Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bureaucratic Evil

Tobie has an excellent piece discussing the nature of evil in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and That Hideous Strength. The Magisterium of His Dark Materials, the forces of Hell in the Screwtape Letters and the N.I.C.E. of That Hideous Strength are all evil forces that are notably bureaucratic. From my perspective, what I find so compelling about Screwtape as a character is that, while he may Hell’s Undersecretary of Temptation and is devoted to ensnaring souls for “our father down below,” the fact that he is a bureaucrat puts a human touch to him. He is not “evil” in the sense of having horns and a tail and gleefully plotting the destruction of the world; he is someone who goes about his job and does it with absolute efficiency. One can easily imagine Screwtape as a mid level manager of a firm, a company man; the sort of fellow who might strike one as a bit standoffish, but is a model employee who claims the respect of all who know him. This human portrayal of demons is a part of Lewis’ notion of the fallen state of man. If a fallen angel such as Screwtape is really not all that different from your average company man, doing their job without any particular moral concern, then your average company is also not really that different from a fallen angel and is walking down a path straight to Hell. When he gets there he will fit right in.

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