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The Screwtape Letters, Part 7

Tales from Lowerarchy.
April 14, 2019
The Screwtape Letters, Part 7

Editor’s Note: You can read all of Screwtape’s dispatches here.

My dear Wormwood,

Your manifest incompetence has allowed your patient to enter a period of reflection and regret. I am, to say the least, displeased. My good offices provided you with advantageous campaigning territory right from the start, surrounded by all of the usual subsidiary activities of the political world, including adultery, careerism, the usual over-indulgences in food and alcohol, and the other perquisites available even to minor satellites orbiting the giant planets of power.

The path to his soul was cleared of opposition, except for his young woman, and even she could have been disposed of had you displayed minimal discipline and attention to your work. Instead, your situation is dire and deteriorating rapidly.

In order to retrieve this disaster, I have imposed – for the last time – on our colleagues to assist you. With the permission of the appropriate offices in the Lowerarchy, we have arranged a change in the patient’s employment that should obliterate his doubts and convince him to end his romance with that sneaky little brute of a girlfriend.

The patient’s Boss has been offered a senior appointment with the Old Man. And he is willing to take your patient along with him to the new posting.

I should remind you that the Old Man is in the hands of a conclave of the most experienced demons currently serving in the High Command, and this development was possible only due to my not inconsiderable seniority and influence. Other Tempters were eager to have their patients in closer proximity to the Old Man, and more than a few accommodations had to be made in order to place the Boss, and thus your patient, closer to the accelerating pull of that dark star.

I have done all that I can. Whether you can exploit this new change on the battlefield is now in your hands. But I have some advice you would be well advised to heed.

Most important, you are long overdue in exploiting the chasm that now exists between the patient’s values and his employment. I note with some irritation that you continue to misunderstand my observation on this point – that we care little for human politics – to mean that we do not care about politics at all.

Of course, the great questions of slavery, freedom, communism, fascism, and the like are of immense importance. Those, however, are strategic issues that are solely the province of Our Father Below. What occupies us, as assigned Tempters, is a single human being’s state of mind at any given moment, and politics is often an excellent vehicle for precisely such manipulation.

Human beings are never completely consistent in their politics, or in any of their beliefs. The Enemy, applying His usual dishonesty, does not usually mark this against them. Our task, accordingly, is to raise all this to level of sin, to nurture the seeds of these small inconsistencies until they blossom into the beautiful, stinking flowers of Hypocrisy.

If we wish to turn the patient into a habitual liar and a devout coward, we must convince him first to lie to himself, on a daily basis. Once this is accomplished, getting him to lie to others is almost effortless. Your man is embedded in an array of people he respects, led by the Old Man, for whom family, tradition, chastity, charity, and self-discipline are only words to disguise their unslakable appetites for power and worldly pleasures. Your patient’s need to rationalize staying among them should have begun his unraveling, but your complacency cost you the initiative.

You must now move decisively, and confront him with the reality that he will be working, even if indirectly, for the Old Man. He will recoil at this thought. You must overcome this reaction and convince him that his future lies with the Old Man and not the young woman.

Remind him that refusing to play along means leaving an address and a home in a city which he believes affirms his own importance. Paint pretty pictures of gold drapes and exquisite armchairs. Show him plush blue carpets and suggest to him that he has earned – indeed, that he has the positive right – to walk upon them. Put him in the middle of a tableau of grandeur and play stately music in his head to drown out what’s left of his conscience.

Do not fail to use the patient’s religion against him. Tell him that the Old Man would not be where he is were it not the will of the Enemy.

Now, that this last point is so ridiculous that it could blow up in your face if you do not handle it with great care. A moment of sober consideration will reveal it to be utter twaddle. (After all, what human beings think their opponents are appointed by the Enemy Himself?)

Because this is such fragile nonsense, you must plant the idea quickly and then just as swiftly prevent your patient from examining the logical contradiction at its core. Instead, impress upon him that he can and should serve the Old Man as a way of serving the Enemy. Convincing humans to do evil in the name of the Enemy is still one of our finest maneuvers, and you will find it highly enjoyable.

The word “but” is your ally here. When faced with the Old Man’s lavish immorality or his petty cruelty, for example, your man must say “but” and then follow it with a non-sequitur about virtue. It should become an unthinking reflex for “but” to leave your patient’s lips before he even knows he has taken enough breath to form the word.

Were your man of a different political confession, we might choose a different path. We have made impressive gains, for example, by encouraging men who are champions of sexual equality to use their public support for the dignity of women as a rationalization for repeated attempts at sexual conquest.

In either case, do you see the strategy here? You take what the man values and defends, and then force him to lie about it in order to protect his sense of himself. In a very short time, you will find that he ends up caring only that he can stay near the continual narcotic of power. Without even realizing it, he will be driven by ego and by a growing fear of being found out for the hypocrite he is. Soon, it will become second nature to him to mobilize his religious beliefs as self-serving protection while the actual voice of the Enemy, if he hears it at all, will be only a dim and muffled annoyance.

But enough of this. The Enemy has, for the moment, gained the upper hand. We have provided you with considerable reinforcements. All of Hell itself awaits the soonest news of your counterattack, as do I.

Your affectionate Uncle,


Tom Nichols

Tom Nichols is a professor emeritus at the Naval War College, where he taught for 25 years. The author of The Death of Expertise and Our Own Worst Enemy, he writes the “Peacefield” newsletter for the Atlantic. Twitter: @RadioFreeTom.