John D. Lewis: A Scholar's Affinity for the Philosophy of Ayn Rand Cost Him His Job

Historians in the News

In late April, John D. Lewis, a historian and classicist at Ashland University, flew to Virginia to deliver a lecture at George Mason University about U.S. policy toward Iran. Mr. Lewis is an admirer of the late Ayn Rand, and he shares her belief that democracies should respond to external attacks without much concern for civilian casualties. He wrote in an essay in 2006 that "America, acting alone and with overwhelming force, must destroy the Iranian Islamic State now. It must do so openly, and indeed spectacularly, for the entire world to see, for this is the only way to demonstrate the spectacular failure and incompetence of the Islamic fundamentalist movement as a whole."

Mr. Lewis's bellicose reputation preceded him. His George Mason speech had already been postponed from its original February date because of protests from left-wing student organizations. When he finally delivered it, he did so under heavy security.

The postponement raised alarm bells. "George Mason may be the father of the Bill of Rights," wrote a reporter at National Review, "but it looks like the university named in his honor is having trouble with that part about free speech."

Student leftists, however, were not the only people challenging Mr. Lewis's academic freedom that week in April. Hours before he flew to Virginia, he resigned from his position at Ashland, in the culmination of a years-long faculty battle over his interest in objectivism, as Rand termed her philosophy. And in the Ashland arena, Mr. Lewis says, his foes were mainstream and evangelical Christians.

Mr. Lewis says his battles reflect the extraordinary and unfair degree of hostility that objectivists in academe receive from both left and right. "In the morning at Ashland, I was resigning because conservatives and evangelicals were opposed to me," he says. "And then in the evening I was at George Mason, and there were some Muslims and this new student SDS opposed to me. I found that poignant."...

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