Having briefly analyzed cliques and how they work, especially in a church setting (here and here), I am intrigued by C.S. Lewis’ message, titled The Inner Ring, in which he addresses the same issue. The message, by the way, is included in the book The Weight of Glory, which I highly recommend.
Of course, Lewis does not use the term clique, as we often do. Rather, he speaks about the universal and desperate desire to penetrate an invisible line in order to be a part of what he calls “the inner ring.”
I am frankly surprised that The Inner Ring is not better known. As big a problem as cliques are in our modern world, it seems this short address should be taught to children in the cradle, long before they wreck their hearts trying to “belong” to this or that group.
My intention here is to work through it bit by bit, making a few comments about each section. I feel that if you stick with it to the end, you will be, as I was on first reading, convicted and relieved. Convicted because we are often guilty of the idolatrous desire to belong to a particular group, and relieved in understanding that there is a solution. Lewis’ message is in red, and my comments in black.
The Inner Ring
By C. S. Lewis
May I read you a few lines from Tolstoy’s War and Peace?
When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.
Tolstoy was an expert on human nature, painting subtle word pictures of how it works. In this excerpt, two underlings are a part of an exclusive and powerful group within the Russian military, and yet the group itself is not official, nor is it recognized by the official organization. Throughout the talk, Lewis uses this brief image as a backdrop for how cliques develop and work.
When you invite a middle-aged moralist to address you, I suppose I must conclude, however unlikely the conclusion seems, that you have a taste for middle-aged moralising. I shall do my best to gratify it. I shall in fact, give you advice about the world in which you are going to live. I do not mean by this that I am going to talk on what are called current affairs. You probably know quite as much about them as I do. I am not going to tell you—except in a form so general that you will hardly recognise it—what part you ought to play in post-war reconstruction.
It is not, in fact, very likely that any of you will be able, in the next ten years, to make any direct contribution to the peace or prosperity of Europe. You will be busy finding jobs, getting married, acquiring facts. I am going to do something more old-fashioned than you perhaps expected. I am going to give advice. I am going to issue warnings. Advice and warnings about things which are so perennial that no one calls them “current affairs.”
Lewis introduces his subject by indicating his desire to give advice and warnings to his young (college-aged) audience. His self-deprecating humor shines through as he identifies himself as a middle-aged moralist. Continue reading C.S. Lewis on Cliques