Points of Connection Between the Living and the Dead

John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

John F Kennedy (1917 – 1963)

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination. It wasn’t the most significant event of its kind in the twentieth century – Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which lead to the Great War, and thereby to World War II and the Cold War was much more important – but as the victim was the effective leader of the ‘free world’ it commands a unique place in our collective memory.
John F Kennedy was not the only person to die on 22nd November 1963. On the same day, we lost C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Lewis needs no introduction. Unfortunately, the same is probably not the case with Huxley. This is a shame, as his novel Brave New World is regarded as one of the finest science fiction novels of the twentieth century – on a par with 1984.
Now, what has all this got to do with a blog dedicated to Alexander the Great? Well, it occurred to me last night that there is a way in which Kennedy’s assassination echoes Philip II’s, while Alexander’s death similarly echoes C S Lewis’ and Aldous Huxley’s.
My reasoning is this – the assassination of both Philip and John F Kennedy were (at least in part) acts of spite by their murderers, and both murders had big political consequences. In Philip’s case it was the accession of Alexander to the Macedonian throne, the downfall of the Persian empire and the birth of the hellenistic period. As for John F Kennedy it is my understanding that when he died he was thinking of withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. Had he done so he might have saved America the bitter regret and disinclination to involve itself in future wars that came with its defeat to the Viet Cong, which was a consequence of President Johnson’s decision to send more troops there.
It goes without saying that Alexander’s death also had political consequences – one’s which in both the short and long term were much more profound than those which follwe Philip’s murder – but the consequence that I am most interested in is the fact that when Alexander died, the heroic age of Greece – which had begun in the mythical age of the Titans and gods – finally came to a close.
Alexander was a king but – as I’m sure I have said before – I don’t think he actually cared for kingship very much. He ‘simply’ wanted to win glory through war and exploration; to go further than any man – or god – had done previously – and to do it better than them as well. I can’t think of any monarch since who has followed in his footsteps.

C S Lewis (1898 - 1963)

C S Lewis (1898 – 1963)

So, when Alexander died, an idea died with him. Which idea died with C S Lewis and Aldous Huxley? Actually, none. They themselves were the idea – Lewis with his ‘muscular Christianity’ and Huxley with his dystopian view of the future.
Of the three ideas, Lewis’ is certainly the most pleasing. I should add here that when I talk about ‘muscular Christianity’ I don’t mean the Victorian idea. I’m thinking of no more than that Christianity which takes its faith with a pint of ale, cigarette or pipe if one so wishes, a hearty meal and conversation around the hearth. I might as well call it Inklings Christianity! As much as I like Alexander I am rather glad I don’t feel obliged to make war on people to win a good reputation. Why a dystopian future is not so likeable should be obvious.
Having said that, as the consequences of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s and Philip’ II’s deaths show, we live interconnected lives, so even as I praise Lewis I have to recognise that he could not have lived as he did if it had not been (for example) Alexander – think the spread of hellenism and how it aided the spread of the Christian faith three centuries later, which Lewis was a part of. And in truth, I like that. I like the fact that we owe each other something as that builds up community; one which, I might say, transcends life itself. On this day of deaths, that is a comforting thought.
JFK, CSL, AH – Requiescant in Pace.

Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963)

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