TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

John David Lewis: A Man Who Lived

John and Casey[Written on Jan. 3, posted on Jan. 4, 2012]

My good friend John Lewis died this morning having battled cancer relentlessly, and I want to say a few words here about his life.

John was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. A husband, historian, writer, speaker, professor, musician, and friend, he pursued his values with awe-inspiring passion.

He cherished his lovely wife, Casey, and always beamed in her presence, as she did in his. My heart goes out to Casey; her loss is the greatest of all.

When John was in his 40s, he decided to change his career from businessman to intellectual. He proceeded to earn a PhD in classics from Cambridge and to achieve masterful knowledge of the history of Ancient Greece and of military history in general, which he integrated with rational philosophy thus achieving what few historians do: an understanding not only of what happened, but also of why it happened. His book and essays on the causes of war and the requirements of victory are surely the most profound ever written.

He spoke at Objectivist conferences and Tea Party events, where his courses and lectures were always among the most popular, insightful, and inspiring. He also spoke on the morality of free markets in medicine and the need to get the government out of the way so that innovators can innovate. I suspect that, had markets been free, he would still be alive.

John taught at Duke, where his primary message to students was that their minds are efficacious; that they can acquire knowledge of the world, including historical and moral truth; that they can achieve their dreams if they are willing to think and work; and that their lives are theirs to live and enjoy.

He played the drums, loved jazz, and revered precision and clarity in music, as he did in thought and communication.

And he gave me, and all of his friends, the joy of great conversation, great camaraderie, and the most valuable thing anyone can give another: an example of how to live passionately.

While I was visiting John over the holidays, he said to me that his death was of no concern to him. He did not mean that he didn’t care whether he died—on the contrary, he wanted desperately to live. What he meant was that the only thing one should concern oneself with is living and loving life. That is what John did. He lived life fully until he could live no more.

I embrace and will continue to embrace his example. I will concern myself only with living and loving life. But I loved John immensely, and I will miss him as much as I loved him. He is my hero.

Posted in: Announcements, Foreign Policy and War, History

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    My condolences Craig. 

  • SJ Driscoll

    I never met John, but I followed his achievements with interest. I’ll miss him being in the world.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Larry.

  • Anonymous

    Sally, I think if you had known John you would have loved him. But to read his works and listen to his lectures is to learn a great deal about who he was. His passion, intelligence, honesty, and clarity came through in everything he did. He was exactly the man he appeared to be.

  • Kelly Valenzuela

    John was an awesome man and a hero. You couldn’t have said it better, Craig.  Thank you!

  • Ashley King

    I just recently reread his stirring essay on William Tecumseh Sherman.  We must do justice by that great American warrior, as John Lewis set the record straight.  Dr. Lewis fought the fight of our day for liberty and civilization with courage and the unvarnished truth.

  • Beth Haynes

    Thanks for this tribute. I am so sad to learn of his death. His life enriched all he touched.

  • Anonymous

    Yes he was. Thank you for the kind words, Kelly–and thanks also for letting me use your picture!

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, Ashley. The Sherman essay is a monumental act of justice, as were John’s other essays on war. He set many records straight. Another reason I loved him. 

  • Anonymous

    John really did enrich everyone he touched. He’s one of the few people about whom that’s literally true. Remarkable man.

  • Anonymous

    I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to take Dr. Lewis’s Political Science seminar this past semester at Duke. During the brief three month period, we not only gained substantial knowledge of the classics, but also focused on thinking critically and true scholarship. His utmost dedication to his beliefs, his students and, most importantly, knowledge, serves as an inspiration to myself and my fellow classmates. It was a privilege to attend his class. 

  • Dan Edge

    Dr. Lewis was perhaps my favorite professional intellectual that I’ve ever met.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions.  Even in that short time he taught me so much, and I’ll never forget him.  

    Thanks you, Craig, for this very moving and very accurate dedication to Dr. Lewis’s life.

  • John McCaskey

    I can’t get this out of my head:

    Two themes seem to have pervaded John’s life. 

    The first was fighting. He fought through childhood obstacles. He fought a tough battle with cancer. His battle for academic tenure drew national press attention. He was an impassioned speaker inciting Tea Party audiences to fight for liberty. He wrote a book and articles about war. So many remember him by saying, “John fought for this,” or “John fought for that.”

    But the other theme was his benevolence. He was always smiling. He was always excited, always ready to lend a helping hand. In an acrimonious community John would be the only person everyone liked. John was lovable. 

    That these two themes could be so integrated into the character of one man tells us something about the man, and about life.

    What a man, what a life, what an inspiration. What a loss.

  • Anonymous

    John, I think that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen written about John to date. Thank you, sir.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Dan. I learned from every encounter with John. He was a Midas of sorts.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you K Spencer for that firsthand account of what it was like to study under John at Duke. I’d have paid any price to have had a professor of his caliber in college. My heart goes out to you and your fellow students for this tragic loss.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your comments, your work, and the links, Boaz. You too stand at the “Hot gates” and I appreciate all that you do.

  • Geoffrey O’Brien

    While I knew nothing of Dr. Lewis personally, I have always enjoyed his thoughtful and engaging articles and commentaries.  His earliest articles for TOS regarding the second world war and the american civil war were among the first I read, of which helped to draw me in further.  Notwithstanding his further enlightenment of the honest and enquiring minds of many Americans, I can assure that his efforts have had a profound effect upon at least one mind beyond America’s shores.  My sincere condolences.

  • Anonymous

    I did not know Dr.Lewis but I did hear him speak at the University of Michigan in early 2008.  He was eloquent and certainly made his case for justice and taking action.  I share your loss.

  • Marcy Fleming

    Good riddance to an evil advocate of genocide in the Civil War, WW2, The Middle East.

  • Marcy Fleming

    Good riddance to an evil advocate of genocide in the Civil War, WW2, The Middle East.

  • Bob Realer

    A great hero is gone. If only the world were wise enough to lament the fact.

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