In The Problem of Pain Chapter 4 (Human Wickedness), C.S. Lewis says

  1. Perhaps my harping on the word ‘kindness’ has already aroused a protest in some readers’ minds. Are we not really an increasingly cruel age? Perhaps we are: but I think we have become so in the attempt to reduce all virtues to kindness. For Plato rightly taught that virtue is one. You cannot be kind unless you have all the other virtues. If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbour’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease. Every vice leads to cruelty. Even a good emotion, pity, if not controlled by charity and justice, leads through anger to cruelty. Most atrocities are stimulated by accounts of the enemy’s atrocities; and pity for the oppressed classes, when separated from the moral law as a whole, leads by a very natural process to the unremitting brutalities of a reign of terror.

Did Lewis ever indicate what examples he was thinking of? What is the “very natural process” by which he thought pity for oppressed people would lead to a reign of terror?

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    The Russian revolution would seem to fit - a revolution to free the oppressed underclasses that turned into a reign of terror. Jul 23, 2018 at 17:21
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    @DJClayworth, the French revolution fits, too. Pity for the underclasses leading to the brutal murders of the aristocracy followed by the brutal murders of those who challenged the state. This is a good question, but I don't know the source well enough to know if Lewis is talking about the individual or society. An individual may use society's pity of the underclass to leverage personal ambition, often with a trail of bodies, but would the paragraph apply wholly to an individual? Is there an example of an indivual, feeling pity, leading to just that individual's acts of cruelty? Jul 23, 2018 at 18:20
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    However, and I apologize for asking, what does this have to do with Christianity? Why did you ask here and not Philosophy.SE? Jul 23, 2018 at 18:22
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    I'm curious about the answer as informed by Christian theology, not from philosophy per se. Jul 23, 2018 at 18:26
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    @JBH Or Anglican, or Reformed, or whatever, given that Lewis was not a Catholic. Jul 24, 2018 at 13:49

1 Answer 1


The very term "Reign of Terror" means he is almost certainly thinking of the French Revolution. The term refers to a period of the French Revolution in which the revolutionaries carried out massacres, arbitrary arrests and killings, show trials, and much else in the name of "freedom for the people".

The French Revolution fits the bill really well. Most people would admit that the French people were oppressed before the Revolution, and that something needed to be done to free them. The Revolution was perhaps created through 'pity' for the ordinary people. But the results of the Revolution included terror and tyranny, something actually named the "Reign of Terror".

Other revolutions, including the Russian, might well have been in his mind as well.

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