John Cleese, Benjamin Franklin, CS Lewis and Extremism

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Hattip to co-blogger Darwin Catholic.  John Cleese, one of the brighter lights of Monty Python, warns us of the dangers of extremism.  Well, thank God for moderates!  Not so fast.  Benjamin Franklin reminds us that there are extreme moderates:

One thing I attempt to keep in mind, with very mixed success, when engaging in conflict with others over some subject, political or otherwise, is that few people think they are deliberately supporting evil.  Most people think they are attempting to make the world a better place.  Frequently this view is at odds with reality, but the view is often honestly held nonetheless.  CS Lewis put it well in The Screwtape Letters:


Let us therefore think rather how to use, than how to enjoy, this European war. For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

Let us ever be extreme in defense of truth and justice as we perceive them, but let us also ever attempt to be moderate in our treatment of those who disagree with us.


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  1. John Cleese, Ben Franklin, C.S. Lewis and the idea of extreme moderation:
    There’s something in this at the end of the day, after the great initial morning amusement of the three pieces. I would like the sound of saying that I am a Moderate and have that political affiliation – as John Cleese(!) said moderates are on the end of both sides, wise old Ben Franklin called himself an extreme one (was that after the electricity?), and Screwtape railed at diversion to values higher than the self. America could have candidates for election appealing to Moderates for whom truth, justice, prudent fiscal management, and virtues (value of ideas beyond civilized rhetoric) exceed agendas of special interests.

  2. These days, moderation as a political philosophy isn’t going to work in our society. What we call “conservatism” and “liberalism” prescind from views of human nature that involve radically differing assumptions and are mutually incompatible. Trying to build a “moderate” political philosophy is like trying to construct a building using two different floorplans. You might end up with a building, but it’s not likely to be very stable nor very useful.

  3. You raise a good point, Jonathan. The liberal and conservative labels are just that; labels. I’m reminded here of how words don’t really have fixed meanings. And the meanings ascribed to them change, too. I prefer to think in terms of biblical categories. One question I might ask is “What ought we to do in light of Scripture?” Or “What would Jesus do?” assuming we of course take into account our place within the narrative of God.

  4. Incidentally, I’d like to raise another idea that Lewis bequethed. The “eternal now” which he used ot describe God’s vantage point in relation to us. Lewis spoke of God as beyond time. It’s as though everything is simultaneous to him. That ought to be of great assistance to those who’ve spent their time problematizing the paradox of God’s sovereignty and our free-will. I would recommend Dr. Richard Land to anyone who’s interested in that application.

  5. 8/18 11:40 – “These days, moderation as a political philosophy isn’t going to work in our society. What we call “conservatism” and “liberalism” prescind from views of human nature that involve radically differing assumptions and are mutually incompatible.”

    Politics have pretty well brought our society beyond the realm of possibilities for moderate activity due to prescinding. How many zeroes in trillion? How can politicians redefine life and God’s place in ours? Moderate charity and moderate virtue led to this outrageous state of affairs, not moderate lawmakers. I guess I was impressed by the graphics of moderates (having a common outlook set apart from the caricatures) in the John Cleese clip, and especially by Ben Franklin happily proclaiming himself an extreme moderate at the time to the ‘boys’ from Massachusetts for what they accomplished.

    A return to being a civilization enriched by holy values, rather than impoverished by outlawing them is due. Extremely civilized debating in government circles minus the bad joking could accomplish something for this nation.

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