Screwtape. That’s what I was looking for… Screwtape – our one hope.
I was looking for this quote recently, as a way of preserving some “hope” during the imminent Trump presidency. By “hope”, I suppose I mean some slight abatement of the prevalent climate of paralyzing terror, a diminution sufficient to motivate enough of us to at least get up in the morning on a regular basis.
I was remembering The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Lewis is quite unpleasant and reactionary in all sorts of respects, not least in the context of this collection of letters from a senior to a junior devil concerning the latter’s handling of a particular human subject. Lewis uses this framework to pour scorn on a variety of social and political attitudes he dislikes, but he does make one devastatingly important and relevant point about the nature of really destructive evil. Lewis (or “Screwtape”) points out that real evil needs some positive quality to work with. Without something resembling a “virtue” of some kind, “evil” is incapacitated in a variety of ways. How many times were we told regarding Thatcher that “at least she’s got guts”. Well of course she did – more’s the pity. A weaker, more vacillating personality would have been far less destructive. As Screwtape puts it…
Our research department has not yet discovered (though success is hourly expected) how to produce any virtue. This is a serious handicap. To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage, or Shylock without self-denial as regards the flesh? But as we cannot supply these qualities ourselves, we can only use them as supplied by the Enemy—and this means leaving Him a kind of foothold in those men whom, otherwise, we have made most securely our own. A very unsatisfactory arrangement, but, I trust, we shall one day learn to do better.
If you try to combine every conceivable vice you do not get Hitler or Attila the Hun. You get a sort of personality resembling Tony Hancock or Alan Partridge. Taking Screwtape as my perverse comfort, we can only hope that the qualities of cowardice, vacillation, mental laziness and sheer selfishness will serve to protect the world (to some extent) from Trump’s other qualities of spite, vindictiveness and greed.
Trump will do some horrible things over the next few years. But he may be deterred from doing some of those horrible things which require courage, determination, or hard work.
Just a thought.