Those who have been following Chest magazine since its inception are probably familiar with the famous quote from C.S. Lewis that served as its inspiration and namesake:
“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 be fruitful” – C.S. Lewis
(You can find more about the creation and vision of Chest Magazine in this Letter from the Editors here.)
This quote from Lewis is the closing of the first chapter of his book The Abolition of Man. Lewis is considered by many to be the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century, but unlike his other signature works such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory, and Miracles, The Abolition of Man is not a work of Christian apologetics, but of philosophy. He is not making a defense of Christianity in Abolition, although much of his later writing on Christianity hinges on his central thesis in this book (e.g. the first chapter of Mere Christianity “The Law of Human Nature” makes the argument that the existence of objective moral values requires the existence of a just, moral God). Lewis states outright, “though I am myself a theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any even indirect argument for theism.”  At its core, Abolition is a defense of the objectivity of moral and aesthetic value and the Natural Law. The book is not merely making a defense of this worldview but also serves as a warning. Lewis claims that if we do not recognize the objectivity of value and instead adopt a subjectivist position, we will destroy ourselves as the human species and mankind will be abolished.
Although it is quite short, Abolition is among Lewis’ most rigorous philosophical works to the point where many readers find it quite impenetrable. It originated from a series of three lectures Lewis gave at the University of Durham in England in 1943 and is widely held among Lewis scholars to be his most important work and the philosophy that undergirds much of his later writing. As such it is certainly a book worth paying attention to and a worthy piece of literature to serve as the inspiration for a magazine devoted to promoting masculine excellence, virtue, value, and aesthetics, especially in light of a modern world that seeks to subvert any notion of objective standards. In a time when attempts to “redefine” masculine virtue have never been more profuse, The Abolition of Man is even more critical now than it was when it was first published almost 80 years ago.
In this essay, I will be walking through the main argument Lewis presents in The Abolition of Man and as well as discussing why the ideas and prophecy he presents in this work are still important for us as modern people.
Men Without Chests
The Abolition begins with Lewis’ critique of an upper form English school textbook The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing, which he gives the pseudonym “The Green Book.” To avoid personally attacking the authors of The Green Book, Lewis chooses to keep the authors’ names unrevealed and instead refers to them as “Gaius” and “Titius.” Lewis selects a passage from The Green Book that is a reflection of “the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall,” where he (Coleridge) describes a waterfall as “sublime.”
Gaius and Titius write:
“When the man said ‘This is sublime,’ he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall … Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really ‘I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime,”’ or shortly, ‘I have sublime feelings’…. This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.’” 
Lewis, perturbed by the blatant attempt to smuggle an argument for subjectivism into a textbook about writing, proceeds to disassemble Gaius and Tituis’ position. According to Lewis, “until quite modern times, all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it — believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval, disapproval, our reverence, or out contempt.”  Lewis argues that our sentiments are not merely subjective feelings or statements of our emotional reaction, but that they can be more or less justified. He says that certain sentiments can be merited basis on their adherence to an objective standard. When Coleridge describes the waterfall as “sublime”, the waterfall merits those emotions based on some objective criteria. Lewis calls this a ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ sentiment, and it is a key concept in Abolition. By it, he means “emotions conforming to Reason”, and he goes on to say, “the heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”  It is Lewis’ view that sentiments are real but may be judged as good or bad depending on how well they conform to Reason.
Lewis is not merely providing a critique of the modern English education system by criticizing an elementary textbook and the effect it will have on students. He is making a greater point about the increasingly pervasive philosophy of the West — the philosophy of subjective value and anti-sentimentality. This philosophy is still thriving today.
In this sense, “men without chests,” according to Lewis, are those men who do not possess any notion of right sentiments but rather allow either their intellect (their head) or their primal nature (their stomach/genitals) to control them. Lewis is not proposing that all value judgments ought to be made with appeals to emotions, but that Reason should inform our sentiments. He goes on to say that value understood only through reason turns man into pure spirit, and value understood only through instinct turns man into a beast. Lewis states:
“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, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment — these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral 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.” 
Lewis is referring here to Plato’s theory of the tripartite soul. In The Republic, Plato presents a theory that the soul consists of three parts (reason, spirit, and appetite) and that each part of the soul is located in a particular part of the body that is responsible for its function.
The three parts of the Platonic soul are:
The Logistikon (from Logos) located in the head, is the part of the soul responsible for logic, thought, and reason/rationality.
The Thymoeides (from Thymos or Thumos) located in the chest, is related to spiritedness and is what allows one to feel strong emotions and sentiments.
The Epithymetikon (from Eros) located in the stomach, is the appetitive part of the soul and is related to one’s desires.
Plato’s theory of the soul is exactly what Lewis is indicating when he says, “the head rules the belly through the chest.” Our ability to understand noble sentiments, our spiritedness or thumos is, according to Lewis, the very thing that makes us human. It is the bridge that connects the soul and the body and connects reason and our appetites. Because our thumos or ‘chest’ involves our rationality, our sentiments can be reasonable and we can truly say we ought to feel a certain way about certain things. This is the manner in which we judge sentiments as right or wrong and how we should or should not feel. If we abandon our thumos, if we do not possess a chest with which to conform our emotions to Reason, we will devolve into a purely primal or purely intellectual creature and our humanity will be undone. Those without the trunk that regulates the appetitive and intellectual man are what Lewis means by “men without chests”. Should we create these men without chests — men without spirit or right sentiments, men who do not allow their intellect to rule their appetites through their right sentiments — we will become nothing more than “trousered apes” and “urban blockheads” and as such will cease to be human.
Lewis’ critique of Gaius and Titius and The Green Book goes well beyond a pedantic philosophical argument amongst academics. Lewis is saying plainly that men without chests are the only type of men the philosophy of Gaius and Titius can produce. If we as human persons continue to adhere to the subjectivist philosophy of The Green Book, we will, in effect, abolish our humanity.
Throughout the entirety of the first chapter Lewis’ central thesis is based on what he calls “the doctrine of objective value,” and by that, he means, “the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of things the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Lewis calls this doctrine the Tao — a Chinese term from Confucian philosophy that means “the Way.” Although he was a thinker from the Western intellectual tradition, he chose terminology from Eastern philosophy to emphasize the universality of the doctrine of objective value, thereby prophylactically defending against any accusation that it was subjective Western thought.
Lewis rightfully argues for one to “debunk” the Tao, they must first accept the existence of objective values, otherwise they have no grounds upon which to object to them. Lewis writes, “however subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all.”  Lewis is pointing out their hypocrisy. Those who oppose the Tao must hold that it is objectively good to do so, otherwise, they have no moral reasoning to justify it. But to hold that it is objectively good to oppose the doctrine of objective value (the Tao) is itself a position that relies on said doctrine. Essentially, those who oppose the Tao argue for the subjectivity of value while holding that the value of subjectivism is objectively good. This is “self-contradiction” Lewis explains, and a devastating blow to the argument Gaius and Titius are making. From this point, Lewis argues that the philosophy of The Green Book forces those who oppose the Tao to restrict themselves only to the debunking of those right sentiments, for any attempt to establish their own sentiments would also fall prey to their own philosophy. Lewis, therefore, shows that it is fundamentally impossible to be a consistent moral subjectivist.
Having removed any ability for Gaius and Titius to establish the objective value of subjectivism, Lewis proposes there must only remain some natural or ‘biological’ basis for morality that does not rely on sentimentality. This is a common line of argumentation for those who reject objective morality but Lewis demonstrates why even this is an untenable position to hold. He says:
“Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. 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…. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment.” 
Virtues such as courage, honor, and loyalty cannot be justified through purely rational or purely biological grounds. These values (that are universally held) can only be justified through proper sentiments. Lewis goes on to say in the matter of practical principles:
“Gaius and Titius, regard them as sentiments: but then you must give up contrasting ‘real’ or ‘rational’ value with sentimental value. All value will be sentimental; and you must confess (on pain of abandoning every value) that all sentiment is not ‘merely’
subjective. You may, on the other hand, regard them as rational — nay as rationality itself — as things so obviously reasonable that they neither demand nor admit proof.” 
This thought brings Lewis to his final chapter and lecture in the Abolition where he entertains the idea that it is quite possible to remain logically consistent if you are willing to “reject the concept of value altogether.”  Although even Gaius and Titius do not argue for this in The Green Book, it is nonetheless the only coherent position to hold as a result of their reasoning.
The Abolition of Man
Having shown the absurdity of what follows from Gauis and Titituis’ line of reasoning, Lewis prophesied what will come to pass if we as a species continue to reject the Tao and reject any idea of value altogether. He foresees a world in which a select few men will oversee what he refers to as “Man’s conquest over Nature” by which men, motivated only by their own subjective desires and through “propaganda based on perfect applied psychology”, will carry out the abolition of humanity. As Lewis says, “when all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”  When all objective value and all sentiment is removed, all that remains are man’s natural appetites, unchecked and unguided by the Tao. The only result of this, Lewis says is:
“Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgments of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education. The conditioners have been emancipated from all that. It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered.” 
He holds that “Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man….For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”  This Conquest of Nature can only result in a fight for some men to gain power over others. By having surrendered their rationality and any notion of just sentiments, those in control will have ceased to be recognizably human, and those who are controlled will be nothing more than mere animals being led by malevolent shepherds.
This, according to Lewis, is the destiny of humanity should we continue to reject the Tao and embrace subjectivism. It is a future he brought to life later in his novel That Hideous Strength which depicts England taken over by a totalitarian regime that wields its power without being restrained by any assumption of morality. As time goes on and the education of our children is more and more tainted by the philosophy of The Green Book, it seems we are slowly but surely approaching a time where our reality is indistinguishable from Lewis’ dystopian fiction where the abolition of man is complete.
The Legacy of Abolition
Given the prophetic nature of The Abolition of Man, it is only natural to wonder if Lewis’ prediction about the abolishment of mankind had any merit. While some may still question Lewis’ prediction, I think the verdict is out. While I certainly do not think mankind has been abolished, it seems clear that we have continued to move steadily along that trajectory since Abolition was published in 1943. In 2016, Oxford (Lewis’ own university) chose the word “post-truth” as its Word of the Year defining post-truth as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  The cultural shift towards rejecting objective value shows that we have indeed learned nothing since the time of Lewis. Should he still be alive, I believe he would not only still support his original hypothesis but would speak to its validity with even greater urgency. When the definitions of words are constantly being changed to shape a subjective reality, it is clear there is no universally accepted sense of meaning and objectivity. If we cannot establish an objective standard upon which to judge the value and meaning of our language what possible hope do we have in establishing an objective standard upon which to judge the value and meaning of life, beauty, morality, and virtue? It seems that save for a select few men who still follow the Tao, the philosophy of Gaius and Titius has taken hold and produced a world filled with men without chests, who laugh at honor and betray their own humanity.
The Abolition of Man is a book that continues to grow in importance and one that all men should pay attention to. Lewis’ prognosis of the abolishment of humanity is sure to come to pass if the post-truth pedagogy of our modern world persists.
1. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, p. 49.
2. Ibid, p. 2.
3. Ibid, p. 21.
4. Ibid, p. 19.
5. Ibid, p. 24.
6. Plato. Plato’s The Republic, Book IV, part 5.
7. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, p. 11.
8. Ibid, p. 27.
9. Ibid, p. 24.
10. Ibid, p. 40.
11. Ibid, p. 51.
12. Ibid, p. 61.
13. Ibid, p. 59.