An Interview with Dr. John Lewis

by | Apr 29, 2009

The greatest threat is our own failure to understand the nature of our rights, and to recognize the moral goodness of a nation founded to protect those rights.

Dr. John Lewis, who gave the stirring speech at the Charlotte Tea Party on April 15th (video; text) granted an interview to the Ohio Objectivist Society to discuss the impact of his speech, his new book, the future of the country, and other topics.

How positive was the response to your Charlotte Tea Party speech? Has it opened any unexpected doors for you?

The response was overwhelmingly positive. The big question of such an event is whether it will be dominated by anarchists (who see no need for a government to protect individual rights), or the religious right (who base their claims on divine visions). I saw little of either. People were there because they are outraged about the crisis in government today–a government that is unwilling to control spending, and that sees no limits to its power to coerce Americans. They were as outraged about government grants to millionaires as they were about welfare programs for the poor.

The door that has opened is to offer intellectual guidance for those who are outraged. Outrage is an emotion. If not based on an intellectual understanding of the issues, it will either dissipate into powerlessness, or mutate into fringe political groups that are as dangerous to American freedom as are the two political parties today. Most of all, this is an opportunity for those Republicans who want limited government to take their party back from the conservatives, who want to impose their own moral views by force onto the rest of us.

Do you fear some in the audience latched on to your use of the word “moral”, assumed you meant Christianity, and ignored the rest of your explanation of rational self-interest?

Well, they will have to twist their understand of individual rights–which are inalienable to us by nature–into the gift of a deity or his representatives. I hope that I presented a view of “moral” that is something other than such a gift. The New Testament calls for socialism–see Acts 4.31 through 5.11–and bases it on fear. One Ananias died after failing to hand over all of his wealth to the Apostles–and his wife then died for covering for him. It’s high time for Christians to admit that “give unto the poor” (Jesus) and “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marx) mean the same thing, once enacted politically or inculcated morally.

But my speech was short–it cannot substitute for a broader philosophical understanding of ourselves, the world around us, and the nation we live in. Those who understand the nature of rights, should realize that a supernatural, faith-based understanding of rights concedes to the socialists their claim to be scientific and rational. This concession has prevented conservatives from defending capitalism for the past three generations. If not challenged, it will destroy freedom. But many conservatives, unwilling to grasp the nature of capitalism, freedom and rights, have become supporters of the welfare state. It is time to end this destructive alliance between the socialist left and the religious right.

I might suggest you see my article, “Reason or Faith: The Republican Alternative,” in The Objective Standard.

What advice can you give to other Objectivists wanting to make such a rousing speech?

Know your case, and know your principles. There is no shortcut to a good education as the prerequisite to defending reason, rights and freedom.

Can you provide some info about your new book, Nothing Less Than Victory? – what is it about, what motivated you to write it, when is it expected to be available, etc?

Nothing Less Than Victory: The Will to Fight and the Lessons of History is in production with Princeton University Press. The book maintains that wars begin because men choose to fight. Only ideas–specifically moral ideas–can lead men into years of slaughter on a continental scale. Major wars do not rage due to chance, technology, or even charismatic leadership–it is ideas that allow men to follow their leaders into carnage for aggressive purposes. For aggressors, the idea of sacrificing oneself for the aggrandizement of the state or the nation–through loot, enslavement of neighbors, or territorial expansion–fuels such a massive efforts at destruction. Many defenders may share those views, and in some wars neither side is right. But in wars in which the side being attacked is out to defend the lives of its citizens, an understanding of their moral goodness is necessary for an effective defense. This is what America had in 1941, when Japan attacked and Germany declared war.

Nothing Less Than Victory examines six wars, from the Greeks and the Romans into the American Civil War and World War Two–in which one side attacked, and the war bogged down into years of bloodshed, until the side under attack mounted a vigorous offense, and destroyed the will to fight in the other. The result, in these cases, was long-term peace, based on a new relationship between former enemies. My book asks us to reconsider the basis for wars in ideas, and to ask what was needed to confront, and end, the will to war in these cases.

[For related discussion in advance of Dr. Lewis’s book, I recommend Dr. Yaron Brook’s excellent lecture Democracy vs. Victory: Why the “Forward Strategy of Freedom” Had to Fail.]

You have written numerous articles about socialism, American Conservatism, and Islam. Which do you think is currently the greatest threat to our individual rights, and to the country?

The greatest threat is our own failure to understand the nature of our rights, and to recognize the moral goodness of a nation founded to protect those rights. Without this understanding, any one of the movements you mentioned could undercut and destroy the American Republic, and leave its citizens living under a dictatorship. Socialism is destroying America–but this has been abetted by “compassionate conservatism.” And, neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to confront and end the threat of totalitarian Islam.

It is clear today that the threats we face are not primarily military attack. It is the subversion of the American system of government that is the greatest threat–and this can only happen by the passive acquiescence of the majority of Americans, who would rise up and demand an end to these threats, if they understood them. This is the historic opportunity we have today–to ground our rights, and our government, on a proper moral basis. If we do that, and act openly in our own rational self-interest, we will save ourselves, our nation, and, incidentally, the world.

Brian is Director of Marketing for the Ohio Objectivist Society, and is involved in everything from flyers to networking to Facebook ads.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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