In this essay Lewis makes it clear he is for progress, in the sense of "increasing the goodness and happiness of individual lives." But he expresses deep concern about the tendencies in the United Kingdom during World Wars I and II to give up liberty for security. He says Britons had grown, "though apparently grudgingly, accustomed to our chains." He warns that once government encroaches on our freedom, every concession makes it more difficult for us to "retrace our steps." Perhaps the most striking moment in this essay is the one on the nature of the happiness that he would like to see. Lewis says:
I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has 'the freeborn mind.' But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs and asks nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that's the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone's schoolmaster and employer?
Giving up freedom for security is a "terrible bargain" that is so tempting that "we cannot blame men for making it. We can hardly wish them not to. Yet we can hardly bear that they should." If people do make this bargain, the loss of freedom will lead to "total frustration" and "disastrous results, both moral and psychological." What will be lost is the freedom of those who eat their own "mutton and turnips"—Lewis's British echo of Micah 4:4, "Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid."
The rise of the modern welfare state, for Lewis, was not real progress. It entrusts power over many to a few, "none perfect; some greedy, cruel, and dishonest." The more that people in government control our lives, the more we have to ask "why, this time power should not corrupt as it always has done before?"
Lewis was too progressive to always believe in claims of progress. Sometimes we need to go back in order to go forward, doing an about-face on the wrong road in order to find the right one. In public life, this can mean protecting our freedoms and pushing back against the power of the "welfare state," lest we be increasingly constrained in our ability to choose what we want to do and be. In personal life, it means repentance—the willingness to go forward by turning hard astern. And sometimes, Lewis would remind us, it means being a dinosaur.
Art Lindsley, PhD, is Vice President of Theological Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org) and author of C.S. Lewis's Case for Christ, True Truth, Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, and co-author with R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner of Classical Apologetics.