From “The Abolition of Man” to “That Hideous Strength” Part Three: The Innovators and Conditioners


14th Century Illumination of Dante’s Inferno

“He saw clearly that the motives on which most men act, and which they dignify by the names of patriotism or duty to humanity, were mere products of the animal organism, varying according to the behavior pattern of different communities. But he did not yet see what was to be substituted for these irrational motives. On what ground henceforward were actions to be justified or condemned? ‘If one insists on putting the question in those terms,’ said Frost, ‘I think Waddington has given the best answer. Existence is its own justification.'”

The Innovators – The Progressive Element and the N.I.C.E.

The last chapter of Lewis’s Abolition of Man explores a possibility that concerned Lewis greatly, namely, the “the image of infinite unilinear progression” of “a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power.”[1]  He concludes that the increase in power is merely illusory, being in reality the power of the few over the many, even of one generation over all subsequent generations.  Lewis’s top scientist at the N.I.C.E., Filostrato, tells Mark as much when he says, “the power will be confined to a number—a small number—of individual men. Those who are selected for eternal life.”[2]

In the end, even those in power cannot be said to have been freed from Nature’s grip, for in order to exercise control, they must reduce themselves to “creatures of wholly irrational behavior” because “those who stand outside all judgments of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.”[3] Lewis writes, “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”[4]  Power is all that is left when morality is consigned to the obscurity of “heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas.”[5]

It is important to note that, for Lewis, this hunger for power is ultimately anti-Nature, it being “an invitation that beckoned … across the frontiers of human life . . . into something that people had been trying to find since the beginning of the world . . . a touch on that infinitely secret cord which was the real nerve of all history.”[6]  Lewis hears “and you will be like God” ringing down through history, and we hear its discordant notes throughout That Hideous Strength.

This is the lust for power that motivates both the Progressive Element in Bracton College and the N.I.C.E.  Mark notes that the since the Progressive Element had gained power, the meeting of fellows concerning the sale of Bragdon Wood was markedly different than what it would have been in the past. “Claims of sentiment against progress and beauty against utility” were wholly absent.[7]  Those are merely notions derived from the Tao, and these new powers-that-be have “been emancipated from all that.”[8]

The Conditioners – Wither, Frost, and the Macrobes

Lewis warned that these powerful few, now “armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique,” would feel justified in molding human nature to their own ends.[9]  Having stepped outside of the Tao, they will then move on to build a value system from the ground up.  At first, “they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a `duty’ to do it `good’.”[10]

For the Conditioners at the N.I.C.E., this meant a ‘duty’ towards the survival of mankind, even to the point of stretching “the cord that binds [man] to the natural order” to its snapping point.[11]  In the characters of Wither and Frost, Lewis shows that when that cord is stretched that far, they have opened themselves up to becoming tools of intelligences that they call Macrobes, the true “dehumanized conditioners” from The Abolition of Man.[12]

In Frost and Wither, we are taken to the ends of what happens when Man “chooses to treat himself as raw material.”[13]  In The Abolition of Man, Lewis notes that “raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”[14]  The Macrobes turn Wither “into a shapeless ruin” with a face and speech as hollow as the modern conception of space.[15]  Frost is “condensed and sharpened,” heartless as a “definite integral.”[16]  Ransom’s prediction comes true that when “fighting those who serve devils one always has this on one’s side; their Masters hate them as much as they hate us.”[17] When it becomes clear that they have lost, the Masters “break their tools.”[18]


Part One: Gaius and Titius – The Fellows at Bracton College

Part Two:  The Pupils – Jane and Mark and the Abolition of Marriage

Part Four: Why Myth?



[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 90.

[2] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 175.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 78.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 79.

[6] Ibid., 265.

[7]Ibid., 21

[8] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 74.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Ibid., 75.

[11] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 248.

[12] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 84.

[13] Ibid., 69.

[14] Ibid., 84.

[15] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 296.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 314.

[18] Ibid.

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