C.S. Lewis on Anscombe, France, and Meritocracy

Saturday, June 5, AD 2010

Perusing the local used bookstore last weekend, I came across a copy of the Third Volume of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. On the whole (or, rather, through the first hundred pages or so), they make an enjoyable light read, at least for Lewis fans. He is always readable and often insightful. Moreover, the letters offer an interesting window into life in mid-twentieth century England. It’s rather striking that six years after the end of the Second World War, common items like envelopes and certain foods were still either rationed or unavailable (many of the letters are expressions of thanks to sympathetic American friends who have sent Lewis one package or another). Here, in no particular order, are a few passages I found either amusing or interesting:

Writing to a U.S. Friend About the Korean War

“Seriously, though, we all sympathize with you in the position into which you have been forced; it’s all very well to call it a UNO war, but so far as I can gather, it is a USA war. Have you noticed the French contribution? One gunboat!”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose….

On Inviting Elizabeth Anscombe to Present a Paper on the Topic Why I Believe in God

I should press hard for (the paper).  The lady is quite right to refute what she thinks are bad theistic arguments, but does this not almost oblige her as a Christian to find good ones in their place: having obliterated me as an Apologist ought she not to succeed me.” (emphasis in the original)

For background on Lewis and Anscombe, see here.

On Education and Meritocracy

“But there is something about this endless examining, quite apart from the labour, which bothers me. It sets me wondering about the whole system under which you, as well as we, now live. Behind all these closely written sheets which I have to read every year, even behind the worst of them, lie hours of hard, long work. Even the bad candidates are doing their best and have been trained up to this ever since they went to school. And naturally enough: for in the Democracies now, as formerly in China under the mandarin system, success in competitive examinations is the only moyen de parevenir, the road from elementary school to the better schools, and thence to college, and thence to the professions. (You still have a flourishing alternative route to desirable jobs through business which is largely disappearing with us; but it is at least equally competitive).

This of course is what Democratic education means – give them all an equal start and let the winners show their form. Hence Equality of Opportunity in practice means ruthless Competition during those very years which, I can’t help feeling, nature meant to be free and frolicsome. Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it; and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health?”


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