” for Nietzsche is precisely its incapacity for “relativism.”Relativism is the distinct property of the aristocratic type. In a word, an “objectivistaristocracy” is an oxymoron in Nietzsche’s terms. To expect of democratic or egalitarian
 
3 politics that it be “pluralist” or even “tolerant” is like expecting a cat to bark. It is not there inthe nature of things. Nietzsche’s attempted solution to the relativism problem is to try to identify virtue witha capacity to “practice” relativism. If relativism is defined as a sign of the highest virtue in thefirst place, then a tendency to objectivism will be seen as a sign of bronze rather than gold inthe soul. In other words, relativism itself becomes the “objective” standard which thedemocracy needs. The special “few” – Nietzsche called them many things – “free spirits,”“Hyperboreans,” “Argonauts of the intellect,” “geniuses of the heart,” - are for him those whocan live in the face of relativism’s “truth.” They have “no a priori truths” but they do have the power to see the world from a thousand perspectives and the ability to “dance” between them.They are in “process.” They do not rest contented with Lewis’s “Good” (or Plato’s “Being”) but abandon themselves to the joy of experiencing a world which is always “becoming.” Nietzsche’s standard of virtue is in some sense the polar opposite to that of Lewis – it is toattain to as much relativism or “subjectivism” of thought as is humanly possible given that lifeconstantly pulls us down toward objectivism.From Nietzsche’s point of view then, Lewis’s means are ill suited to his ends. Hewould save democracy from itself while continuing to insist on the “poison” which is debasingit, i.e. not the “poison of relativism” but the poison of “objectivism.” As paradoxical as it maysound at first blush, only by relativism can the hierarchy of virtue, which hierarchy democracyitself most needs in order to prevent its destructive tendencies be saved. Only by the“production” of “relativists” can democracy be saved from anarchy and disorder.But Lewis rejects all relativistic thinking as being ultimately socially deleterious. Hethinks that without “objectivism” society as we have known it must of necessity collapse intosome less desirable form of community. Precisely when we “believe that good is somethinginvented,” our rulers become infused with the spirit of “dynamism” and “creativity.” But“dynamism” and “creativity” are far from being high qualities in Lewis’s view. “If we returnedto the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial – virtue, knowledge, diligence and skill.”Lewis is therefore highly critical of the modern moral reformer. He or she is the typewho believes that traditional values can and should be overthrown and a new social order constructed on the basis of new sociological, psychological, biological and physical sciences.

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->