Americans Without Chests

Wilson County News | July 15, 2011

By Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

Two observers, one a 19th-century Frenchmen and the other a 20th-century Englishmen, offered words of wisdom about the consequences of centralizing political control and, we shall argue, the moral relativism that accompanies such a development.

Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous warning in Democracy in America about the peculiar type of despotism to which democracies are especially vulnerable included comments about “an immense tutelary power” hovering over a mass of citizens, for whose happiness it “willingly labors, but it chooses to be a sole agent and the only arbiter,” leaving nothing for individual determination. “What remains,” de Tocqueville asked, “but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” The result is a power that “prevents existence,” that “compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people,” to the point where they can no longer be considered human beings at all.

Or if they can, they have no chests. This designation was made famous by that bête noire of British moral relativists, C. S. Lewis, noted for his writings on Christian apologetics as well as his Narnia series and the space trilogy. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man consists of three lectures he gave during World War II and was not about politics per se, but rather about the perils of assuming that science can dismiss statements of moral sentiments as purely subjective reactions. He noted that dismissing value statements’ objective meaning has the effect of emasculating humanity; that is, ripping out the “spirited element” of personhood–one’s chest–which hosts “indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man.”

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