C. S. Lewis and America's Health Care Debate

Article excerpt

This essay questions the assumption that C. S. Lewis should be considered an advocate of social conservatism with reference to the political scene of the United States in 2012. It begins with a brief survey of Lewis's political thought, before examining in detail his comments on the National Health Service as part of the post-Second World War Welfare State. When his correspondence is considered, Lewis is found to endorse without expressed reservation the single payer plan of the NHS and to recommend its adoption outside Britain. The essay concludes with a challenge to both liberals and conservatives to adopt in the style of Lewis a manner of discussion which might restore civility in political discussion, at least between Lewis's appreciative readers.

It is a commonplace among readers of C. S. Lewis that his generally conservative theology is matched by a generally conservative social ethic. Socially conservative voters frequently assume Lewis would endorse their politics. When Barbara Walters asked resigned Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin about her reading, Palin replied, "I read a lot of C. S. Lewis when I want some divine inspiration."1 No one was surprised. This essay questions the easy assumption that Lewis's political views would be consistent with contemporary American social conservatism by examining Lewis's expressed statements concerning the currently volatile issue of the role of government in the provision of health care services. Following a brief survey of eight salient features of Lewis's political thinking, this essay looks closely at Lewis's views on the issue of national health care policy in light of the American political scene in 2012. It asks in an open-ended way "How would C. S. Lewis vote?" if health care were the deciding issue. Finally, the essay briefly explores in the spirit of Lewis the way political discussion itself might reflect the values his readers claim to hold.

Lewis was a towering figure in twentieth-century life, publishing nearly forty books and numerous essays. In addition to more than ten books in his professional field of literary history and criticism, he published poetry, popular theology, science fiction, and a novel. His incomplete translation of Virgil's Aeneid was released in 2011. Most famously, he is the author of the Chronicles of ? arnia, a series of seven fantasies written as stories for children, but which command a large adult audience as well. Much of his extant personal correspondence has been collected into three volumes that are over three thousand pages in length. Fifty years after his death, nearly all of his major works are still in print. His annual worldwide sales are in excess of one million copies. Literally hundreds of books have been written about him, his thought, and his specific works. Lewis continues to have tremendous appeal across the religious spectrum. His notion of a "mere Christianity" which coalesces around a core of unspecified common doctrine that unites all Christians has been especially popular among evangelicals, who also appreciate his thoroughgoing supernaturalism.2 Christian History and Biography, a companion journal to the evangelical monthly magazine Christianity Today, devoted an entire issue to Lewis.3 Roman Catholics frequently remark on how Lewis adopted their theological positions on such questions as Purgatory and prayers for the dead.4 To a lesser extent, he has a readership among the Anglican Communion of which he was a part. Perhaps because the intra-Anglican disputes in which he participated (he opposed both Prayer Book reform5 and the ordination of women,6 and he was openly disdainful of theological liberals) were eventually decided against his position, his theological books have fallen out of favor. Furthermore, important conservative evangelical Anglican theologians such as N. T. Wright, writing on the historical Jesus, a theological topic Lewis thought absolutely unworthy of consideration, have warned that Lewis's theology is at points woefully problematic. …