Ayn Rand Rants Against CS Lewis

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

CS Lewis

I have always found amusing a fifth rate mind coming up against a first rate mind in a debate and being reduced to muttering imprecations with all the intellectual content of scrawlings on a bathroom wall.  Such was the case when Ayn Rand decided to read CS Lewis’ Abolition of Man and scribbled out her hate in the margins:

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man Ayn Rand’s marginalia
I am considering what the thing called ‘Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scien­tific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.… So in the pre-science age, there was no power of majorities over minorities – and the Middle Ages were a period of love and equality, and the oppres­sion began only in the U.S.A. (!!!) The abysmal bastard!!!
The later a generation comes – the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct – the less power it will have in the forward direction, be­cause its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great plan­ners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future. … It is unbelievable, but this monster literally thinks that to give men new know­ledge is to gain power(!) over them. The cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity!
There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who fol­lows the triumphal car.… So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make them weaker!!!
In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao – a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.… And which brought such great joy, peace, happi­ness and moral stature to men!! (The bastard!)
We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to ‘body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scien­tists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost. This is really an old fool – and nothing more!  



Ad hominem!

And what does he think an abstraction is, that great “advocate of reason”?

Here’s where the Kor­zybski comes out in him


Go here to read the howlingly funny rest.  Rand always assumed that she was one of the great geniuses of all time and that those who disagreed with any belief she held were not only wrong but evil.  In Lewis she encountered a true genius and a man who had great empathy, perhaps especially for those who disagreed with him.  Small wonder that Rand’s bile ranneth over.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. I have to admit that I’ve never, ever, heard of Ayn Rand (I thought it was an a acronym for research and development). Am I missing out on something important?

  2. She was an emigre from Soviet Russia in the twenties. She wrote a series of pot boiler novels: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, etc. She hated the Left and all forms of collectivism. She was a militant atheist and despised Christianity and anything to do with altruism. She founded a cult called Objectivism that basically existed to say “Yes Ma’am!!!” to every syllable that passed from her lips. She has a following among Libertarians in this country which helps explain why they do so pathetically at elections. Whittaker Chambers wrote a devastating review of Atlas Shrugged that basically has her number:

  3. Good follow up commentary from First Things: “She didn’t hate the argument because she thought it was false; she thought it was false because she hated it.”

  4. You forgot one more point, Donald– she doesn’t get decent criticism very often, because she was a threat to some other really nasty folks who have more power. They sneer enough that even those who disagree with Ayn Rand are reluctant to speak up with valid criticism.
    It’s like the inverse of the Crazy Libertarian Effect. (where folks who are sympathetic to rational libertarianism won’t say anything because they know folks will “hear” them saying: “Hi, I’m a barking mad wingnut that will rant for hours at the drop of a hat and want to abolish laws against murder.”)

  5. John Nolan: you really haven’t missed a whole lot. My take on Rand is that she was so horrified by the totalitarianism of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany — where the concepts of “common good” and “shared sacrifice” were twisted into justifications for anything the government felt like doing — that she went totally off the deep end in the other direction, to the point where she insisted there was no such thing as common good and that expecting ANY kind of sacrifice from people was evil.

    Philosophically, she is a good example of the saying that anyone can kick down a barn door but not everyone can build one — she was great at knocking down the pretensions of the 1960s Left (one essay of hers that I like compares the crowds at the Apollo 11 moon launch to the crowds at Woodstock), but not very good at building a coherent philosophy to replace it.

  6. I have never been a fan of CS Lewis. He was a proud man and his theology was twisted. When his wife died he lost his “faith” and blamed God for her death.

    A. R. was a lot like Lewis, she was a proud woman and never had faith in our Heavenly Father.

    Read the CC, V radio, the Bible, and go to mass. After studying the CC and the Bible you will not be happy with the books of CS Lewis

  7. Your interpretation could not be more wrong. CS Lewis was one of the least proud geniuses I have ever read. A healthy intellectual humility suffuses his writings. Lewis did not lose his faith in God after his wife, as demonstrated in his book A Grief Observered which he wrote after the death of his wife.

    “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

  8. After studying the CC and the Bible you will not be happy with the books of CS Lewis.

    You’re wrong, sorry. Not just the folks here, but untold numbers of others are very well studied in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, and go to Mass frequently– yet are happy with the books from Lewis.

    He’s rather famous for being a very Catholic protestant.

    I don’t study the lives of the Inklings enough to know if your claim, but from the summary of the book he wrote after his wife’s death, it’s inaccurate; wrestling with the pain of losing your other half makes people question many things. What matters is that they get the right answers.

  9. “Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”
    CS Lewis’ rationale is excellent, except for the last sentence of the quote. God is the ultimate explanation of everything, but not the proximate explanation. The ultimate in explanation and in being is never broached in logic, mathematics and science, for example, and yet they are the product of valid thought. Much of philosophy does not concern the ultimate in being. Even ethics is almost entirely concerned with proximate details without having to consider the ultimate rationale for ethical behavior. It is strange for Christians to resort to God as a proximate explanation. That is characteristic of Islam. Nevertheless, it is true that I cannot use thought to disbelieve in God. It is not because I cannot believe in thought unless I believe in God. It is because the only adequate concept of God initially arises in the human mind in the course of philosophical inquiry in the judgment that a being must exist outside of our experience whose nature is to exist. One cannot disbelieve in that which is undefined and thereby unidentified.

  10. After Joy died, Lewis was shaken. He questioned the scenario but did not lose his faith. Perhaps it grew stronger as A Grief Observed seems to demonstrate. He came to the conclusion that he knew less than he thought. I would probably say his faith grew stronger as it was taken to anoteh level. The movie Shadowlands portrayed it in a problematic light which could lead the viewer to assume Lewis lost his faith.

  11. Bob Drury

    Miss Anscombe (a Catholic) raised the same objections in her debate with C S Lewis on the first edition of his book, “Miracles.” She published her paper in a collection of papers, “Causality and Time,” in 1981, with an introduction.

    As for Lewis’s revisions following their debate, she remarked, “The argument of the second edition has much to criticize in it, but it certainly does correspond more to the actual depth and difficulty of the questions being discussed. I think we haven’t yet an answer to the question I have quoted from him: ‘What is the connection between grounds and the actual occurrence of the belief?'”

    A very telling remark is “He obviously had imbibed some sort of universal-law determinism about causes.” It was Miss Anscombe’s view that the notions of causality and necessity should be disengaged.

  12. who commented that we shouldn’t listen to C.s. Lewis because, gasp, he was an imperfect, sinful human? Then what perfect human being next to our Lord and our Lady can I read?
    Does C.S. Lewis’s personal problems take away from the brilliance of that first quote in this article?

  13. No, the fact is that Lewis remains a first-rate thinker, and one of the few classic Christian writers. He’ll never go out of fashion! He was too right on too profound a level in too many cases!

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