Propaganda and public relations in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength

Lewis was a merciless satirist of both the academy of which he was a part, and the propaganda which he perceived in “scientific” efforts to remake society.

In Lewis’ That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups, Mark, a young and somewhat hapless academic who longs for prestige and the flattery of inclusion, is offered a job with the Orwellian NICE agency (NICE = National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments).[1]

‘You don’t mean you want me to write up all this?’

‘No. We want you to write it down–to camouflage it. Only for the present, of course. Once the thing gets going we shan’t have to bother about the great heart of the British public. We’ll make the great heart what we want it to be. But in the meantime, it does make a difference how things are put. For instance, if it were even whispered that the NICE wanted powers to experiment on criminals, you’d have all the old women of both sexes up in arms and yapping about humanity. Call it re-education of the mal-adjusted, and you have them all slobbering with delight that the brutal era of retributive punishment has at last come to an end. Odd thing it is–the word “experiment” is unpopular, but not the word “experimental”. You musn’t experiment on children; but offer the dear little kiddies free education in an experimental school attached to the NICE and it’s all correct!’

–          C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 41.

Having been invited “into the club” to perform NICE’s propaganda functions, Mark later objects that educated people won’t fall for such things.

‘Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.’

–          C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 97.

Lewis understood very well the contempt for the non-specialist or non-“scientists” (as Mark and the other sociologists at NICE regard themselves) that too often plagues the learned. Such rank-and-file folk are to be either ignored or manipulated. They certainly aren’t to be engaged, save on terms decided upon by their betters.

Unsurprisingly, Lewis realized that this was ultimately about the naked exercise of power, and not really out of the noble motives which the experts invoke in propaganda or even among themselves.

‘They [those who oppose NICE] can’t win,’ said Mark.

‘We’ll hope not,’ said Lord Feverstone. ‘I think they can’t. That is why it is of such immense importance to each of us to choose the right side. If you try to be neutral you become simply a pawn.’

‘Oh, I haven’t any doubt which is my side,’ said Mark. ‘Hang it all–the preservation of the human race–it’s a pretty rock-bottom obligation.’

‘Well, personally,’ said Feverstone, ‘I’m not indulging in any Busbyisms about that. It’s a little fantastic to base one’s actions on a supposed concern for what’s going to happen millions of years hence; and you must remember that the other side would claim to be preserving humanity, too. Both can be explained psycho-analytically if they take that line. The practical point is that you and I don’t like being pawns, and we do rather like fighting–specially on the winning side.’

–          C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 39.

Perhaps this is why a friend always warns me of what he calls the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not commit sociology, or anything like unto it.” 🙂