Sunday, January 8, 2012

Goodbye Dr. Lewis, Mentor and Freedom Fighter




A few days ago I learned the terrible news that Dr. John David Lewis, possibly my favorite professional intellectual I’ve ever met, lost his battle with cancer and passed away on January 3, 2012. I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Lewis on a number of occasions, and was always struck by his passion, his intelligence, his charisma, and his acute judgement. Though I spent less than 15 hours with him in total, I received an incredible bounty of concentrated education, which led to hundreds more hours of contemplation and conversation, all inspired by this one man.

I’ve read several moving tributes to Dr. Lewis over the past few days, including kind notes from Paul and Diana Hsieh, Craig Biddle, and the ARI via Yaron Brook. As these and others have done, I would like to share a story about one of the ways in which Dr. Lewis changed my life for the better.

After 9/11, I was mad as hell and cried out (in vain) for a proper retribution. Though in general I supported military action against state sponsors of terrorism, I still didn’t fully understand what Dr. Lewis called “The Will to Victory.” I scoffed at friends who called for a nuclear strike on our enemies, or for mass bombing to target the enemy population and industry. I had studied a great deal of military history, but had never fully integrated the concept of individual rights with the function of the military. Dr. Lewis changed all that forever.

My first step was reading his articles No Substitute for Victory and William Tecumseh Sherman and the Moral Impetus to Victory. These articles are so clear, so well-researched, and so logically sound, I was immediately inclined to agree with his view. As wonderful and convincing as these articles are, they do not compare to meeting Dr. Lewis in person. I attended an event of his about the Iranian threat for the NYU Objectivist Club, and was delighted at the quality of the lecture. Dr. Lewis was even better during the Q+A period, dealing effectively and charismatically with every question.

I asked Dr. Lewis to clarify an issue related to individual rights: If all men possess individual rights, including civilians living in an enemy country, isn’t it a violation of their rights to destroy their homes and offices? After all, they didn’t do anything to us, not directly. How can we justify raining utter destruction on entire cities of non-combatants?

Thanks to Dr. Lewis, I already had an outline for the answer to this question. And his response filled in the rest of the pieces of the puzzle. Dr. Lewis has a way of making complex ideas amazingly clear. He explained to me that individual rights define man’s needs in a social context. It runs counter to our need for freedom to allow enemy nations to flourish though our own lack of moral will. History teaches us again and again that coddling an enemy, giving ground, anything less than the conviction to achieve complete victory, will result in failure.

After the lecture, I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Lewis and talking with him casually. He was so positive, so generous, so excited to be there -- it was infectious. Dr. Lewis loved to laugh, and he could speak intelligently on virtually any topic. But even with all that knowledge, whenever he spoke to you he always showed interest in you. He made everyone feel at ease. He was a natural people person because he was a genuine lover of human life.

I met Dr. Lewis several more times, and each time my respect and admiration for him grew. He made such a difference in so many lives, mine included, and I deeply mourn his loss. He will live on in the memories of those he inspired, to learn all that we can and to fight the good fight, as he did. Goodbye Dr. Lewis, mentor and freedom fighter.

--Dan Edge

No comments: