An Introduction to Ayn Rand’s Ideas

John Lewis looks at Ayn Rand’s thinking through a brief analysis of two of her books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and observations made during his many years working in the field of construction. He explains her ideas based on five branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Lewis emphasizes the importance of rationality and comments on Rand’s views on existence, identity, honesty, justice, and charity. Lewis also stresses the need to be free of coercion and comments on the differences between capitalism and socialism. Lewis emphasizes that one of the principal characteristics of Rand’s thinking is her adherence to reality, since she believed it was the fundamental truth of our existence and our rationality. John David Lewis (1955 – 2012) was visiting associate professor at Duke University and senior research scholar at Bowling Green State University. He taught at the University of London and Ashland University; he was also a fellow at the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship. His areas of expertise include intellectual history, military history, foreign policy, Islamic terrorism, national security, philosophy of law, and political philosophy. Lewis lectured at numerous universities and private groups and was the author of Nothing Less than Victory: The Will to Fight and the Lessons of History and Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens and Early Greek Lawgivers. He held a PhD in classics from the University of Cambridge.

What is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Reading? John David Lewis’ “Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History”

Netanyahu at the Knesset on Dec. 21, 2016 holding “Nothing Less than Victory” by John David Lewis. Photo: Olivier Fitoussi

From “What Is Netanyahu Reading These Days? And What Might It Say About His Future Plans?”:

The prime minister was seen in the Knesset chamber reading John David Lewis’ ‘Nothing Less than Victory,’ which suggests that successful military commanders who have achieved decisive victories have established stable peace.

During Wednesday evening’s long Knesset debate in the run-up to the final vote on the 2017-2018 budget, a number of Knesset members, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whiled away some of the time in the Knesset chamber catching up on reading.

In the prime minister’s case, he was reading “Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History,” published in 2010 by historian John David Lewis, who died in 2012 at the age of 57. Netanyahu is said to be a voracious reader, preferring non-fiction over novels. Time may tell whether Lewis’ book influences the prime minister’s future military thinking.

The premise of Lewis’ book is that aggressive military campaigns using decisive force are capable of winning wars and establishing lasting peace, while in contrast defensive military operations have led to indecisive outcome and prolonged hostilities. The book examines six wars from various periods, from antiquity to modern times.


When the book was initially published in 2010, Publishers Weekly said: “Lewis’s analysis of war as a psychological struggle and ‘clash of moral purposes’ is lucid and forceful; it’s especially telling in his incisive account of Sherman’s march [in the American Civil War] through Georgia, and especially provocative in his defense of the atomic bombings of Japan.”

Reflections on Trump’s Wall

Reflections on Trump’s Wall

They always failed. He had a lot to say on the subject. Here is a very pertinent quote from his book. Particularly ominous is the last paragraph:

“When Constantine marched on Rome in 312, his opponent Maxentius did not rely on the walls but rather marched out to meet his foe. The purpose of the walls was to protect the city until an army could come to its rescue, not to serve as a sufficient defense in their own right. But there is a deeper meaning to these walls. For centuries the majestic grandeur of Rome’s strength had been flaunted in the open roads into the city. It had been six hundred years since the city was last besieged, and for centuries an invasion of Italy had been inconceivable. Every Roman could see this power and this confidence in the openness of Rome’s roads, which connected her without fear to the world. These roads were like the shipping routes that had crossed the Aegean Sea when Athens was at her apex, which had brought the goods of the world to the foremost Greek city. The openness of Roman roads was true power, far stronger than mere walls. These roads were lines in the face of a confident city, the sinews of an invincible civilization with a people who admitted to no threats capable of striking their capital. Now the threats were real, and a new invasion was only a matter of time. Aurelian’s walls might have reassured the Romans that another invasion could be held off before penetrating the city itself, although Rome remained dependent on outside sources for its food and water. But the walls may also have had a deeper effect: they could not save Rome, but they could remind every Roman, every day, that he was perpetually at risk. The assault of the Goths onto Italy had been shocking but temporary evidence of Rome’s precarious position-as the sight of the Thebans had revealed the paucity of the Spartans, and Scipio’s landing swept fear through Carthage-but Aurelian’s walls were an open admission of permanent weakness and vulnerability. If any doubt remained that Rome was no longer the source of energy at the center of empire, that doubt was now removed. If one wished to name a particular event as marking the true Fall of Rome, one might look not to the elevation of King Odoacer to emperor in 476, or to the sack of Rome in 410, or even to the division of the empire in 395. The moment at which the city of Rome became just another town among many in an anarchic landscape, and not a source of law and power, was AD 271, with the decision to build walls around Rome. The political and military center of the empire had been gutted; the rest was a matter of time.”

Read John David Lewis’s book, “Nothing less than Victory”, for more info regarding walls erected in ancient times to protect the cities.

There Is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare


The late John David Lewis, a scholar and life-long champion of Ayn Rand’s ideas, has had an article posthumously published in a new medical ethics textbook. In the article, titled “There Is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare,” Dr. Lewis writes:

The greatest motivation behind calls for government control of medicine today may be found in the idea that medical care is an individual right, to be provided by the state. Such a claim is powerful precisely because it is moral in nature; it demands that doctors, other medical professionals, and taxpayers accept the moral duty to provide medical care to others because they need it. As Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi put it, on the night the vote was taken to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so-called “Obamacare”:

“Today we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society and pass health insurance reform for all Americans that is a right and not a privilege.”

If medical care is a right, then every member of the medical profession is bound—and may be required by law—to provide such care, at terms set by the government, whether they agree or not. Further, every citizen of means will be bound to finance such care for others, through taxation. But is this moral claim correct? Those who oppose such government interventions generally see medical care not as a right, but as a personal responsibility for each individual, to be purchased voluntarily from wiling producers. If so, then no one may properly demand medical services as a right—or be coerced into providing such services.

These two positions are in deep conflict in America today. This essay will expand upon each, and show they are founded upon diametrically opposed views of individual rights, which are at moral and conceptual odds with each other.

The idea that medical care is a right has shaped views about what the government’s role should be in the health care industry. American health care today is mostly controlled by the government. A major reason is that people hold medical care not as a good to be earned by one’s own efforts but an entitlement to be provided to some at the expense of others. Dr. Lewis’s contribution to this debate is welcome.

The textbook in which Dr. Lewis’s essay appears can be purchased, here.

(Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has also commented on this topic, here.)

In Memoriam: John David Lewis, 1955-2012


It is with great sadness that the Ayn Rand Institute announces the death on January 3, 2012, of Dr. John David Lewis after an extended battle with cancer.

At the time of his death, Dr. Lewis was visiting associate professor in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University, a position funded by the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship and by the BB&T Charitable Foundation. He was also adjunct associate professor of business at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After a 25-year career in business, he changed direction and earned his PhD in classics in 2001 at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England.

Dr. Lewis lectured internationally and was well known and respected by his colleagues at Duke. Dr. Lewis authored three books—Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press, 2010); Early Greek Lawgivers (Bristol Classical Press, 2007); and Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens (Duckworth Press, 2006)—as well as many other publications in academia and in the popular press. He was a frequent lecturer at Objectivist and non-Objectivist conferences throughout his career.

Dr. Lewis drew personal inspiration from Ayn Rand’s philosophy—and his work and life reflected his beliefs. He had a unique talent for conveying his knowledge and views, whether in delivering a lecture, writing a book, or in discussion with those around him.

Dr. Lewis’s wife Casey is planning a private memorial service later in 2012. She has requested that anyone wishing to contact her to please do so via email at:

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 the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship and/or the John David Lewis Memorial Fund at the Ayn Rand Institute. ARI’s Kathy Cross will assist those who wish to contribute to either of these funds. Please contact her at 732-242-9408 or by email at

In the passing of Dr. Lewis, the Objectivist movement has lost a true fighter. From all of us fortunate enough to have known him—and John had many personal friends at the Institute—thank you, John, for all your work, for your tireless devotion to the ideas you knew were right, and, most of all, for the inspiring way you lived your life. You are dearly missed.

Ayn Rand Institute

Leonard Peikoff on John Lewis

I mourn the death of John Lewis. John was a dedicated, courageous, and truly happy man. He loved his work, at which he became expert–his wife–and his life. He always signed his email: Cheers!

John waged a heroic battle against cancer, never giving up, always focusing on trying to achieve a recovery in the future. When told a little while ago that it was the end and he had only several months, he wrote me words to the effect of: I am not concerned about death, which I will never know, but about life, which I intend to go ahead and live as long as I can.

At the end of his email he said how eager he was to read my forthcoming book. Of course, I sent him a copy of the manuscript.

I have met many people who claim to embody Ayn Rand’s “benevolent universe” premise. John Lewis certainly did.

Upcoming Events

Now that teaching is over for the summer, I can get back to reading, writing, and speaking. On the last note, here is what I will be up to for the next few weeks:

May 13: Private lecture to the Leadership Program of the Rockies, “The Defense of American Rights: Principles, not Pragmatism.” This talk advocates a principled foreign policy, rather that the pragmatic stew we now find ourselves simmering in.
Learn about the program at

May 14: Private to the Front Range Objectivist Supper Talks in Denver. This one is on health care reform–properly understood–which starts properly with a proper conception of life, and what is needed to maintain it in the company of others. Check them out on Facebook.

May 19-21: Private Conference, The Liberty Fund. This conference of invited academics and businessmen–which I initiated and first organized–will deal with the Treatise on Political Economy by Jean-Baptiste Say, and its meaning for liberty today. Check out the Liberty Fund. Most of all, go to their on-line “Library of Liberty,” for hundreds of books on liberty.

May 24: Lecture in Chicago for The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. The lecture will be live-streamed and available on the net; check out the ARC here for the lecture. Click her for the Ayn Rand Center.

June 1-2: An invited conference at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. Here I will speaking on health care reform and individual rights.

July 1-11: The OCon Conference, organized annually by the Ayn Rand Institute. This year I’ll do a general lecture on “Individual Rights and Health Care Reform: A Patient’s Perspective,” a hard-hitting discussion of why Government-run medicine is the deepest attack on life itself. I will also do a three-day course on Greece in the early fourth-century. In the decades after the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, what happened? How did Athens return to power and influence, while Sparta suffered her worst defeat ever.Check it out here–and sign up!

Reviews and Comments about “Nothing Less than Victory”

A number of publications have seen it fit to review, or to comment about Nothing Less than Victory.

The Wall Street Journal noted my concern with how wars end, not only with the causes of wars (“Winning is the Only thing,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 2011, A13). “What distinguishes the latest volumes,” they write of my book and two others, “is their agreement that decisive military victory has become an increasingly discredited aim. . . . Where today’s writers disagree is about why this has happened. For Mr. Lewis, a classicist and a philosopher, this consensus reflects a willful misreading of the historical record and a misunderstanding of how victory shapes a lasting peace.” With this assessment I agree.

In Military Officer, the official magazine of the Military Officers Association of America (October 2010, p.23), William D. Bushnell writes:

“Soldiers and statesmen have long argued over how to both win a war and provide a lasting peace afterward. Historian John David Lewis offers a provocative answer–launch an aggressive offense focused on the enemy’s will to fight, not his capability.

“In this thoughtful and well-presented book, Lewis claims a defensive strategy only prolongs the carnage and results in stalemate and greater instability.”

Here are some other reviews of Nothing Less than Victory:

Michigan War Studies Review

US News and World Report, Washington Book Club

The Objective Standard

Five Books (5 Books on War and Foreign Policy: Interview)

Voices for Reason, The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

The Page 99 Test

National Review On-Line (Podcast)

Campaign for the American Reader

Times Higher Education

The Liberal Institute (Interview)

Learn about the magnificent drawing on the cover!

Read an excerpt (the Introduction)

Order Nothing Less than Victory from Amazon

More about Nothing Less than Victory

“John David Lewis has offered a superb appraisal of how ancient and modern wars start and finish. This chronicle of some 2,500 years of Western history is replete with a philosophical analysis of why nations fight, win—and lose. His insights and conclusions are original and fearless—as well as timely and welcome in the confused war-making of the present age.”

—Victor Davis Hanson, author of Carnage and Culture

Some New Work

OK, I am winning the war on cancer! So I am now focused on getting some writing done. In addition to two courses at Duke and one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I am trying to keep the ink flowing (or the electrons as it were). Here are some of my latest efforts. As always, you can see a more complete picture by going to my CV (follow the tab above).


You’ll need a university library for these two articles:

“Constitution and Fundamental Law: The Lesson of Ancient Athens,” Social Philosophy and Policy 28.1 (2011).

“Xenophon’s Poroi and the Foundations of Political Economy,” Polis 26.2 (2010).


Here are two recent reviews, in the on-line journal Bryn Mawr Classical Review:

T. Rood, American Anabasis: Xenophon and the Idea of America from the Mexican War to Iraq (London: Duckworth, 2010), for Bryn Mawr Classical Review , 2011.01.33.

J. R. Hale, Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy (NY: Penguin, 2009), for Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2010.01 57.

Follow this link for all of my BMCR reviews, published under John Lewis as well as John David Lewis (just scroll down to my name):


On January 21 I did a lecture at Duke on “The Moral Character of Exchange in the Ancient World.” This is available as a podcast (audio only) in the post immediately before this one. Or, follow this link to the website of the venerable Professor Michael Munger:


You may also look forward to an essay in the forthcoming volume “Ayn Rand: A Companion to her Work and Thought (Blackwell), as well as to a chapter in a forthcoming second edition of the textbook Medical Ethics, edited by M. Baylon titled “There is No ‘Right’ to Health Care.” I am also working on Xenophon’s political tract “Ways and Means” (or, “Poroi,” also translated as “On Revenues”) with a view to its praise of productiveness–and capital investment–as the key to prosperity and success. This is unique in the ancient world, and not well understood today–if current government policy is any guide.

I am keeping myself busy at conferences as well. I have organized a conference on Values at Duke University. I will also be gracing other conferences with my presence, including UNC-Chapel Hill (on political authority), Wake Forest University (on the Fed), Christopher Newport University (on the classics and America), the Association for Private Enterprise Education (my presentation is on Rand’s We the Living), the Liberty Fund (a conference I initiated on the economist Jean-Baptiste Say), and of course at OCon 2011 (in Florida).

Audio Lecture: The Morality of Exchange in the Ancient World

On Friday, January 12, 2011 I gave a lecture for the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program at Duke University.

“The Morality of Exchange in the Ancient World.”

I thank Professor Michael Munger for his kind invitation.

I especially thank the Thomas W. Smith Foundation for the support that made this possible.

HEAR THE LECTURE NOW! via podcast (about 50 minutes long, audio only) thanks to Professor Munger’s awesome mastery of technology: