Mid-twentieth-century C. S. Lewis witnessed and wrote about the increasing moral breakdown and intellectual decay of Western civilization. He observed how secular and atheistic academics, philosophers, politicians, intellectuals, and cultural elites abandoned reason, denied universal truths, undermined Christian doctrines, and rejected moral principles that formed the foundation of civilized society. "Lewis walked our cultural ground," explained Chris R. Armstrong. "He lived, as we do, in a society that denied objective value; lacked a coherent social ethic; wallowed in instant gratification, sexual license, moral evasion, and blame-shifting; and failed to pass on a moral framework to its children."
In his book The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned that moral relativism (the denial of universal and objective moral truths and principles), foolish emotionalism, and the rejection of reason would bring about cultural decay and growing depravity. When societies fail to teach morality and train the hearts of men to embrace and emulate virtuous behavior, they produce "Men without Chests," individuals who are intelligent but behave like animals – men who don't practice the virtues and are controlled by their appetites. Such men will lose their humanity, prophesied Lewis; they will no longer be human.
Many decades have passed since Lewis wrote his book, and things have gotten much worse. While mainstream secular society still maintains that honor, ethics, and integrity matter, it has increasingly attacked, silenced, or destroyed those institutions and organizations that used to teach moral principles and universal truths that instilled honor and character into men's hearts and souls.
Not only has our modern educational establishment fully embraced moral relativism, but now other political and cultural institutions, including so-called progressive "Christian" churches and organizations, have followed suit. As Lewis predicted, rampant carnality and decadence have increased exponentially as a result. We're witnessing an explosion of sinful and immoral behavior of epidemic proportions. Corruption, violence, mental illness, hypocrisy, wickedness, greed, addiction, promiscuity, sexual depravity, and other vices have become commonplace and affect ever larger segments of our society.
Worse still, a lot of "Men without Chests" are now in positions of power, influence, and authority in our society. They are in charge of many public and private institutions. Moral relativists and characterless individuals now serve in Congress and other branches of government, control the mainstream media, lead corporations and organizations, are in charge of public schools, run colleges and universities, and dominate most other public institutions. Some even head religious and non-profit organizations.
Why is Lewis still relevant today? Because he saw the early stages of the moral collapse, societal chaos, and cultural decay we're all now experiencing full force. Inevitable destruction awaits all societies that reject universal moral principles, deny the existence of objective reality, and silence and punish those who teach and speak the truth.
Thankfully, Lewis also provided the solution. Men must return to God, follow His moral principles, seek the truth, and lead virtuous lives. His wisdom is as useful and applicable today as it was back then.
Hopefully it's not too late for us to learn from Lewis and avoid certain catastrophe. After all, we are so much more than intelligent animals. We were created by God with minds that reason and can discern truth, with consciences that judge and souls that search for eternal meaning, desire the divine, and seek the Lord, Creator, and Savior of everything visible and invisible.
Read below how Lewis explained the dangers and effects of moral relativism to and on man's character and civilization as a whole. To optimize readability, I've taken the liberty to break up his large paragraphs into smaller ones, make minor cosmetic edits, and provide brief notes and modern synonyms for words that aren't in common use today. Great care has been taken to preserve the exact wording and original meaning of the author.
It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that "a gentleman does not cheat," than against an irreproachable [impeccable] moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers [card-playing swindlers].
In battle it is not syllogisms [deductive reasoning] that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism … about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the "spirited element." The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity [generosity of spirit], of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.
The Chest – Magnanimity – Sentiment – these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral [animal] man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.
The operation of The Green Book [book that promotes relativism] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken as Intellectuals. This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence. It is not so.
They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour [passion] to pursue her. Indeed it would be strange if they were: a persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment... It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
And all the time – such is the tragi-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more "drive," or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or "creativity." In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings [castrated animals] be fruitful.