Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John David Lewis, New Intellectual

John David Lewis, one of a small but growing number of Objectivist intellectuals taking the lead on spreading the ideas of philosopher Ayn Rand (and by implication the ideals of the Enlightenment and of the Founding Fathers), died on January 3rd, 2012.

ARI has put up a memorial page, which contains a listing of his contributions to Objectivist thought. Several excellent tributes have been written, including by Craig Biddle, who summed up Mr. Lewis' personal and professional mission:

John taught at Duke, where his primary message to students was that their minds are efficacious; that they can acquire knowledge of the world, including historical and moral truth; that they can achieve their dreams if they are willing to think and work; and that their lives are theirs to live and enjoy.

Mr. Biddle's tribute and those of others who personally knew him such as Ari Armstrong, Alex Epstein, and Diana and Paul Hsieh lend a personal perspective for those of us who didn't know him. Leonard Peikoff, echoing others who spoke of John Lewis' enthusiam for life, wrote:

John waged a heroic battle against cancer, never giving up, always focusing on trying to achieve a recovery in the future. When told a little while ago that it was the end and he had only several months, he wrote me words to the effect of: I am not concerned about death, which I will never know, but about life, which I intend to go ahead and live as long as I can.

My motivation in recognizing Mr. Lewis' death here is to raise some awareness of his work in the activism field. I've often quoted from and linked to his work, including his articles in The Objective Standard such as Obama's Atomic Bomb: The Ideological Clarity of the Democratic Agenda
and What the “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” HR 3962, Actually Says.

I've enjoyed, learned from, and been inspired by his public talks and lectures, as well. I particularly liked Health Care Reform: Setting Doctors Free, delivered seven months before his death. In this lecture, Dr. Lewis discusses the inextricable link between life and action. He shows how to live requires the freedom to not just think but to act on one's thinking. Government-run medicine is fundamentally anti-life because it forcibly interferes in the doctor's ability to act on his own judgement.

Ayn Rand defines "intellectual" thusly:

The professional intellectual is the field agent of the army whose commander-in-chief is the philosopher. The intellectual carries the application of philosophical principles to every field of human endeavor. He sets a society’s course by transmitting ideas from the “ivory tower” of the philosopher to the university professor—to the writer—to the artist—to the newspaperman—to the politician—to the movie maker—to the night-club singer—to the man in the street. ... The intellectual is the eyes, ears and voice of a free society: it is his job to observe the events of the world, to evaluate their meaning and to inform the men in all the other fields.

With so many of this country's intellectuals of both Left and what today passes for the Right working to advance statism and thus undermine freedom, America desperately needs the kind of "voice of a free society" that Dr. Lewis provided. Furthermore, he provided inspirational leadership to those many of us who occupy the next level of the army's intellectual hierarchy; those whom I would characterize as the foot soldiers to the field agents.

Ayn Rand placed the blame for the decline of American ideals squarely on the shoulders of the intellectual profession, and called for The New Intellectuals to arise to lead the way to an American Renaissance. John Lewis was in the vanguard of this new intellectual force. He was an invaluable asset to the Objectivist movement.

1 comment:

Mike Kevitt said...

Although I knew Lewis had had cancer, but in remission, I still thought, it being cancer, "Yeah, but". So, while I was a little shocked at the ARI posting, on his website, of his death, I wasn't really surprised. I'd just been hoping it wouldn't happen. People sometimes do beat cancer.

I started visiting his website late last summer and left him a few comments. His cancer was probably coming back by then. That turned out to be about it for me with him, unfortunately.

It is my belief we've lost, with him, a cultural beach head at Duke and UNC, Chaple Hill, for now. But, his work, featuring, for me, his book, Nothing Less than Victory, will help regain that.

I will keep my brief acquaintence with him.