The C.S. Lewis Spectator

Screwtape’s Little Sermon

By From the April 2013 issue

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12 April 2013

Reginald Wormwood, Esq.
Wormwood Consulting, Inc.
1600 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20006 

My dear Wormwood,

I received your last letter as I was doing my rounds, going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it, and I confess it gave me pause. I’ve urged you before to look for souls amongst the haters, and you tell me that they’re no longer to be found.

I’m not with it, you tell me. You hint that I’m a little passé. Time for milk biscuits and beddy-byes, you suggest. I am stuck in the glory days of Bush-hatred, when everyone in the media announced the imminence of American fascism in the person of George W. Bush, the torturer-in-chief. During his administration, their antennae bristled at the slightest suggestion of presidential abuses. They were sharply critical of the prison at Guantanamo, renditions of prisoners to unsavory allies, the surveillance programs under the Patriot Act, military tribunals, and interrogation methods such as waterboarding. What this all came down to, reported Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books, was tyranny.

It’s not surprising we so love the haters. They remind us of ourselves: After all, without hatred, where would we be? Milton got that right. While few of them burn with our hard, gem-like flame (though Howard Dean came close), for the run-of-the-mill virtues we prize, there’s nothing I like better than a good hater.

But where are they now, you ask. Since Bush’s time, the question of the president’s war powers has receded from view—this in spite of the fact that few of the Bush-era military policies have been abandoned. When Obama took office, the media celebrated the end of the “war on terror,” but nevertheless Guantanamo remains open, renditions continue, domestic surveillance has increased, military tribunals still try terrorist prisoners, and the inconvenient interrogation techniques have been replaced by a take-no-prisoners policy of drone executions, with the president personally selecting the targets from a deck of terrorist “baseball cards.” Some of the targets are American citizens in countries with which America is not at war. Civilian casualties are kept artificially low by counting all males over 16 in a strike zone as terrorists, though even then women and children are killed. The very term “war on terror” was abandoned, but a declassified Justice Department white paper on the use of drones asserts the legal authority to kill al Qaeda associates even if they are U.S. citizens, and even if they are not engaged in an active plot to harm America. If that’s not a war on terror, nothing is.

Bush-hatred has been replaced by Obama-love, and there’s nothing that will come between today’s progressives and the Adored One. Even a hero from the war against Republicans will be purged the moment he questions the Dear Leader. Bob Woodward co-authored the stories in the Washington Post that brought down Richard Nixon, and he was immortalized by Robert Redford in All the President’s Men. But after saying he had been threatened by an Obama official, he became a non-person, a ridiculous, over-the-hill hack who should retire. Critics practically called for Redford to be digitally excised from the movie, like one of those disgraced commissars who disappeared from the photos of old May Day parades.

My dear boy, I see your point. I’m not entirely blind, you know. I grant you that it’s more of a challenge today, but you just have to know where to look. The full-throated rant, the frothing-at-the-mouth outrage of Code Pink, for example, is sadly a thing of the past, but it’s been replaced by a new set of engaging virtues: hypocrisy, lying, and passive-aggression. And you must work with that.

Decades hence, we’ll remember this time as the age of hypocrisy. Let Bush fight a war on terror, and lights go out all over America, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime. Let Obama personally select targets from a kill list, and it’s ho-hum. The more candid progressives will tell you that Democrats can be trusted to kill the right people, but it’s really just hypocrisy in the end.

There are two kinds of hypocrites: the one who knows he is lying and the one who doesn’t, the self-aware and the self-deceived. Frankly, I prefer the latter, the person who is unaware of his inconsistencies. I am thinking of sanctimonious crusaders like Bill Moyers, who dish it out and cannot take it, who simply do not know that they are rogues. Moyers ordered up FBI dirt on Goldwater aides in 1963, but now thinks himself the voice of saintliness in journalism and the enemy of skullduggery in government.

As for the other kind of hypocrite, the smirking liar, well, he belongs to us too, even if self-awareness gives him the kind of integrity Milton recognized in us. He self-consciously aligns himself to our cause and revels in his ability to fool the saps of the world. You’ll see him at receptions for the Congressional Stygian Caucus. Get Patrick Leahy to tell you about filibusters. What a kidder!

The hypocrites and liars are obvious friends, but I encourage you to pay special attention to the passive-aggressors. There are so many of them around. They seethe with anger and justify it with imagined wrongs. They’re almost impossible to satisfy.

Not entirely impossible, mind you. Look at Michelle Obama. She was an affirmative-action baby who attended Princeton and Harvard Law on scholarships. She was well paid as Vice President of Outraged Minorities by a politically astute University of Chicago. And still she resented America. But she finally feels given her due, what with new digs in Washington, half-million-dollar vacations in Spain, and the adulation of the media. A Nobel Prize for gardening would render her positively serene.

She’s the rare exception, however. Few cash in as she did, so their anger at imagined foes never abates. They’re not given the love, the respect that is their due, and someone has to pay. They’ll go out of their way to anger those around them. They are the people who chat up the check-out clerk and then glare at the 20 people behind them in line, daring them to object. They will settle their Prius in the passing lane of the freeway at 55 miles per hour, because that’s the law, isn’t it? They are a twofer for us, since their anger spreads to others.

Today they comprise an entire political movement, one of resentment and indignation, which daily adds thousands of haters to our roster. They’re the Occupy Movement, MSNBC, the progressives. Remember the bumper sticker? “If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.” Their mission is to remind others to be outraged.

And we don’t even have to pay them. 

Your affectionate uncle,
Ebenezer Screwtape 

P.S. So you see, this Old Devil can still cut the mustard.

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About the Author

F.H. Buckley is Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law and author of The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.