Outside of the Chronicles of Narnia, the C.S. Lewis novel that I return to again and again is That Hideous Strength, which Lewis described as “a modern fairy tale for grown-ups.”
In this novel, post-WWII Britain has been taken over by a scientific consortium, NICE (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments), which aspires to create an earthly paradise by the application of “science,” along with a few not-so-scientific tactics like murder, brainwashing, propaganda, and terror. Their utopia will be organized and regimented along strictly “scientific” lines, doing away with obsolete hindrances like religion, morality, and the worth and rights of the individual. Their ultimate goal is to scour the earth clean of life itself–and somehow nothing but “pure mind” will be left.
This already sounds depressingly familiar, doesn’t it?
Key to their scheme is a plan to dig up and revive the body of Merlin, King Arthur’s great magician. Merlin isn’t really dead, you see; they’ve discovered he’s in a state of suspended animation. Once they’ve got him back among the living, they believe they will have access to the lost “science” of Atlantis, of which he was the last practitioner.
Granted, this is by no means as fantastic, or as loopy, as today’s fantasies of Global Warming or Income Equality. What do you want for a book written in 1945? But NICE’s fictional master plan has much in common with these real-life idiocies: to wit, the faith that the human race is perfectible by human efforts–especially the efforts of an all-powerful government. They realize they’re going to have to break an awful lot of eggs–but the omelet will be worth it!
To me, the most impressive aspect of That Hideous Strength is its depiction of the academic or “intellectual” mind-set. Although Lewis was an academic, and loved the academic life, no one ever more devastatingly analyzed the failings of the academic mind. As long as there’s adequately intellectual window-dressing, the academic with terrible ease discards both morality and common sense: he can rationalize any crime, any outrage, as long as it serves the Great Cause.
And what is that cause? Simply the expectation that if enough coercion is applied, perfectible man will be perfected by men who have power, and that “experts” will lead us to a perfect world. As long as this bait is held out in front of them, academics will–with a clear conscience–do just about anything to glom onto it. This explains why, throughout modern times, academics have a track record of enthusiastically embracing Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, and every other bloodthirsty tyrant who ever vexed the human race.
That Hideous Strength speaks more clearly to us today than it did in 1945. And its message can be summed up very neatly in a single line from the Bible:
“All they that hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:36)
This is a book you need to read if you want to understand our demon-haunted modern world.