Who are ‘we’?

Last evening I picked up a book in the library.  I’m a sucker for libraries, book sales, bookstores, other people’s book shelves.  They are all sources of happy temptation – and most of them are legal.

Clive Staples Lewis

C S Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), the Anglican mid-20th century writer of fiction and non-, has been a favorite for years.  I spied at the end of a shelf a book new to me, Letters to American Lady.  Having written a few letters to American ladies myself I was intrigued.  Was it perchance the same lady?  Not much chance as the vast majority of the correspondence was penned before I was conceived.  In fact, many of the letters were posted from England before my Mom had emigrated to Boston from the west of Ireland.

This morning I opened the cover and began reading.  I’ve always loved collections of letters even when, as is true in this case, only one-half of the conversation is available for reading.  It’s amazing how you can hear both voices through the missives of only one. (By the way, if you haven’t read them, get thee immediately to Flannery O’Connor‘s collected letters, The Habit of Being. They are a treasure for humanity).

Lewis is his usual erudite, gentle, realistic, eminently Christian self in the letters I’ve enjoyed so far.  Much is catching my attention.  A few sentences, written on May 30, 1953, got me to thinking.  Though the context is so different, his words provided me a perspective on the social/political movement and moment that our nation is experiencing presently.  To my hearing this moment is deeply characterized by a sense that whoever ‘we’ the people are, we have been ignored and dissed and we have both the right and the duty to do something about it.  Between these people and the elected government, there stretches what they seem to experience as a chasm.  And they seem assured that they the people, ‘us’, are on the right side.

Benjamin Franklin once noted that democracy is the worst form of government known to humanity . . . except for all the others.  In a democratic society we are never far from a mob.

All this came to mind when I heard CS Lewis writing to the American Lady in these terms: “I am rather sick of the modern assumption that, for all events, ‘WE’, the people, are never responsible: it is always our rulers, or ancestors, or parents, or education, or anybody but precious ‘US’.  WE are apparently perfect and blameless.  Don’t you believe it.”

Emphases are original.  Lewis was talking about church politics of the time.  But, as the French are reputed to say le plus ce change, le plus c’est le meme chose.

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