This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Pinciples of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments, If it is rejected, all value is rejected. if any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. Therefore never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems of (as they now call them) 'ideologies,' all consist of fragments of the Tao itself, arbitarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. if the pursuit of scienctific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for;it to move in.
DOes this mean, then, that no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place? That we are bound down for ever to an unchanging code given once for all? And is it, in any event, possible to talk of obeying what I call the Tao? If we lump together, as I have done, the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christianj the Pagan, and the Jew, shall we not find many contradictions and some absurdities? I admit all this. Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real development, is required. But there are two very different kinds of criticism.
A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were from outside, regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy. That is one thing. A great poet, who has 'loved, and been well nurtrured in his mother tongue, may also make great alterations in it, but his changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself; he works from within. The language which suffers, has also inspired, the changes. That is a different thing - as different as the works of Shakespeare are from basic English. It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: between the organic and the surgical.
In the same way, the Tao admits development from within. There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation. From the Confusian 'Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you' to the Christian 'Do as you would be done by' is a real advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation. The first is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value. But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morls as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgments at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: 'You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?' and a man who says, 'Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.'
Those who understand teh spirit of the Tao and who ahve ben led by that spoirit can modify it in directions which that spirit itslef demands. Only they can know waht those directions are. The outsider knows nothiunbg about the matter. His attempts at alteration, as we have seen, contradict themselves. So far from being able to harmonize discrepancies in its letter by penetration to its sprrit, he merely snaches at some one precept, on which the accidents of time and place happen to have riveted his attention, and then rides it to death - for no reason that he can give. From with the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao. This is what Confucius meant when he said 'With those who follow a different Way it is useless to take counsel.' This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible. He may be hostile, but he cannot b e critical: he does not know what is being discussed. This is why it was also said 'This people that knoweth not the Law is accursed' and 'He that believeth not shall be damned. An open mind, asking questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside the Tao there is not ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else.
In particular instances it may, no doubt, be a matter of some delicacy to decide where the legitimate internal criticism ends and the fatal external kind begins. But wherever any precept of traditional morality is simply challenged to produce its credentials, as though the burden of proof lay on it, we have taken the wrong position. The legitimate reformer endeavours to show that the precept in question conflicts with some precept; which its defenders allow to be more fundamental, or that it does not really embody the judgement of value it professes to embody. The direct frontal attack 'Why?' - "What good does it do?" - 'Who said so?' is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao. Nor must we postpone obedience to a precept until its credentials have been examined. Only those who ar practising the Tao will understand it. It is the well-nurtured man, the cour gentil, and he alone who can recognize Reason when it comes.(2) It is Paul, the Pharisee, the man 'perfect as touching the Law' who learns where and how that Law was deficient.
In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity: that any attempt, having become sceptical about these, to reintrodduce value lower down on some supposedly more 'realistic' basis, is doomed. Whetheher this position implies a superantural origin of the Tao is a question I am not here concerned with. Yet how can the modern mind be expected to embrace the conclusion we have reached?
(1)THE ABOLITION OF MAN, C.S.Lewis, Macmillan Publishing Co. 1955, p. 56-63.