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HomeCOVID-19The man who saw this power grab coming – 75 years ago

The man who saw this power grab coming – 75 years ago


THE Christian apologist C S Lewis’s 1945 novel, That Hideous Strength, would seem to have been more prophetic of the ‘health and safety’ regime now in charge of Britain than George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel, 1984, with its all-embracing totalitarian rule.

Lewis’s book portrays a utopian organisation called the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments (NICE), which aims to take over the country by setting up, with its own police force, a parallel authority to the democratic government. The NICE engineers a riot in the university town of Edgestow where Mark Studdock is a junior sociology academic and uses this as a pretext for a power grab.

Two passages should suffice to show how prophetic Lewis’s novel was. Studdock, whom the NICE has recruited to promote its propaganda in the press, goes to a pub (a deviation that even Lewis could not have predicted from one facet of the present lockdown regime) in a village near Edgestow. He overhears the conversation between the drinkers:

‘They tell me there were two hundred arrests yesterday,’ said the landlord. ‘Ah,’ said the young man. ‘They’re hard cases, those NICE police. They put the wind up my old Dad proper, I tell `ee.’ He ended with a laugh . . . What struck Mark deeply was the almost complete absence of indignation among the speakers . . . ‘It says in this morning’s papers that things are pretty well settling down,’ said the landlord. ‘There’ll always be some who get awkward,’ said the potato-faced man. ‘What’s the good of getting awkward?’ asked another, ‘it’s got to go on. You can’t stop it.’ ‘That’s right,’ agreed the others. ‘That’s what I say,’ said the landlord. Fragments of articles which Mark himself had written drifted to and fro. Apparently he and his kind had done their work well.

Studdock then returns to Edgestow, which has been overrun by the NICE police:

‘The whole town wore a new expression. One house out of three was empty. About half the shops had their windows boarded up. As he gained height and came into the region of large villas with gardens, he noticed that many of these had been requisitioned and bore white placards with the NICE symbol – a muscular man grasping a thunderbolt. At every corner, and often in between, lounged and sauntered the NICE police, helmeted, swinging their clubs . . . There were also notices everywhere which he did not stop to read: they were headed Emergency Regulations.’

The novel fictionalised ideas which Lewis had presented in his 1943 philosophical book, The Abolition of Man. In this work, Lewis described the dehumanising result of replacing God’s transcendent truth with the ideology of secularist educators claiming scientific infallibility.

He wrote: ‘For the power of Man to make himself as he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please . . . The man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.’

Does this ring a bell?

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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