Sed Contra: Philosophers and Generals

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 1997

I have always been puzzled by the wide popularity of C. S. Lewis. I have wondered how many of Lewis’s readers, or fans of Shadowlands, understand the countercultural implications of his thought. Here was a figure who deserved to be popular, but does his wide popularity mean that he has been misunderstood? The Problem of Pain is hardly a handbook for the therapeutic society.

But I think there is an element in Lewis’s writing that may account for wisdom finding its popular market. That is, that Lewis was never content with just giving the right answer, he was always trying to tell his reader what to do with that answer. You may remember his advice in Mere Christianity to those who think they lack the feelings of love: Act lovingly, he said, and the feelings will follow.

So we move from the general truth—that love is an act of the will, not a state of feeling—to concrete advice about how to love when feelings are lacking. Lewis was more than a philosopher, he was a kind of general; he knew how to get us moving in practical directions. Take a look at his brilliant, and ever more relevant, a critique of contemporary education in The Abolition of Man.

Since I became editor of Crisis, I have thought a great deal about Lewis’s example. More and more, I see the importance of answering your question: “What can I do about the situations you describe in Crisis?”

Crisis should not only inform but empower. Thus, last month we provided a short curriculum for you to participate in the pope’s millennium project, “Jesus Christ in 1997.” And this month we are giving you a detailed analysis of the Catholic dissident groups and their network so that you can be watching for their influence in your parish. In a few months, I want to announce, Crisis will be adding a public policy section each month to help you fight the cultural and political battles more directly.

Readers of Crisis are fighting for the Church and fighting for America. These battles are even more serious than when the magazine was founded in 1982. This year we face the We Are Church referendum, the Supreme Court’s assisted-suicide opinion, the continuing struggle over same-sex marriage, and the abortion pill. Eminent figures like Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Bork, Charles Colson, Robert George, and Crisis contributing editors Hadley Arkes and Russell Hittinger have rightly questioned in First Things whether judicial activism has put American society in such a deep hole that it can never climb out.

It is clear that none of these men, as Arkes writes in the present issue, is interested in aiding militiamen and other backwoods revolutionaries. But once the conclusion has been reached that the courts have struck a critical blow to America, people inevitably want to know what they can do about it. There are grass-roots energies in this country that can and should be mobilized against the culture of death, not against America.

We need leadership, pure and simple. My generation (I just turned forty-seven) has just awakened to the responsibilities of leadership. I suppose we thought the culture was on some kind of moral autopilot, or we didn’t care, as wrapped up as we were in feathering our own nests, serving our own pleasures. Have we opened our eyes too late? I don’t think so. Yes, something is rotten in our society, but our only viable alternative is to regain lost ground.

How will we do this? Parish by parish, community by community, institution by institution—exactly the way they were taken from us. This is why ecclesial and political leadership must not only explain but empower—tools must be provided for cultural and spiritual renewal.

Look at what Father Joseph Fessio, S. J, has done with Ignatius Press, what Mother Angelica has created with EWTN and WEWN, or Tom Monaghan with the corporate CEOs of Legatus, among others. They are creating new institutions that refuse to collaborate with the culture of death.

In the battle for the Church, John Paul II is our guide—who in the mid-1970s could have foreseen what our Holy Father has accomplished? In our battle for America, we have no better guide than Lincoln, who found a way not just to free the slaves but to free America from the belief in slavery.

It is hard to foresee who will be our Lincoln and rid us of our reliance on abortion and euthanasia. It may not be a single man but a coalition of many who are not afraid of confronting this judicially generated idol called the autonomous individual.

The readers of Crisis represent only a portion of millions who will undoubtedly do what has to be done if they have something concrete to do.

Think with us, pray with us, as we consider our course of action toward the new emancipation of life.

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