History Bite

Meet the Conditioners per C.S.Lewis

Published in 1944, C.S. Lewis prophetically, with literary mastery, leads his audience to the end of the human path.  Here we offer only excerpts from his booklet, The Abolition of Man.

But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others.  And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people.   And all long-term exercises of power,  especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions.  In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction.  Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors.  This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power.  In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power.  They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.  And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically as that of its successors……

There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives.  The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power on the future. 

The real picture is that of one dominant age – let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.- which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresponsibly, and thus is the real master of the human species.But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still.Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men….Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger.

The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself.  Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.  The battle will then be won.  We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be.  The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?  For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.

(T)he manmoulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please…. In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao (truth) – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.  They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen.  They handed on what they had received:  they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike.  It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly.  This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning…..The conditioners have been emancipated from all that.  It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered….(A)t first they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a ‘duty’ to do it ‘good’….They recognize the concept of duty as the result of certain processes which they can now control. 

Conditioners are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all.  They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what ‘Humanity’ shall henceforth mean.  ‘Good’ and ‘bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforth to be derived. 

It is not that they are bad men.  They are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artifacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.