Screwtape on Envy–I mean, Democracy

Max Mclean in the stage production of Lewis's Book.

Max Mclean in the stage production of Lewis’s Book.

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether ‘democratic behaviour’ means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

“You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of all human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

“The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.” ~ Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Envy is a wicked thing, corrupting the good we have with the false desire for the good that we want. It ruins pleasure, corrodes friendships, and embitters mankind. It attempts to deny merit and value, not by advancing the individual, but by discouraging the excellent. “I’m as good as you” is an attitude that denies the demonstrable falsehood of its premise. I am not as good as everyone else. I do not deserve anything by virtue of my self-belief and my self-stated worth as a democratic citizen. And the sooner I admit this–the sooner, with humility, that I can accept my lot and pursue the goods presented to me–the happier I will be.

 

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