C. S. LewisC. S. Lewis, (1898-1963), British novelist

C. S. Lewis Quote

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

C. S. LewisC. S. Lewis
~ C. S. Lewis

"God in the Dock" (1948)

Ratings and Comments

Mike, Norwalk

Thank you and amen.

Mary, Largo
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Mary, Largo    2/1/08

Moral busybodies ARE the worst!

J Carlton, Calgary

Moral Busy Bodies....small people trying to be big people. Petty individuals who have no lives of their own and want to control yours. Meaningless wastes of skin...

Waffler, Smith, Arkansas

"Omnipotent moral busybodies" on a mission: Al Qaida.

Pam, Denver
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Pam, Denver    2/2/08

How true it is of mankind, politicians in particular.

E Archer, NYC

I wouldn't know where to start to show how far American busy bodies have set us at odds with each other -- billions are being spent to protect us from ourselves -- even to the point we don't even ask why any more. Our prisons are filled with 'offenders' whose only 'victims' are merely themselves. It is big business for the state.

Bob Crandall, Las Vegas

Smoking bans are another perfect example.

warren, olathe

The truth in the statement comes from the fact that tyrants are much easier to oppose than do-gooders. We need a society where people can do what they will while the leaders only do what they must.

Fallible, Whynot, NC

"The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego ordinary pleasures themselves and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others." Bertrand Russell

rosco, p-town

End age discrimination, and legalize freedom.

Garrett, Chapel Hill

What publication is this quote take from? Given Lewis's vociferous Christian moralizing, this is an odd statement from him.

jon, dallas
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jon, dallas    7/2/09

Lewis may have moralized but he never considered using the power of the state to force his views on others. That is the differnce between him and some of hte nanny state people running around.

Keith, New London, CT

That quote is from "God in the Dock" (copyright 1948). And to say this is an odd statement from Lewis demonstrates a pronounced unfamiliarity with him. He was very critical of individuals who interfered with others' privacy.

Kat, GA
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Kat, GA    10/22/09

Lewis's Christian morality recognized that the human heart must be changed from within, and that of all thing true moral integrity is impossible to force into others' hearts. This is *exactly* the sort of thing one would expect to hear from him, especially given his love of George MacDonald, whose utter contempt of moralistic, hypocritical busybodies is legendary.

Anonymous, fairfax, VA

One of the most important quotes of all time! Why? Because it rings with truth and exposes a belief that underlies the modern liberal ideology - that the end justifies the means. It is profound in the way that it pats them on the back and cuts to their heart at the same time. --- your motivations are good (thank you), but they are having the EXACT OPPOSITE EFFECT than the one you originally desired.

Anonymous, Arlington, MA

Brilliance. 52 Years old, and perfectly apropos to the liberal progressive movement that is more focused on everyone elses business than their own.

And the horse they rode in on, anywhere

An especially appropriate quote now given the political climate and the near universal propaganda about eating "right", exercise, not smoking, polluting, using anything, breathing, etc.

Anony, mous

C.S. Lewis was a great Evangelical Christian. However, this quote is a warning to other evangelicals, like this: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/

wastoofa, shambbaga

Me a libooral. Yo, yo him done got that sheeeit right. So lez baang it wizza robber berrinz.

Beth, MN
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Beth, MN    12/8/10

I love this quote. It is very accurate. I fear the tyranny of the do-gooders more than "evil" people as do-gooders will never end thier tyranny over others. They find moral justification in the ends, despite the means to obtain those "good" ends. And they do not care if they violate your natural rights in the process, because it is all done in the name of good. We are morally backwards to have come to this point. It does not follow that just because and end result may be good or noble, that we can do anything to achieve it. This explains why so many are willing to force us to do things for our own good.

Libertarian, MN

People in BOTH parties are moral busy bodies, the donkeys with smoking bans, snack food bans, etc. and the elephants with defense of marriage acts, online poker bans, etc. and both sides with wanting to keep marijuana illegal.

Anonymous, Mass

This quote is nonsense. He obviously didn't have much experience with totalitarian fascism or communism if he feared them less than the tyranny of do-gooders. That would be strange for a man who lived through two world wars. That indicates that the quote is not believable. Totalitarianism is wrong whether it comes from fascists communists or theocrats, but for some of the commenters here to take this as if it were a criticism of the liberal movement is obsolute nonsense.

sandara, seattle
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sandara, seattle Anonymous, Mass 4/24/20

you must not be paying attention.

MM, Pleasantville
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MM, Pleasantville Anonymous, Mass 7/30/20

It's all being done for "our own good". You miss the obvious.  Communism and the like is done by the people that do it and the way the people that do it for "our own good".

CC, Dallas
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CC, Dallas Anonymous, Mass 12/5/21

This from someone who lives in one of the most politically oppressive states in the US.

Beth, MN
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Beth, MN    3/16/11

Anonymous, Perhaps since Lewis observed that it was much easier for people to oppose "evil" and direct types of tyranny such as totalitarianism, that he made the observation that the indirect and "good" type of tyranny would be oppresive because people would continue to justify the oppression because it was done in the name of good. Lews said nothing of fearing one tyranny more over another. He was advocating a healty fear of ALL tyranny, and made the point that people often ignore the tyranny of the "good."

Steve, MO
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    Steve, MO    3/31/11

    @Garrett: Lewis wasn't promoting immorality, he just recognized that the only lasting beneficial social change must come from individual change of conscience and heart. It cannot be forced by politicians trading claims of altruism for personal power/wealth/fame or those who support them. Governmental power when as a crow bar for forcing their own whims of social change is a bad deal for the governed.

    misanthropope, NC

    didn't anybody READ any of lewis's fiction? autocracy "for your own good" is literally the unifying theme. you've got to be dim or dishonest to think that religious autocracy is somehow less complete, or corrupt, than corporate or governmental autocracy.

    JD, Mich
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    JD, Mich    7/28/11

    Lewis was one of the great writers of the 20th century. I've read many of his books, fiction and non-fiction, and all are remarkable. The point he is making here is that he would rather live under a Robber Baron that just wants his money, who doesn't pretend to be doing it for his own good, than moralizing busybodies who dictate what food he can eat, what means of transportation he can use, what kind of light bulbs are available.... (you get the idea!) and takes his money, too--all the while claiming they do it for his own good. He's not saying one is good and the other bad; he is negatively comparing his target against someone that everyone knows is bad to expose those who cloak themselves in claims of doing good. The good he wants is to be left alone and to determine his own behavior according to his own understanding of morality. Most of you get it, but it seems some people don't understand this kind of soft tyranny. Read Jonah Goldberg: tyranny can come with a smile as well as a scowl. And, by the way, totalitarianism often starts this way. Dictators usually just build on the soft tyranny of their predecessors--they just do it bigger!

    dmf, Alabama

    Frankly, the truthfulness and prescience of this quote scares me, as this type of do-gooding seems to be the current political society we're building. Every year it gets worse and our liberties are chipped away further. In any case the quote is brilliant and doesn't need any explanation. For those who don't get it--well, let's just say you need to study a lot harder and learn a lot more.

    Dave, Northern Virginia

    @Anonymous - Ha ha ha! This is SO applicable to the "liberal" movement, whether Lewis intended it or not. Hell, a lot of us still use the term "Molon Labe". Don't think the Spartans knew about you Liberal gun-grabbers, but the sentiment still applies nicely.

    Tom King, Puyallup, WA

    Lewis well knew about Stalin's Communism and Hitler's facism having experienced a world racked by the depredations of both. But if you will check into the history of both isms, they began as government doing good on behalf of its people. Communism was supposed to be a worker's paradise; Nazism an Aryan one. The comment was a warning against Britain's own steady creep toward socialism.

    Tom King, Puyallup, WA

    In response to misanthrope, yes, we've read his fiction. Lewis' perfect theocracy was not a government by priests as most people conceive of theocracy. It was a government by God. It is impossible for a socialist to understand. They believe if you give people sufficient stuff, they'll be happy. Christians believe that if you allow God to make you a better person you'll be happy. The progressive socialist seeks a temporal kingdom or utopia governed by good smart people. The Christian seeks a heavenly one, full of good smart people governed by no one but God. Christians are the ultimate anarchists. We envision a world without any government at all.

    Joe, Crazytown

    conservatives are retarded.

    Notwildaboutmuch, Everywhere

    I appreciate this quote for the accuracy, and am amused by how many refuse to see it fort he plain language that he uses. Couple this Quote with Jefferson's one about Fearing a Government who gets so bloated that the only jobs will be with that Government, and the only job description will be "handing over the heads of one's Neighbors". I think you can probably see a theme there, right? # scared shitless C

    Morris, Issaquah

    Lewis lived through the rise of the progressive age, and fought against the absolute leftism of National Socialism.

    He like Churchill witness all types of Tyranny, and through his own experience in the UK post WW2, witnessed the *worst type* of Tyranny.

    The tyrant that evokes _care_ for you, is the absolute worst kind of tyrant. He'll destroy the human spirit as he *cares* for the poor, he'll despotize and centralize industry to make sure their pay and conditions are fair. Those industries that put up with it, will hire fewer workers, others will leave the state for countries that don't have an iron fist around the throat of the working class.

    There is absolutely no end to soft tyranny. Because the condition of man will continue to worsen under their grip, they'll continue to exercise more and more moral authority over helping us.

    Canadian, in Canada

    Whenever I read this quote I think of Wendy Cukier...

    J Carlton, Calgary

    Canadian...isn't she the Canadian equivalent of Diane Feinstein the great gun grabber? I see what you mean...

    Jason, Los Angeles

    Responding to the commenter who opined that C.S. Lewis was a "great Evangelical Christian." That is incorrect. Lewis was an orthodox Anglican of the Anglo-Catholic tradition within Anglican Christianity.

    Robert, Portland

    I love this quote, and think its quite apt... but don't forget that robber barons and moralistic busybodies exist on both sides of our partisan politics.

    retired military, tx

    He must have been thinking of democrats when he wrote this quote. Especially Obama. (yeah yeah I know he wrote this many years ago but the quote fits so well)

    A, Canada
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    A, Canada    12/30/14

    describes SJWs perfectly

    Bobble, No. Ferrisburgh, VT

    I recall an OLD saying: "when you point your finger at another, remember four other fingers are pointing at you." Might we ALL be slow to criticize -- yes, 'ALL' meaning me -- and, by the way, you.

    jim k, Austin

    JoeCrazytown your name says it all and Anonymous Mass you need help from living in a state that constantly elects Kennedys and other assorted crackpots. This quote is right on target.

    J. Allen, Arlington, Va

    One of the greatest quotes of all time. The arrogant busy bodies that can't believe you don't want them to run your life are the worst most obnoxious freedom hating people of all.

    Paul S., Shelter Island, NY

    One of my favorite quotes of all time. It is not enough to be well intentioned.


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