by S. M. Hutchens
Although the historical situation from which James Russell Lowell's poem arose may ambiguate it a bit, the biblical imperative to "choose this day whom you shall serve," in all its intolerable binariness, is unmistakable:
Once to ev'ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side. . . .
In The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis paints a portrait of dwarfs who in their imaginations are able to rise above the squalid fray and will notdecide between Tash and Aslan—but are instead very skilled at equalizing them. In our world one finds their type in abundance among the punditry, for the likes of whom the hapless Spiro Agnew invented the memorable epithet "effete intellectual snobs." This is the sort that demonstrates their superiority to the partisan canaille by an objective neutrality that will not evaporate until the enemy has broken down the gates—whereupon they disappear into the mists, never to admit a mistake.
Lewis pictures them in their self-absorbed detachment as being unable to distinguish between wholesome food and stable litter. In their ignorant and self-congratulatory illusion of lofty discernment they have (like the ass in Des Knaben Wunderhorn) killed the nerve that allows them to tell the difference between good and evil. Lewis sees them as the worst and most irredeemable product of war. Those who have conscientiously chosen the wrong side are savable (Emeth), but the dwarfs, who will not receive the gift either of clear-sightedness or of forgiveness for their willful blindness, have condemned themselves to hell.
S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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