Screwtape’s Toast: A Serial Retrospective

Blogger’s Note: It would be neither practical nor wise to divulge the means whereby the following dispatches came into my hands, and following the example of that great author upon whose work I have built, will say no more, but release them into the Internet, where intelligence from Hell will doubtless feel welcome and at home. I also with him encourage my reader to remember that the devil is a liar, and that not all he says should be regarded as true even by his own standards.

Introduction: It has now been sixty years since the recording of “The Toast,” which, although conceived as no more than a series of remarks delivered to a general audience of tempters, has in the interim become unhallowed as one of the foundational strategic texts of the Lowerarchy.

It is, however, perhaps fitting at this time to review the salient points of this great document, and comment upon the extent to which his vision and aims have been accomplished among our patients in the past sixty years, which have seen such changes wrought upon that planet as to make it almost unrecognizable. It has seen us triumph in ways that would have seemed unimaginable. And as we are not, in the words of a popular political slogan in the United States “tired of winning yet,” it is perhaps worth our time to examine this worthy document so as to safeguard and preserve the final victory that even now is in sight.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

It is customary on these occasions for the speaker to address himself chiefly to those among you who have just graduated and who will very soon be posted to official Tempterships on Earth… I well remember with what trepidation I awaited my own first appointment. I hope, and believe, that each one of you has the same uneasiness tonight. Your career is before you. Hell expects and demands that it should be — as mine was — one of unbroken success. If it is not, you know what awaits you.

While Screwtape himself has fallen out of favor with Those Below (some say for the grievous fault of being unable to restrain his incisive intellect, others that he was falling too far and too fast to suit the powerful. The precise charge, as always, is Secret), he has perhaps won for himself the distinction of being the first to simultaneously distinguish himself as a devil of parts, and a devil in parts. It is of course to be hoped that his intellect will one day be with us again, when his reeducation is accomplished.

I have no wish to reduce the wholesome and realistic element of terror, the unremitting anxiety, which must act as the lash and spur to your endeavours. How often you will envy the humans their faculty of sleep! Yet at the same time I would wish to put before you a moderately encouraging view of the strategical situation as a whole.

If Screwtape had remained to see the fruition of his designs, we can only assume that he would indeed be more than “moderately” encouraged. But we will speak of that later.

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full of points something like an apology for the banquet which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one blames him. But it would be in vain to deny that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid.

Oh, to get one’s teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you’d got it down.

Being assigned to the European theater of operations, Screwtape had reason to be, shall we say, disappointed with the abrupt change in his culinary fortunes. But had he taken a broader view, he would have dined on Chairman Mao, Idi Amin, and Fidel Castro, to say nothing of those who outlived the general slaughter on the general principle that we base our own rebellion on, that “the victors are never judged.” Curtis LeMay and Richard Nixon might well have warmed his gullet as well as any ancient Roman.

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passionate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a Little Man — a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest platitudes in his public utterances — a grubby little nonentity who had drifted into corruption, only just realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because everyone else did it?

And now, let us look at the first hints of our great success, because while these petty creatures still exist, and defile the plates of the more pathetic of us, today we have encouraged such Little Men — and women, let us not forget the importance of the division — with a burning resentment of the limits to their power, and the feeling that they truly deserve the meager resources they cheat their fellows out of. Some of them even add a delightful frisson of self-righteousness to the melange.

Then there was the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. Could you find in it any trace of a fully inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn’t. They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in automatic response to sexy advertisements, or to make themselves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure themselves about their virility or their “normalcy,” or even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to me who have tasted Messalina and Casanova, they were nauseating.

These we still have with us, and for the same reasons. But we have taught more and more of them to invest their sexual antics with their entire reason for living. To boast of them openly as a sign of “liberation” and “rebellion” (while carefully avoiding any actually worthwhile activity that might make those words meaningful, to be sure) and to join an ever-growing movement that regards such activities as morally right and even “honest.”

The Trade Unionist stuffed with sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-importance, and above all mere routine, were what really dominated his life.

The humans flatter themselves that such creatures are of the past, but really, as I hardly need tell you, we are getting them more and more often, in the two chief flavors of Corporatist, who does all these things while congratulating himself on his natural leadership and clear thinking (and the knowledge that if he did not do it, someone else would) and the Activist, who regards the bloodshed, famine, and extinction of liberty as not only excusable, but as positively desirable as long as it all happens to the right people in the name of the Cause.

Gastronomically, then, the situation has much improved, because while the human cattle were content to ignore the moral law in the age of the Toast, now we have taught them that flouting it is a supremely moral act, whose virtues are Envy and Greed, and whose blessings are Pleasure and Power, both of which they have rights to, simply by virtue of existing.

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