Historian John David Lewis passed away early Tuesday morning after fighting cancer. Lewis, who specialized in classical Greece, delivered several lectures in Colorado over the last few years for Front Range Objectivism, a group that shares Lewis’s appreciation for the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Rand once said, “Those who fight for the future live in it today.” Lewis, a man who studied the past, applied the lessons of his scholarship to the matter of creating a better future. To me, he was a profoundly insightful scholar, a modern champion of liberty, and a friend.
Lewis wrote three books: Early Greek Lawgivers, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, and Salon the Thinker.
Following is the material by or about Lewis that I have published:
Take War to the Enemy, Lewis Urges
Lewis discussed foreign policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder (as reviewed here).
In 2007, Lewis gave three talks in Colorado. The topics were individualism, early Greek law, and individual rights in medicine. My article summarizes those talks.
Lewis Illuminates Solon’s Political Thought
I further review one of Lewis’s 2007 talks, then discuss his book about Solon.
John Lewis Reflects on Tea Parties
While in town for a lecture on the Athenian Constitution, Lewis reflected on the Tea Party movement.
John Lewis on Constitutions, Athens and Now
Lewis briefly summarized the basic conflict, in ancient Greece and in modern America, between democracy (mob rule) and constitutional government.
Photos of John
Following are several photos from John’s various trips to Colorado. Two of these photos show John talking with his former student, Joe Collins, now a teacher in Fort Collins. The photo of John and his wife Casey was taken by Kelly Valenzuela at the couple’s Fifteenth Anniversary celebration in Las Vegas. I’ve put these photos in a Picasa folder.
The John David Lewis Memorial Fund
The Ayn Rand Institute relates: “It was Dr. Lewis’s wish that in lieu of customary gestures of condolence, those wishing to honor his memory should send contributions to the John David Lewis Memorial Fund at theAnthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship and/or the John David Lewis Memorial Fund at the Ayn Rand Institute.”
In Remembrance of John
John will be deeply missed by friends and associates from around the country. (I’ll post updates.)
Remembering John Lewis – Alex Epstein
John David Lewis: A Man Who Lived – Craig Biddle
John Lewis, Hero and Friend – Diana Hsieh
In Memoriam: John David Lewis, 1955-2012 – Ayn Rand Institute
John Lewis – Leonard Peikoff
Colorado Tributes to John
Following are some memories of John from his friends in Colorado. (Others in Colorado who knew John are welcome to send me their comments as well.)
Kelly and Santiago Valenzuala:
John was one of the people in this world that we admired most and his loss is a great one to mankind. Fortunately, he left many of us with wonderful ideas to not only live by, but share and pass along in our efforts to improve the culture. On a personal level, John and Casey, their love and the way they lived their lives together, during good times and bad, was an inspiration to us. I will never forget their 15th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas and the wonderful pictures I took of them that week. Santiago and I have decided that should our baby be a boy (which is what we’re hoping for), his middle name will be Lewis, in honor of John.
I remember many things about John Lewis.
I remember his excellent lectures on ancient Greece at the OCON summer conferences. I remember a wonderful impromptu jazz piano performance he gave one evening at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. I remember when he was our house guest in Colorado raking horse manure, while telling fascinating tales about the battle tactics of the mounted Mongol archers.
But what I remember most about John was how he helped me regain my will to fight for my values back in 2009. At that time, the battle over ObamaCare health legislation was in full swing and I had become deeply discouraged. It seemed that despite all my blogging and letter writing, I wasn’t getting anywhere. My efforts seemed futile and pointless, like someone trying to fight a raging forest fire armed only with a tiny squirt gun. I was on the verge of quitting health care activism altogether.
But then one of John’s articles on ObamaCare got picked up by Rush Limbaugh.
Rush quoted extensively from John’s piece on his radio show, sending John’s words to millions of Americans. John’s example showed me that a single man, armed with the right ideas — and willing to articulate them with clarity and conviction — can indeed make a difference.
Fans of Ayn Rand’s book “The Fountainhead” may remember the scene when a young man is struggling to find his purpose in life after graduating from college. He finally finds his inspiration after seeing the recently completed Monadnock resort built by architect Howard Roark. For that young man, seeing another man’s achievement gave him “the courage to face a lifetime”.
John did the same for me. Seeing John’s ideas reach millions of eager Americans helped rekindle my enthusiasm to continue my own personal activism. His success gave me a spiritually vital “shot in the arm” at a time I needed it the most. John helped me understand that one is most alive when one is working to make one’s values real. In other words, John helped me understand what Ayn Rand meant when she said, “Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.”
Thank you, John, for helping me find my courage for my lifetime.
The world will be a less vibrant and exciting place without John Lewis. I was very privileged to know John and be the recipient of his knowledge and friendship. He was the best teacher that I ever had. I attended most of his lectures at Objectivist Conferences and had the pleasure to hear him in Denver and facilitate some of his Denver talks. I have always been envious of students who got to spend a whole semester with him, what a treat to spend that much time with him and learn so much. John had a true love of life and joy that was infectious. John was a fearless person who would tackle any battle and accept ‘Nothing Less than Victory.’ Unfortunately his last battle ended too quickly. I thank John for his knowledge, friendship and courage. He will be missed by me and many, many others but will be remembered often.
It’s inspiring to see what a human being can be capable of. John was a high achiever. He used his mind and his time very well. He was honest, sincere, diligent, courageous.
I don’t think John set any limit on how hard he would try. I think his first consideration was how important a thing was, not how much effort it would take. I think within the limits of whatever he had to work with, including however much energy he could generate, John considered only the value of one option vs. another.
He was also a friend of humanity, in the real way. He worked to make a better world, for himself and for Man. He did everything possible to him, toward this end, in large ways and in small. And he was quite generous. Though very busy, when asked for information or advice he would take a moment to help others to understand an issue or a needed course of action, the best he could. I think he did this for anyone he thought might have an honest, decent interest in trying to understand, as his time and priorities allowed.
John had an ability to get to the bottom of things, to identify what is important, to sweep aside the garbage and clutter, and to really understand the basic issues and their consequences. And then he would work to help others to understand too. I would not understand Objectivism nor political issues as well as I do, without John’s words.
Along with John’s great ability to understand, he had a great capacity to value. He loved good ideas, human achievement and good people.
John Lewis was just awesome.
I remember John Lewis as I first knew him. He was a brilliant lecturer whose passion for history was wickedly contagious. I remember the first lecture I attended; it became obvious during the question and answer session that this was a man who had all of the history of western civilization integrated in his mind and accessible in an instant.
I remember John Lewis as I came to know him. He was a friend whose love of life was almost tangible. I remember his love of music. I remember his love for his dear wife. I remember his love of his two puppies. I remember his concern for me as I dealt with what turned out to be minor health issues.
I remember John Lewis in his battle with cancer. He was a warrior who would accept “Nothing Less Than Victory”. I will always remember the lesson he taught us in that battle; that it is possible to live life fully and flourish by relentlessly pursuing ones values, even in the face of death. He could not control the cards that he was dealt, but I remember the inspiration with which he played them.
I remember John Lewis victorious.
John Lewis shall be widely remembered, to each for his own reason. Scholarship and the field of history is at a loss, for Dr. Lewis’ reading and teaching history on principle was the oasis in an academic desert. Humanity too mourns at its loss, for Dr. Lewis, unlike so many intellectuals, never turned down an opportunity to discuss ideas and history with the up and coming. He treated his fellow students with dignity and made them feel visible.
What is generally unknown was that Dr. Lewis was a steadfast patron of our schools and education reform. He dedicated with tireless effort his time teaching summer institutes on classical history. His speeches and writings are and will be among education’s great sources for the classics. In fact, among those jewels in his works was a speech which I hope is out there somewhere, an address to a group of high school seniors on Martianus Capella’s The Seven Liberal Arts. His best? And to high school students? Whether walking with kings or with crowds, that was John Lewis.
On my first meeting Dr. Lewis, he invited me to walk with him, of all places, to the Post Office. It was our first walk of many, as he became my Socrates. On another of our walks he suddently broke into a shout and tossed me a sword, he taking another, and commenced to show me how a hoplite would thrust and slash. Onlookers were bewildered, a man in sandals swordfighting on campus.
I am deeply honored to have known this man, and am particularly indebted to C. Bradley Thompson for insisting over a decade ago that I go down the hall and meet a genuinely beautiful human being. And that was my friend. Teachers and intellectuals carry with them the DNA so to speak of the giants on whose shoulders they stand. For my own I shall carry his love for life, of ideas, of education, and of liberty into the field. In this way, as the Greeks said, Lewis has reached immortality. Reputation sufficeth. It’s all we have. Continue, he would say to us. Be brave. He would ask us to continue to contemplate, write, advocate, and fellowship. And we shall.
Joseph E. Collins
James Madison Fellow
Ridgeview Classical Schools
Fort Collins, Colorado
I thought I’d add a few additional notes of a more personal nature. I wish to recount two stories.
In 2007, John Lewis was in town, and Lin Zinser organized a breakfast at a Denver restaurant to discuss health policy. A surprising number of people showed up for this event, something like 25 or 30. This was when Lin and Paul Hsieh were beginning their work in health policy in Colorado. One idea was to start a new group dedicated to promoting the ideas of liberty, free markets, and individual rights in medicine. We had tossed around a few possible ideas for a name for this group, but nothing seemed to work. At one point John blurted out (paraphrasing), “How about Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, or FIRM? As in ‘We stand FIRM for freedom.'” And that’s the name that stuck.
More recently, when John was pretty sick and his energy was sometimes low, he joined several us again at a Denver restaurant. Though, due to his surgeries, his voice was not as strong as it had once been, he spoke passionately about living. He said that, better than ever before, he understood the concrete meaning of the abstract fact that “life is the process of self-generated and self-sustaining action.” He was self-consciously living even in dealing with his illness. I was awe-inspired by his courageous fight against the cancer that eventually overtook his body, but never his spirit. Most men never live as fully when they are healthy, as he lived when he was ill.
On a broader note, I cannot help but wonder whether, if the United States had gone in the direction of greater economic freedom over the past century and a half rather than in the direction of more stifling political controls, medical technology would have already advanced to such a state that John’s cancer might have been curable or at least manageable for much longer. We cannot change the past, but we can still change the future. And John has emboldened me to fight for a future of Freedom and Individual Rights, not just in medicine, but in every area of life.
Like so many who knew John, I will never forget his intensity, joy, and passion for everything he engaged in, and his brilliant mastery of all he took on.
But what I want to convey here is that John David Lewis was genuine to the core, and lived his last two years heroically. Though I knew him for years, I had a friendship with him that began in 2009 when he was first diagnosed with cancer. He knew I was a cancer survivor, and so he called me early one morning to share the news that “it is big and it is bad, but it is treatable.” I listened in shock. But it was immediately apparent that he was going to address this with the vigor he addressed everything else. And he did.
In our wide ranging conversations his focus was, to the last conversation, laser sharp. It is a huge accomplishment that he lived beyond all expectations, both in time and in productiveness. Despite the best medicine available, he lived with profound, life altering consequences of the treatment, and eventually the disease. It had an effect on his spirit; the reality of this disease is ugly. But a life force and commitment to reason that he had cultivated long before I knew him made him victorious over it until the very end.
John would sparkle when he spoke of Casey, and for good reasons. It was a delight for Doug and me to get to know them as a couple. We loved the time we spent with them and we treasure Casey’s friendship.