The danger of following politics is that you always follow politics. You start to see politics in everything: the subplot of your daughter’s school play, the choice of wine at your neighbor’s party, and even how the grocery clerk greets you. It can happen anytime, even during your child’s bedtime story.
I was recently reading C.S. Lewis’s classic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” to two of my younger children, and something struck me I hadn’t noticed in previous readings. Perhaps the debate between keeping Obamacare or replacing it with Obamacare lite was on my mind. Or perhaps my thoughts still lingered over the 2016 election, in which both major-party candidates advocated for big government to solve society’s problems.
At any rate, near the end of the book Lewis describes Narnia under the rule of the Pevensies: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. It’s a Golden Age, and all is well. So how does Lewis envision the rulers of this ideal society? “And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.”
In other words, the Narnian government was the opposite in almost every aspect to modern forms of government. Let’s look at Lewis’s suggestions for an ideal government, working backwards
1. Leave Ordinary People Alone
They…stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.
It’s hard to even imagine a government today that isn’t controlled by busybodies. Our country was founded on sayings like “Give me liberty or give me death!” but now our leadership’s most impassioned pleas range from “Don’t drink too much soda!” to “Bake that cake, Christian!” Lord Acton may have said “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but the past half-century has proven that any power corrupts absolutely; even the local county dog-catcher wants to tell ordinary people how to live.
Lewis understood that busybodies are the bane of an ideal government. Once in power, bureaucrats quickly set up a division between themselves and the “ordinary people” they govern. History has shown that the temptation for abuse by those bureaucrats is often too great for them to resist.
Yet in Narnia, under kings Peter and Edmund and queens Susan and Lucy, ordinary people get their due and are treated with respect. How exactly are ordinary people respected? By being left alone. The Pevensies, instead of micromanaging their subjects, allow ordinary people to make their own decisions. Yes, you can buy that 32-ounce soda if you want.
Unlike our nanny-state government that nags its citizens constantly about what to do and what not to do, Narnian rulers respected human freedom.
2. Allow Innovative Schooling
They…liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school.
The first order of business for any totalitarian government—or governments that yearn to be so—is to brainwash the citizenry, starting with the children, who are both the easiest and the most important to brainwash. If you control the historical narrative, you control the people. Today we call these brainwashing centers “schools.” If you recoil at the thought of schools as brainwashing centers, congratulations! You’ve been well taught…in school.
True freedom allows families to choose how to educate their children, even if their choice goes against lockstep conformity. That would include homeschooling, unschooling, vocational training, as well as classroom-based schooling. I don’t know why dwarfs and satyrs in particular aren’t suited for classroom education, but I know in our world some children are more suited for it than others. Not everyone should be forced to endure 13 years of one type of education.
3. Avoid Crony Capitalism
They…saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down.
Radical environmentalism for the win! Well, maybe not. First, note that in Narnia, many trees are actually sentient on some level (there are “good trees” and “bad trees”), and even “good trees” are sometimes cut down. In our world environmentalists oppose the cutting down of all our (non-sentient) trees—imagine their outcry if they were sentient. (Unless the trees were Christian, in which case, hand me a chainsaw!). So Lewis is obviously not advocating for an extreme environmentalism.
I think it’s another warning against an overreaching government—in this case, against crony capitalism. Note the qualifier “unnecessarily.” Lewis doesn’t share today’s radical environmentalist view in which humanity serves nature rather than the other way around. Trees can be cut down if it’s necessary. But Lewis does respect creation and believes a well-ordered society does so as well.
The goal of government isn’t to grease the wheels of industry by favoring corporations with perks and bailouts. Just as nature is to serve humanity, so too is industry. While it’s necessary at times to build up industry at the expense of nature, it should be done only when truly needed, and government should not be propping up corporations just to keep stock prices artificially inflated.
4. Keep the Peace
They…kept the peace.
For many, government exists to be the provider of goods and services. Instead of just bread and circuses, the public wants to get bread, health care, birth control, housing, schooling, cell phones, and anything else the cruel world denies them. Governments are only too happy to comply with these wishes, for they know that as the main provider of goods and services, they gain control over the people.
Lewis would recoil at such a warped understanding. Governments exist to allow people to live peaceably. Period. This means they work to prevent actions such as assault, fraud, and theft. They provide an ordered society so people can produce and care for themselves and for each other.
Lewis also wouldn’t endorse the “peacekeeping” as practiced by blue-helmeted United Nations armies. For Lewis, peacekeeping isn’t a euphemism for nation-building, it’s a limited role that allows people to freely flourish on their own or in voluntary communities.
5. Institute Only Necessary Laws
They made good laws.
Lewis may have advocated for limited government, but he was no anarchist. He begins his description of Narnia’s Golden Age by noting that the Pevensies instituted “good laws.” Laws should be few, but they are necessary in a well-ordered society due to fallen human nature. Good laws, as we have seen, should be restricted to keeping the peace by protecting life and property.
Good governments don’t insert themselves into every aspect of life, making themselves arbiters of what we should or should not do each day. A government should be like a baseball umpire: it’s doing a good job if nobody notices it. What government today is so unnoticed?
6. Remember, Good Government Requires Good People
So, should we call Lewis a libertarian? After all, he appears to eschew big government and state control of an individual’s life. Of all modern political philosophies, his depiction of the ideal world of Narnia probably does align most closely to libertarianism. But it’s what’s left unsaid in Lewis’s description, yet permeates the entirety of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” that separates Lewis from most modern libertarians. That’s the role of morality and religion in the ideal society.
Remember that the Pevensies aren’t the true rulers of Narnia. Although they are kings and queens, in a deeper sense they are really only stewards. For the true ruler of Narnia is Aslan, the Great Lion. Without Aslan, Narnia would fall into ruin as it did in the times of the White Witch. A fundamental requirement for Lewis of an ideal nation would be that each person willingly serves the true Emperor Beyond the Sea.
As John Adams said about the American system, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Lewis would agree. In fact, any system of governance only works with a moral and religious people.
We have seen that in our own times. As Americans have become increasingly immoral and irreligious, our government has created more and more laws and regulations. That increase in laws and regulations empowers busybodies who want to control others’ lives, and oppresses ordinary people, leading them to lower their respect for the law.
And the downward cycle continues. But if the people had one like Aslan as the ruler of their hearts, a more Narnian society could emerge.