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C.S. Lewis

From 1898
 to 1963

One of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis was a respected scholar and teacher at Oxford University for 29 years and then a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University to the end of his career. An atheist throughout his early life, he adopted theism in 1929 and converted to Christianity in 1931. Although a talented debater and writer-Lewis wrote many fictional, didactic, and devotional works in addition to his sizable academic production-he is not known as a political commentator. He avoided partisan commitments; indeed, he turned down a title offered him by Winston Churchill, thinking his critics would use it to accuse him of being an anti-Leftist propagandist.

In spite of his indifference to politics as such, he did often give prescient analysis of a variety of political topics. One example is Lewis' sharp criticism of what he termed “the omnicompetent state,” that is, the modern welfare state that promises a universal curative for society's ills. He saw it as antithetical to human freedom and the institutions that preserve it, and instead favored a regime of limited government. He was suspicious of technological advancement, but only because he thought that technology in the hands of the omnicompetent state would result in widespread, all-pervasive tyranny. He noted that the lure of the welfare state is understandable in the face of seemingly limitless human suffering, yet he exhorted his readers to be wary of the purveyors of utopian dreams. He instead promoted the good actions of individual Christian citizens engaging the challenge of living in a fallen and dark world, stating that “the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.”

Sources: “Politics from the Shadowlands,” Policy Review, Spring 1994 by John G. West, Jr., God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper (Eerdmans, 1970), and The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1947).