Log in

No account? Create an account

C.S. Lewis's Political Thought

There was a recent posting on lewrockwell.com called Why Does Sarah Palin Want More War?  It consisted mostly of harsh, but fair and rational, criticism of Palin's foreign policy. The part that interested me was the teaser: "She ought to read more C.S. Lewis, says Karen Kwiatkoski"

I've seen lots of folks praise  C.S. Lewis on LRC. This blog post   and this more recent one by Stephen Carson come to mind. 

When I see these my mind goes back to some things Lewis wrote about patriotism in The Four Loves. One of the loves he addresses is love of country. He doesn't think it's a bad thing, and believes that patriotism has it's place. But he warns against attaching excessive moral weight to national interests.  He makes an interesting analogy  to the love one has for one's home:

I  may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds - wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine - I become insufferable. The pretence that when England's cause is just we are on England's side - as some neutral Don Quixote might be - for that reason alone, is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country's cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendance is given to things which are very much of this world.

Lewis nails it. A man is within his rights to defend his home, but to equate it to a holy cause makes him insufferable. And the same thing applies to our defense of our country. America has a right to defend herself.. There is no need to cloak it in high-minded humanitarian rhetoric. It's one thing to avenge our country when it is attacked by terrorists. But to spend billions on a war to make the Middle East safe for democracy, when it was never democratic at all, is nonsense, the kind of nonsense which "draws evil after it."

While Lewis was not a pacifist, I don't think he would have approved of our adventurism in Iraq or Kosovo (maybe not even Afghanistan). I first read the above passage by Lewis many years ago, and it was the beginning of my belief that a policy of fighting wars for humanitarian reasons ends up being less humanitarian than one of narrow national interest.

Interestingly, the passage on patriotism comes from a chapter called "Likings And Loves For The Sub-Human". Discussing the topic of patriotism in that chapter at first seems anti-patriotic . But it's not. It merely implies that you should love your country the same way you love your dog.   A lot of people's love for their dog is very real and very deep. But a sane person's love for their dog has it's limits. That's how you should love your country.

A couple of disclaimers are in order. Even though I cited lewrockwell.com, I think my own foreign policy ideas are more hawkish than theres. I don't claim the folks there are on the same page as me. Also, Lewis's arguments on patriotism are more subtle and complex than they first appear. I don't believe the excerpt I included does them justice. A more complete excerpt can be found posted here at liberty lounge.