Willing Slaves of the Welfare State
by C.S. Lewis
From "Willing Slaves of the Welfare State" (1958) in <i>Timeless at
Heart</i> by C.S. Lewis:
... "Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the
slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to the
"As a result, classical political theory with its Stoical,
Christian and juristic key conceptions (natural law, the value of
the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern state
exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us
good--anyway, to do something to us or to make us do something.
Hence the new name "leaders" for those who were once "rulers."
We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic
animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them,
'Mind your own business.' Our whole lives \are\ their business.
"I write 'they' because it seems childish not to recognize
that actual government is and always must be oligarchical. Our
effective masters must be more than one and fewer than all ...
"I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he
has 'the freeborn mind.' But I doubt whether he can have this
without economic independence, which the new society is
abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not
controlled by the Government; and in adult life it is the man
who needs, and asks, nothing of the Government who can criticize
its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne;
that's the voice of a man with his legs under his own table,
eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will
talk like that when the State is everyone's schoolmaster and
"Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim
to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered,
mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely
on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians
proper become merely the scientists' puppets. Technocracy is
the form to which planned society must tend. Now I dread
specialists in power because they are specialists speaking
outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about the
sciences. ... Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do
so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no
more a question for him than for any other man.
"Thirdly, I do not like the pretensions of Government--the
grounds on which it demands my obedience -- to be pitched too
high. I don't like the medicine man's magical pretensions nor
the Bourbon's Divine Right. ... I believe in God, but I detest
theocracy. For every Government consists of mere men and is,
strictly viewed, a makkeshift; if it adds to its commands, 'Thus
saith the Lord,' it lies, and lies dangerously.
"On just the same ground I dread government in the name of
science. That is how tyrannies come in. In every age the men
who want us under their thumb, if they have any sense, will put
forward the particular pretension which the hopes and fears of
that age render most potent. They "cash in." It has been magic,
it has been Christianity. Now it will certainly be science.
Perhaps the real scientists may not think much of the tyrants'
'science' -- they didn't think much of Hitler's racial theories
or Stalin's biology. But they can be muzzled.
..."We have on the one hand a desperate need: hunger,
sickness and the dread of war. We have, on the other, the
conception of something that might meet it: omnicompetent global
technocracy. Are not these the ideal opportunity for
enslavement? This is how it has entered before: a desperate need
(real or apparent) in the one party, a power (real or apparent)
to relieve it, in the other. In the ancient world individuals
have sold themselves as slaves in order to eat. So in society.
Here is a witch-doctor who can save us from the sorcerers -- a
war-lord who can save us from the barbarians -- a Church that can
save us from Hell. Give them what they ask, give ourselves to
them bound and blindfold, if only they will!
..."All of this threatens us even if the form of society
which our needs point to should prove an unparalleled success.
But is that certain? What assurance have we that our masters
will or can keep the promise which induced us to sell ourselves?
... All that can really happen is that some men will take
charge of the destiny of the others. They will be simply men;
none perfect; some greedy, cruel, and dishonest. The more
completely we are planned the more powerful they will be. Have
we discovered some new reason why, this time, power should not
corrupt as it has done before?"