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Screwtape Proposes a Toast you have never read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, and close friend to J.R.R. Tolkien), then you are missing out. In the book, the arch-demon Screwtape corresponds with his nephew Wormwood, who had recently been appointed his “temptership” on Earth. Lewis, in the voice of Screwtape, writes about the intricacies of sin and temptation, and it is an amazingly insightful work.

After publishing The Screwtape Letters, Lewis wrote an additional piece called “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which Screwtape is giving a lecture before the Tempters’ Training College. (It is often included in current editions of the original book.) A most interesting element of the essay is the indictment of “democracy” itself, or perhaps “the diabolical democratic spirit.” Having been reminded of this essay recently, I felt it would be fun and enlightening to share it with you. I’ve highlighted some significant parts throughout the essay. Enjoy!


(The scene is in Hell at the annual dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for young devils. The principal, Dr. Slubgob, has just proposed the health of the guests. Screwtape, a very experienced devil, who is the guest of honour, rises to reply:)

It is customary on these occasions for the speaker to address himself chiefly to those among you who have just graduated and who will very soon be posted to official Tempterships on Earth. It is a custom I willingly obey. I well remember with what trepidation I awaited my own first appointment. I hope, and believe, that each one of you has the same uneasiness tonight. Your career is before you. Hell expects and demands that it should be — as mine was — one of unbroken success. If it is not, you know what awaits you.

I have no wish to reduce the wholesome and realistic element of terror, the unremitting anxiety, which must act as the lash and spur to your endeavours. How often you will envy the humans their faculty of sleep! Yet at the same time I would wish to put before you a moderately encouraging view of the strategical situation as a whole.

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Cassanova, they were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

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The Person and His Society

By Edmund Opitz, originally published in the January 1981 edition of The Freeman. He is the author of The Libertarian Theology of Freedom and Religion and Capitalism: Allies, Not Enemies. This article is adapted from a lecture delivered at The Center for Constructive Alternatives at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Every Person pursues his individual goals in the context of some society. The norms, customs, habits and fashions of that society seem at times to hinder him, but at the same time they are a sustaining presence. Likewise the laws of his nation. Man is said to be a political animal, in the sense that society is his native habitat. But he’s also a political animal in one further respect; people create governments in their own image. This is obvious in a democratic system.

It is self-evident that the politicians elected to public office are men who embody the consensus. The successful candidates are those who most persuasively promise what voters believe government should deliver; politicians operate on that slippery spectrum bounded, on the one hand, by what voters expect and demand of government, and by what they will put up with from government, on the other. A nation tends to get the government it deserves, in the sense that pressure groups will eventually organize to make wrongful demands upon government, unless the nation’s “aristocracy of virtue and talent” — men with the ability to teach what expectations and demands are legitimate — are heeded.

When educators, philosophers, and men of letters fail to properly nourish the intellect, the conscience and the imagination of significant segments of a society, they betray a sacred trust as teachers of mankind, and in the wake of their defection a secular religiousness becomes the popular faith. Leviathan — the omnipotent State — is the god of this faith. Men serve Leviathan in the confident expectation that he will provide his votaries with ease, comfort, security, and prosperity. The modern world does indeed provide more of these things for more people than earlier periods, but it also exacts a toll in the form of perpetual warfare, social unrest, hardening of the arteries, softening of the brain, and a troubled spirit.

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Narnians Hate the State Too!

David Theroux, Founder and President of the Independent Institute, President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California, and friend of has recently published a three-part series on the political philosophy of C.S. Lewis entitled “C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and Statism.” I highly recommend these articles for your reading (see the links following my synopsis). Lewis, of course, is well-respected among Christians for his excellent stories and compelling explication of theology. Turns out he also favored liberty as a defining characteristic of civilized society. He reaches this conclusion through a consistent application of natural law.
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Classic Essay: Against School

By John Taylor Gatto, originally published in Harpers, September 2003.

How public education cripples our kids, and why

Public School Assembly LineI taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.

Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a teachers’ lounge can vouch for the low energy, the whining, the dispirited attitudes, to be found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you might expect. Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve-year compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children. Who, then, is to blame?

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