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C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength” is Making the Rounds Again

NYT columnist Ross Douthat offers his two cents on the dystopian classic

Just last week, Mind Matters editor Peter Biles wrote about That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, a dystopian novel about a fearsome technocracy trying to conquer humanity. New York Times also wanted in on the fun, too, apparently. Ross Douthat, the conservative voice of the Times’ opinion column, published his latest essay on Lewis’s harrowing tale, and examined its modern pertinence. Douthat acknowledges the possibility of a mega-powerful technocracy, but notes how Lewis believed that on the outside, such an organization may look like the face of progress and humanitarianism. Douthat writes,

Crucially, almost nobody in Lewis’s invented organization has any idea that in the inner ring they’re contacting the dark powers. Most people think they’re working for humanitarianism and progress; an inner layer has fewer illusions about the authoritarian nature of the project, but even once you get close to the center, there are still layers of delusion and denial about what’s really going on.

-Ross Douthat, Opinion | This C.S. Lewis Novel Helps Explain the Weirdness of 2023 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

In short, it would take something of a conspiracy theorist to say that really the technocrats are making a deal with the devil, trying to infuse their technological inventions with supernatural energy. Douthat continues,

I’m a defender of conspiracy theorizing as a legitimate form of speculation — because conspiracies and weird secrets really are part of the fabric of existence, official knowledge only goes so far, and if you leave certain kinds of speculation to the paranoid, you’ll be constantly surprised when it turns out they were on to something. But a typical folly of conspiracists is to leap from a weird pattern (which the U.F.O. phenomenon certainly presents) or a scattering of bizarre details to a scenario that requires everyone to be in on the secret, at least aware of the mind-blowing truth if not participating in the plot.

That’s where “That Hideous Strength” feels especially realistic (as fairy tales go), postulating a truly outlandish situation, a literal pact with the devil at the highest reaches of the technocracy, but at the same time a mechanism whereby the larger system remains defiantly bland and normal-seeming, and only a crazy person would ever think there’s anything hidden at the heart.

In Lewis’s dystopia, many people will unwittingly aid “that hideous strength” while believing they’re on the side of progress. Not everyone will be in on the secret. Only the few top dogs, crazed with the lust for unlimited power, will know what’s really going on, unless someone crazy enough to speculate might just uncover the truth.

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C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength” is Making the Rounds Again