It’s Hell For Democracy


First separately published by C.S. Lewis some 50 years ago as ‘Screwtape Proposes a Toast‘ (pdf), it was written some 15 years after the Screwtape Letters. In the followed abridged version, Screwtape addresses the part played by democracy and education in the downfall of humanity. Those changes to gender references have not been done for political correctness, but to make it representative of our own age in which it would seem little has changed. Or has it?

(The scene is in Hell at the annual dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for young devils. Screwtape, a very experienced devil, “proposes a toast”)

“Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. They should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting. Of course it is connected with the political ideal that all should be equally treated. You then make a transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all are equal, which prompts them to say “I’m as good as you”.

I want to fix your attention on discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. The spirit of I’m as good as you’ has already begun more than a generally social influence. It begins to work into their education system. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic”. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have “parity of esteem.”

We may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when ‘I’m as good as you’ has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and penalties for not learning will be prevented. This would not follow unless all education became state education. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says ‘I’m as good as you’.

What we must realise is that democracy in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth. For democracy in the diabolical sense leads to a nation without great men and women. It has a value as a state of mind, excluding humility, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of gratitude or admiration. It is our function to encourage the behaviour, the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which democracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy democracy. You would almost wonder that even humans don’t see it themselves”.

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