Wisdom from Screwtape
Whenever I bad-mouth Christianity, I find myself returning, for penance, to those Christian authors whom I respect immensely. While re-reading The Screwtape Letters this evening, I came across this gem from C.S. Lewis.
Democracy is connected with the political ideal that men should be treated equally. You then make a stealthy transition in people’s minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in people’s thoughts the most degrading of all human feelings . . .
The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say, “I’m as good as you.”
The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says “I’m as good as you” believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only be those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation.
Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it–make it respectable and even laudable–by the incantatory use of the word democratic. Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level.