by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
Today theaters around the world will start featuring a movie based on the life of C.S. Lewis, “The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis.” Lewis is known for his beloved Chronicles of Narnia series, his Christian apologetics, his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, and his many other works. In my most recent piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, I discuss a little-known poem by Lewis and the warning it offers for our times. It’s called “‘Till Tireless Propaganda Tames’: C.S. Lewis’ Prescient Warning.”
The column opens with examples of advocates of state coercion — from local newspaper editors to Pres. Joe Biden — trying to defame actual freedom in people’s minds. Then I write:
Such denigration and acidic vituperation of freedom — what Americans have normally referred to and understood as freedom — reminds me of an obscure C.S. Lewis poem, “The Prudent Jailer.” The poem originated not in political allegory, but as a critique of unimaginative literary criticism. Notwithstanding, the Jailer is a diabolical figure, and his prudence is this: he imprisons with words, not walls.
Going through the poem and more examples of statists redefining freedom (as well as a brief diversion into the work of Johnny Cash), I write:
Statists peddling mandates as freedom would give the subservient a day pass “to be human again,” call it “freedom,” and denigrate actual freedom should anyone remember the normal normal. Lewis foresaw this:
And if old freedom in our glance
Betrays itself, he calls it names
‘Dope’-‘Wishful thinking’-or ‘Romance’,
Till tireless propaganda tames.
Our Jailer well knows the weakness of our “blind wall:” remembering we are free. He must therefore constantly defame our “old freedom” with “tireless propaganda.” Can enough of us defy being tamed by this relentless onslaught? If so, how?
The answer is in Lewis’ final stanza.
Read on to find out Lewis’ answer.