John Lewis (philosopher)

John Lewis (philosopher)

John Lewis (February 1, 1889 - February 12, 1976) was a British Unitarian minister and Marxist philosopher and author of many works on philosophy, anthropology, and religion.

Lewis's father, a successful builder and architect, came from a Welsh farming family, and was a very religious Methodist. Young Lewis's social and political views clashed with those of his father. Their quarrels eventually led to his father disinheriting him.

Education and religious work

Lewis attended Dulwich College and University College, London, where he earned his B.Sc. Having been raised a Methodist, he soon left that church to become a Congregationalist. He studied for the ministry at Cambridge, and in 1916 was appointed to a Presbyterian church in Gravesend; in 1924, he moved to a church in Birmingham. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Birmingham, specialising in the philosophy of Karl Marx, and becoming a Marxist himself.

By 1929, his left wing views were too strong for the church he was in and he moved to Ipswich as a Unitarian minister. Here, his leftist political sermons attracted a large youth following, but upset a group of older, more conservative members. Their complaints led Lewis to offer his resignation, to be put to a vote of the membership. In a packed and charged meeting, he received the support of the majority of church members.

Political and social activism

Lewis participated in anti-war political activity starting in 1916. On one occasion, he had to be rescued from an angry crowd. He also became involved in work to support the unemployed, and served on the local Trades Union Council. On one occasion, at Christmas, he led a group of unemployed men who marched to the Town Hall, where the Mayor was holding his formal Christmas dinner. They walked in and sat down, demanding to join the feast.

He also was involved with the Boy Scout movement, running a Scout troop, and authoring training booklets. He acted as a guide for outdoor holidays organised by the Holiday Fellowship. He often went to Switzerland, and took parties up the Matterhorn.

In the 1935 General Election he stood unsuccessfully as Labour candidate for Great Yarmouth.

Leftist politics

The Bolshevik Revolution had a great effect on Lewis, and he studied Russian. He became a Christian Socialist, and later a Marxist.

In 1936 the Left Book Club, started by the publisher Victor Gollancz, was very popular. Lewis quit his ministry in Ipswich to take on the task of building a national network of discussion groups. The groups brought together in a progressive movement intelligent, literate people who had not found rewarding political action in leftwing parties. Soon there were groups in every town. In effect, the Left Book Club and its groups had become a quasi-political party.

He also became the editor of the British Marxist journal, "The Modern Quarterly", from 1946-1953. He was very interested in polemical writing, and authored many books and articles in a polemical vein on topics of philosophy, social issues, and Marxism. In one exchange of polemics, he took on the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.


During World War II Lewis was a lecturer for the British Army, working with the Army Education Corps and the Army Bureau of Current Affairs and lecturing on, among other things, Britain's wartime ally, the Soviet Union.

He also taught at several different schools, including a stint teaching biology at Morley College.


* "The Old Testament in the 20th Century"
* "A Faith to Live By"
* "Christianity and the Social Revolution" (Ed.)
* "Textbook of Marxist Philosophy" (Ed.)
* "Douglas Fallacies: A Critique of Social Credit"
* "The Philosophy of the Soviet State"
* "An Introduction to Philosophy"
* "The Case Against Pacifism"
* "Marxism and Modern Idealism"
* "The Basis of Soviet Philosophy"
* "Marxism and the Open Mind"
* "Religions of the World"
* "Science, Faith, and Scepticism"
* "Anthropology"
* "Socialism and the Individual"
* "A History of Philosophy"
* "Man and Evolution"
* "The Life and Teaching of Karl Marx"
* "Bertrand Russell: Philosopher and Humanist"
* "Naked Ape or Homo sapiens?"
* "The Left Book Club: An Historical Record"
* "The Marxism of Marx"
* "Marxism and the Irrationalists"
* "The Uniqueness of Man"
* "Max Weber and Value Free Sociology: A Marxist Critique"


* "The Anglo-Marxists: A Study in Ideology and Culture", by Edwin A. Roberts, New York: 1997. A chapter is devoted to Lewis.

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