Camelot or the Kingdom: The Truth About Kennedy, Huxley and C. S. Lewis

Posted on November 25, 2013 by

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In case some were not aware. not only was Friday, November 22 the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but also the 50th anniversary of the deaths of both C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley.  Lewis is of course well-known and loved by many Christians as an apologist of sorts as well as a brilliant writer.  Huxley is best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World (1932).  Kennedy and the Kennedy myth and cult seem to have lived on vigorously since that fateful day, while Lewis is known mainly to evangelical Christians and Huxley is invoked when one needs a good reference for “big government” (or alternatively, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949).  Kennedy fascinates while Lewis and Huxley are relatively obscure today in the general population.  But is there more to all this?  Who really has made a lasting contribution?  Who really is “alive” today in terms of real influence?

Let’s look at Kennedy.  Born into a wealthy Massachusetts family with political aspirations, Kennedy did, to be sure, fight in World War II and was indeed a hero on PT 109.  But beyond that, his life was a carefully coreographed play in which he took center stage and was groomed for high office, not only by his father Joseph, but also by many others, including the media.  He achieved that ultimate goal of the United States Presidency in 1960, in race that was more about Richard Nixon’s lack of charisma and good looks than Kennedy’s prowess (at least on the stump).  In office, Kennedy did make a few interesting and inspired speeches, but always gauged which way the political winds were blowing before making major decisions.  Unfortunately, despite the carefully crafted image portrayed, he was no statesman, but rather a middling president.  Yet, he is praised for what he supposedly did for the country and extolled as a true and natural-born leader.  Why, we may ask?  The answer comes in part from none other than Aldous Huxley, himself no burning evangelical Christian, but a prescient observer.  Huxley, grandson of the famous agnostic T. H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” dabbled in Indian religion and universalism (and LSD).  But he also keenly observed his own day and looked into the implications he saw for the future.  One of his most fascinating predictions is that in the future the media would use technology to present an image of politicians which would resonate in mass society.

This I think is the key to understanding the Kennedy myth.  The 1960 presidential race was lost by Kennedy on substance, but won on style–TV style and really good promotion (true confessions–one of my relatives was a pioneer in such mass image-making for Kennedy).  The Bay of Pigs could have cost Kennedy his political future, but did not due to careful imaging.  The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was deemed a Kennedy triumph of strong leadership by a Cold War warrior, but in reality, as the National Review of November 20 indicated, Kennedy gave up much to get little and then enlisted willing conspirators to keep it secret so as not to harm his or Robert, his brother’s, political careers.  Even after his assassination, the media portrayed him as a martyr for civil rights, after he had opposed a Civil Rights Act proposed by Republicans, and painted his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as a racist, white supremacist, though he was clearly a “card carrying” Communist sympathizer.  Kennedy’s philandering was assiduously covered up by a knowing media (in truth most presidential foibles were swept under the rug in those days), which, all the while portrayed him as a devoted husband to a beautiful and gracious wife and a loving father to his two young children.  Kennedy conceived two of the most expensive social programs in history–Medicare and Medicaid–though they were implemented by Lyndon Johnson’s administration and Congress.  But among liberals these are extolled.  Finally, Kennedy presided over the beginning of a long and divisive intervention in Vietnam.  In fact, he played fast and loose in South Vietnamese affairs.  But all this was carefully hidden except among diligent historians, who were then ignored if they deviated from the script as written.  “Camelot” was the term added by media and gushing historians after the fact to the mythological picture of the Kennedy White House.  Those who have read T. H. White’s novel The Once and Future King might notice that use of the term was unintentionally ironic, seeing only the glory but missing the sad end.

So this was Huxley’s prediction all along.  And it has worked.  It continues to be used quite effectively today.  As a result Kennedy and other politicians are and will be extolled not for what they were and did, but for what they were made to seem to have been and done.  There is a vast difference, but one which can be most effectively exploited for political gain–and the citizens’ loss.  The real life and career of Kennedy can leave one either jaded or eager to emulate—there seems to be no other path and so no hope.  Huxley alerts us to the dangers of “mass hypnosis” and the illusion of utopia, but leaves one cynical and also without any ground of hope.  Now what about C. S. Lewis, the last of the “triumvirate” of 1963?  Lewis exposes every possible fatal flaw in man, but also leaves room for the grace of God to change minds and hearts.  He gives well-grounded hope.

Lewis may be the least known among the general population (although Huxley has a strong case), but has arguably left by far the greatest, or at least the most noble, legacy to our generation or any generation.  He gave us works like Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, the fictional Chronicles of Narnia and “Space Trilogy,” among others.  What do all the works, even fictional, of Lewis have in common?  They never leave in doubt that there is a God (capital G) and that we desperately need Him.  Lewis’ diagnosis, if you will, is the beginning of the cure.  Without God, Lewis portrays the most dire consequences—I especially appreciate the somewhat speculative, but entirely consistent, picture of Hell and demons in the Screwtape Letters and the dismal picture of what happens when man attempts to break free from God and assert his “Tower of Babel” pride in That Hideous Strength.  This is mankind unbound, along with his fate.  Lewis showed us who we are without God, without Christ, but then tells us what to do about it, or, rather, more accurately, what God, and only God, could and  would do about it.  One does not have to agree wholly with Lewis’ theology to see the brilliant way in which he laid bare the truth.

Kennedy, Huxley, Lewis.  Their common factor was really only the day of their deaths.  I wish I could say otherwise.  We can learn something from all three if we are willing to see the truth.  But we can learn the most from Lewis—if we are willing to hear God, the giver of ultimate truth.  November 22, 1963 was indeed a momentous day in history.

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