Fifty years ago, day before yesterday, three very important men died. John F. Kennedy, president of the United States, died in Dallas from an assassin’s bullet. C.S. Lewis, Christian apologist and author who had some measure of fame, died of natural causes. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, died while extremely ill after receiving a dose of LSD.
All three of these men died in vaguely appropriate ways–the man who wielded the sword was slain by it, the man who spoke well of the body was slain by it, and the mystic–yes, Huxley was into mysticism–died while taking psychedelic drugs. Also appropriately, the two writers, whose deaths would have made at least the second or third page of a newspaper on any other day, were completely overshadowed by the president’s death. Indeed, this is still the case, at least in America, as news media outlets were flooded with stories about JFK, both positive and negative, no one really seemed to care about Huxley or Lewis.
This was unfortunate.
John F. Kennedy was young, photogenic, politically savvy, and, when he entered office, mildly clueless about how to run things. His response to hearing about the Bay of Pigs invasion was to let it go ahead while not giving it the support it needed to succeed, which led to all the international opprobium from overthrowing another country without the advantages. This led to hundreds of dead Cuban exiles and four dead Alabama Air National Guardsmen, and a ton of problems that included the Cuban Missile Crisis. That being said, his boosting of the space program and special forces did more good than harm, and he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis well. He was also growing into the office, although whether or not his numerous dalliances would have destroyed his presidency is still a matter for discussion.
Huxley, however, is notable, at least to me, because of his prescience in predicting Western civilization’s endgame in Brave New World, where the ruling class was supported by genetic engineering, behavioral conditioning, and constant sex and entertainment. Admittedly, the first two do not seem to be in evidence. The sex and entertainment part, on the other hand…draw your own conclusions from the fact that there’s a portion of the American population willing to hand over economics to the government ’cause they can’t stand the notion of societal disapproval–or lack of approval–regarding non-traditional sex lives.
Lewis, however…perhaps I’m parochial, but Lewis, over the long term, will probably be more influential than Kennedy or Huxley. Kennedy was a politician, and a short-lived one. The trends he was involved in would have gone on without his ever having been president. Huxley merely presented a warning about the potential future.
Lewis didn’t just warn, he suggested. He taught. His writings have been influential in the moral development of millions of children–something no one will ever say about either Profiles in Courage or Brave New World. As to his theology, while at times it was slightly dodgy whenever he got theoretical, in right practice there were none better in the 20th century besides Francis Schaeffer. Also, his writing on English literature is still kind of a big deal, from what I understand. He never held the reins of power–he never wanted to. But his legacy, I suspect, will go on long after Kennedy is just another dead president (a mildly unjust verdict) and Huxley is even less remembered than he is now.
It’s those as tell the stories that get remembered–a lot more folk remember Homer than Agamemnon, and, in my opinion, that’s as it should be.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness