The Candidate of NICE

CS Lewis is a genius and a prophet: That Hideous Strength continues its uncanny prediction of our present predicaments. Last time around, our adversaries nominated Fairy Hardcastle for the Presidency. This time, they propose Deputy Director Wither:

… Mark noticed that the door was not quite shut. He ventured to push it open a little further and saw [Deputy Director Wither] sitting inside with his back to the door. “Excuse me, Sir,” said Mark. “Might I speak to you for a few minutes?” There was no answer. “Excuse me, Sir,” said Mark in a louder voice, but the figure neither spoke nor moved. With some hesitation, Mark went into the room and walked around to the other side of the desk; but when he turned to look at Wither he caught his breath, for he thought he was looking into the face of a corpse. A moment later he recognised his mistake. In the stillness of the room he could hear the man breathing. He was not even asleep, for his eyes were open. He was not unconscious, for his eyes rested momentarily on Mark and then looked away. “I beg your pardon, Sir,” began Mark and then stopped. The Deputy Director was not listening. He was so far from listening that Mark felt an insane doubt whether he was there at all, whether the soul of the Deputy Director were not floating far away, spreading and dissipating itself like a gas through formless and lightless worlds, waste lands and lumber rooms of the universe. What looked out of those pale watery eyes was, in a sense, infinity – the shapeless and the interminable. … It was impossible to speak to a face like that. Yet it seemed impossible also to get out of the room, for the man had seen him. Mark was afraid; it was so unlike any experience he had ever had before.

When at last Mr. Wither spoke, his eyes were not fixed on Mark, but on some remote point beyond him, beyond the window, perhaps in the sky.

“I know who it is,” said Wither. “Your name is Studdock. What do you mean by coming here? You had better have stayed outside. Go away.”

… the mode of consciousness [the Deputy Director] experienced at most hours of day or night had long ceased to be exactly like what other men call waking. He had learned to withdraw most of his consciousness from the task of living, to conduct business, even, with only a quarter of his mind. Colours, tastes, smells and tactual sensations no doubt bombarded his physical senses in the normal manner: they did not now reach his ego. The manner and outward attitude to men which he had adopted half a century ago were now an organisation which functioned almost independently like a gramophone and to which he could hand over his whole routine of interviews and committees.

Hearing about That Hideous Strength is spooky. Reading the book is, yet again, dreadful. God send us Merlinus Ambrosianus, and for that matter Arthur. God send us the oyéresu.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6: 11-17

NB: that we wrestle at bottom against principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in the High Places – against demons – does not mean that we do not wrestle also with their corporeal slaves and instruments, such as Wither or Hardcastle. We do. Paul’s point is not that the flesh and blood do not matter, but rather that they are not the crux of the issue. Nevertheless is it ever the case that when push comes to shove for beings corporeal such as we, the adversary is generally known first to us bodily. If we cannot defeat his bodily incorporations, we have no chance whatever against the motivating spirits thereof; to fight one is to fight the other.

Act then outwardly, in the political realms, to be sure, as much as is in your poor power. But, do not omit to pray, and to fast. Therein lies your greatest power; for, when we struggle to live ourselves lives that are holy and good, we struggle with the very same demons who threaten our outward and social world. Defeat them in yourself even once, and you defeat and weaken them at the root of all their outward action, to the benefit of all people.

To defeat the Enemy in and with and by your heart is to have done all.

To war, then. Deus vult.

17 thoughts on “The Candidate of NICE

  1. I fear that this time round the NICE banquet went off without any unruly animals to disrupt the merriment. The tentacles of NICE are already coiled round our limbs and probing our privates. I’m not certain Biden is cast in the role of Winter, though. To my mind, he more closely resembles Lord Feverstone, or perhaps the severed head in the vat. But, be that as it may, the character of Winter was visionary because Lewis foresaw the future totalitarian leaders as bland and evasive men. The essence of Winter is that you cannot get an answer out of him. Now that I think of it, that was just the other day the essence of Biden when he was asked about packing the SCOTUS. Also, like B., Winter seems like a “nice” man (until you cross him).

    I think the new style of referring to the Supreme Court as SCOTUS is itself in the spirit of NICE. I’ll admit that “scrotum” is my first thought when I see this acronym, but SCOTUS is exactly the sort of thing a self-important bureaucrat likes to hear come out of his or her mouth. Likewise POTUS and FLOTUS, the first of which makes me think of an edible tuber, and the second of which makes me think of drowned corpse that has been in the water too long.

    I think it is significant that Paul speaks of the armor of God, not the armaments. Those who lack this armor will join NICE; and they will be drawn in by “wiles” just as banal as the wiles that nearly drew in Mark Studdock. I’m sure you have heard the new slang NPC used to describe a leftist whose soul is so empty that it is almost entirely filled with ideology, Leviathan wants a world of empty people–NPCs–because it can possess empty people entirely. The armor of God means that there is some durable portion of your soul that does not belong, and cannot belong, to your job, or your cause, or the state.

    • My hope – forlorn, perhaps, to be sure (but we should bear always in mind that despair is a mortal sin) – is that the banquet has not yet quite begun. I look forward in hope to the trampling of an elephant or two. Maybe there will be a tiger.

    • Not to quibble over your excellent points but, St Paul does recommend one armament in his letter to the Ephesians: “…the Sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”

      • You are right, although I’m not always sure I know just what that word “word” means in this context.

  2. Yes, THS — an essential book, and one of the good things about it is that it leads to other good books, too, that help to form and refresh the free and Christian imagination. I wouldn’t discourage someone from reading 1984, but Lewis wrote the book that, for us in this time, is the more prophetic. I encourage readers also to check into the novels of my friend Lars Walker, who has confessed his love of THS — novels such as Wolf Time and Blood and Judgment. When you read them, you will perhaps raise your eyes and ask, “Why wasn’t I told about this author before?” Lewis is the greater author, as Walker would be the first to grant, but Walker is very good too.

    DN

  3. I recently listened to podcast ‘Pints with Aquinas’ episode about the Armor of God (and about St Paul and Ephesians). Not an interview. Pretty good. Gets to the points.

    Aquinas wrote spiritual armor has types & strategy parallel to the military type. Maybe that St Paul thought so too (I am not sure). For instance, he argued one has to fight the closest opponent first.
    video version: https://youtu.be/D3oPXa5vUmU

    I agree, CS Lewis’ ‘That Hideous Strength’ is genius, though I bet hard to read at times for people today just stumbling onto it. And the title of the book is spot on, which I didn’t realize when I read it.

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  5. I very much like THS – but I don’t think it has anything strategic to tell us about the current situation.

    The enemy has won – and has been (very obviously) ruling the world since early 2020.

    And there is plenty of active support for the Satanic rulers among the general population – especially (nearly unanimous) among the professional, technical and managerial classes. This comes on top of many decades of accelerating Christian apostasy, and the crushing blow against the Christian churches this year – so that they are barely operating, and have all but ceased their core functions.

    Judging by words and actions, and ignoring their assertions and claims; there are (here, now) extremely few Christians. *Many* people I know of that I would have supposed to be serious Christians this time last year, I now realise are not, and were not. They may not realise it; but I realise now that they have joined the side of Satan: and are doing his work with great zeal and diligence.

    But worst of all – it seems that hardly anybody has even noticed this greatest change in the world since 1939 – perhaps greater in scope and significance; and many of those who have noticed are (on the whole) fine with it, or believe that it will lead to good.

    In such circumstances, calls to arms sound empty: Fight who? And how? And with which army?

    And if we do fight it is as ‘resistance’ in an already-defeated and fully-occupied nation; not as national defenders.

    The best example from THS is that ‘the resistance’ comprises half a dozen modestly effective folk (the St Anne’s group), whose ‘power’ is spiritual not temporal, and is personal rather than organisationsal – it comes mainly from their mutual support and encouragement (St Annes is not even a community of beliefs or ideals). If we have as much as this we are fortunate – But it is enough.

    The fact is that we are in unprecedented territory and past comparisons are mostly misleading. It greatly adds to the difficulty that we must work-out what do do without help from tradition. But that is our situation; and it first needs to be recognised and faced.

    • Personal holiness is our greatest weapon, at any time. Without it, there is nothing to our side at all. Without personal holiness, no one will think traditional notions of righteousness make any sense. Without it, no one will think orthodox religious doctrine makes any sense. Without it, no one therefore will act so as to promote popular observance either of orthodox religion or traditional – which is to say, sane – morality. And in that case, there can be no cultural battle between the forces of evil and anything else. There can be then only civil war among the evil.

      THS does not offer strategic advice. Indeed, in the book, the good guys at Saint Ann’s don’t actually do anything. They don’t find Merlin, although they try; he finds them. They don’t rescue Studdock, or destroy NICE; Merlin does. Mostly they talk to each other, and have nice meals together. They don’t act. But they do each behave righteously, each according to his own lights.

      If we can manage that, we’ll have managed just about everything. And we’ll have wounded the Enemy where he lives. He’s the only one stopping us, either individually or collectively. Apart from ourselves.

  6. THS is definitely “spooky” in a way that very few novels are. (All Hallows’ Eve by Lewis’ friend Charles Williams is another that comes to mind.) And I think the reason has something to do with its detailed exposition of ‘pure’ evil, unsullied by the good intentions which most real villains cling to. Usually the bad guys are motivated by greed, lust, malice, etc., which while bad, are still human and relatable and, in the mind of the sinner, justifiable. Or, in fantasy novels, the villain may be closer to ‘pure’ evil, but is presented as a sort of blind, primal force, outside the spectrum of human actions.

    In THS, we get to know the villains intimately, as human beings, and we get inside their mind–yet there are still no redeeming qualities. A true Luceriferian power grab all the way down. Which is why trying to imagine a world in the thrall of such people is so unsettling.

    I’m still not sure if Western elites are quite that evil. I think most still believe they are acting for the greater good, albeit in a horribly twisted way. But maybe I’m just gullible. Also possibly owing to gullibility, Biden strikes me more as analogous to Jules than any of the real NICE members. He lacks the ominousness of Wither. He seems like a puppet without any clue of what’s really going on.

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  8. I recently reread THS, many years after my first encounter, and this time I understood why some Christians 25 years ago — I can’t remember where I heard this — recommended a yearly reading. It was impossible to read without praying, so the effort seemed very worthwhile.

    It paints as clear a picture as one could want of the battle against spiritual wickedness in high places — including the human heart and its skill at self-deception. By contrast, the glory and freshness of less tainted humans and their ongoing faith-work, the reality of the Supreme Power and His love, comfort the reader with Hope. I’m persuaded that a yearly reading would do me good.

    • Lewis once wrote that you can really enjoy a book only on re-reading it. As I recall, he said the first reading was to get the “lust of the plot” out of the way. Of course, knowing a character will turn out to be a bad one makes you notice all the missed clues that he is a bad one. Better readers than I might spot these clues on the first reading, but I don’t.

      • The main thing I noticed on my first reading made a big impression on me, how the subplot of the marriage played out. The Mark and his wife were together very little throughout the story, but because of the developments in the souls of each, their relationship promised to be much improved. Their imminent coming together again was a satisfying ending.

      • I discover new depths in this book with every reading. In preparing this post, I had to look through it pretty thoroughly to find the passages I remembered about Wither (there was one, the one I was first looking for – wherein he wanders the halls of Belbury in a sort of daze – that I could not find). In so doing, I ended up reading most of the book. The passages at the end about the renewal of the Studdock marriage brought me (again) to tears. And I was shocked to find that Lewis apparently knew *everything I have learned of angelology in the last 10 years of studying the topic.* And more.

        Rereading a book, I find that there are two sorts of reactions. The first is dismissive: “Well, but this is all pretty obvious, no?” Easy enough to say in retrospect – indeed, cheap and unfair – having already digested the salient points and applied them as one’s thinking has evolved. That’s the only way that the author’s insights might ever have come to seem obvious. The other is astonished: “I had no idea he had already thought of all this!” A reaction possible only *because* the book has already influenced the course of one’s subsequent education. It’s like going back to a calculus text and realizing – now that one has an inkling (so to speak) about how to tell – that it was written by a profound master of the topic. Every paragraph points to fathomless deeps.

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