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Medical Mandates: A Hideous Strength

Drivers wait in line at a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

One recalls C.S. Lewis’ dystopian novel That Hideous Strength, a longtime favorite of mine, where he speaks of “false writings” and “men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries.” Lewis held to an apocalyptic vision of moral and intellectual surrender to the idols of mere self-sufficiency and hedonistic indulgence, of a time characterized by the death of meaning and the weakening of belief in a just and merciful God. “The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus,” the human spirit is being progressively “enclosed,” as he describes it. There is not much of the Rapture here, little indication of the new Jerusalem prophesied in Revelation

David Marshall, also a devoted reader of Lewis, regards the novel as “a profound and prescient vision of institutional evil, of a sort that is all too recognizable in our time…fus[ing] political power, technology, and the occult.” Of course, Lewis was not thinking of a biovirus closing down the planet but of the relentless slide toward totalitarian governance everywhere he looked, especially in the democratic West, much as Yevgeny Zamyatin, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and José Saramago forecast in their signature works. Lewis was more preoccupied with the eclipse of faith, which he saw as undermining the integrity and cohesion of the great Judeo-Christian experiment to establish a system of individual liberty and rule of law, grounded in natural and divine justice. 

The belief in such principles ensured and sustained a viable culture, which was inevitably fragile and always susceptible to the incursion of the “demonic” in one form or another. He would not have been surprised at the current pandemic of lies, political demagoguery, and the recruitment of a public devoid of the moral strength to resist an orthodoxy of deception—the sway of the sons and daughters of the Father of Lies.

For COVID has provided the pretext to inaugurate precisely such a declension as Lewis feared. Our public institutions are engaged in establishing a virtual medical dictatorship mandating masks, lockdowns, contact tracing, curfews, business closures, excessive police powers, and more. And now we have the vaccine passports, predicated on a quasi-theological division between the saved and the damned, or in current terms, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. 

Imposing this distinction upon a malleable citizenry, our authorities proceed cleverly under the sign of a meretricious freedom: the choice is ours. But it is a false choice: accept the vaccines or forfeit all amenities, privileges and charter rights, including access to public and professional life. Take the jab or relinquish your democratic freedoms, as well as the ability to earn a living. It is a “choice” reminiscent of the passage in The Godfather with the offer that you can’t refuse. An authentic choice can only be free, not coerced. Nor can a true choice be incentivized by bribes and favors, a species of “Rectification,” as Lewis puts it, in which goods and privileges are returned to the gratefully complicit. For many accept the official alternative and agree to be “rectified” back into the fold, unaware of what is really at stake. 

It is precisely here, the holistic integrity of the person, where the peril lies. The individual should not only be free to decide on the autonomy of his or her own body, especially when it comes to the injection of potentially hazardous foreign substances that have not been exposed to longitudinal trials, he should also determine to preserve the blessings of political liberty inscribed in the tradition of the West. The failure to do so, and the reluctance to strive for awareness, is what Lewis means by “enclosed,” in other words, a condition of inner vacancy vulnerable to the infiltration of destructive notions and tendencies on which the mind clamps like a mollusk, shutting out the light of truth. 

Indeed, one may regard the material vaccines in another, transposed light as well, that is, as an ideological substance, a mimetic infusion of rancid political ideas and defective cultural vectors of which the mRNA variety is merely a single, though pronounced, chemical instance. Enforced vaccination is merely another part of an autocratic delivery system. In consequence, the risk that a compliant public is ready to undergo is twofold, namely, the risk to the health of the body and the health of our democratic institutions, given the authoritarian seizure of the COVID event to justify the arrogation of collective authority and the assumption of power over both mind and body. 

One thinks of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (NICE) with its Blood Transfusion Office, manipulating a public indifferent to both biology and political history to its own ends—a key passage in That Hideous Strength. As Lewis clairvoyantly understood, surrender to the “demonic” comes easy when a culture loses its moral and spiritual fiber and people are willfully unaware of what is being “offered” to or demanded of them by their doctrinaire and ethically compromised leaders.

If we do not recognize, honor, and preserve the gift we have been given by our forebears of the freedom to speak, think, assemble and worship, and in this particular moment to exercise sovereignty over our bodies and reject the partition of society into two classes of the approved and the condemned, the fate that Lewis foresaw for the West is imminent. As he wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour.” Absent a spiritual awakening and the revival of cultural memory, the hideous strength of a tyrannical dispensation fast approaches.  

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One should note that Lewis is not all gloom and doom. There is a lighter side to his seriousness. Perhaps the most beloved of his books is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and when it comes to his notion of enclosure, Lewis jestingly mentions the warning of his friend Maud Barfield, that children should not lock themselves in closets. Neither, of course, should grown-ups. The door must remain open for a return to the world in which good works need to be done. Like his friend Tolkien, Lewis was a Christian thinker, a fact which underlies all his writings, imaginative and scholarly. His sense that we are living in a once-great now derelict civilization informs everything he has written. And there is little doubt that he would have been an anti-vaxxer.