Atlas Network mourns the passing of a longtime friend, supporter, partner, and voice for the voiceless. Jon’s involvement with Atlas Network was crucial in scaling up our capacities over the last few decades, and his personal work has had an impact on countless individuals living in the unfree places of the world. He truly loved the freedom of other people, and he had many friends around the world who loved and will miss him.
"So sad to hear about Jon’s death but such a privilege to have known him. He was charming, amusing, thoughtful and principled. Tireless in the defence and pursuit of freedom and an outstanding human being by any measure. Also a huge help and support to Atlas Network over many years." —Linda Whetstone, Chair, Atlas Network
"Jon was a treasure for the freedom movement. He always had his eye on the horizon, looking for ways to build a broader following for the values that allow civilization to thrive, and steering this movement where our actions can improve the lives of those most threatened by tyranny and violence. During his long involvement with Atlas Network, as a member of our Advisory Council, he especially valued the work of our partners from post-Soviet and Muslim majority countries where standing up for liberty often requires real courage. Jon possessed that courage, along with so many virtues—an incisive mind, a generous heart, and a collegiality that made him a happy warrior in battle after battle." —Brad Lips, Atlas Network CEO
"Over the decades I knew Jon I always was awed by his clear-eyed commitment to the cause of liberty and the evils of tyranny. His personal and family experience were a source of strength to him and an inspiration to those who knew him." —Dan Grossman, Former Atlas Network Board Chair
“Jon fought for freedom his entire life. Over the decades that I knew him, he was kind and gentle, intelligent and thoughtful, but above all he was passionate about defending the freedom of everyone. The arrest of his father, who was imprisoned, tortured, and executed by the Communists, and the flight with his mother from the USSR had an impact on the course of his whole life. He didn't want anyone, anywhere to to be treated as a disposable asset of the state. Jon inspired and helped people on every continent and he never, ever gave up. We miss him terribly. Atlas Network's many partners remember and honor him by continuing his campaign against unlimited power, terror, violence, and oppression.” —Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network Executive Vice President and George M. Yeager Chair for Advancing Liberty
Jon was featured in Atlas Network’s Fall 2017 issue of Freedom’s Champion. The article is reprinted here.
Often, Atlas Network’s partners profiled in Freedom’s Champion have heart-wrenching personal stories; and sometimes, our generous supporters have them too. Such is the case with Jon Basil Utley, who was two years old when his mother got him out of Russia. Just weeks earlier, the secret police had arrested Jon’s father in the middle of the night and sent him to The Vorkutlag, one of the major Soviet-era Gulag labor camps. In 1938 he was executed for being one of three leaders of a hunger strike.
After their escape to England and then the United States, Jon’s mother, Freda Utley, became a celebrated anti-communist intellectual, authoring books such as The Dream We Lost: Soviet Russia, Then and Now, which George Bernard Shaw called, “The first thorough analysis of Soviet communism by an expert who lived in Moscow during the late 1920’s and 30’s.” Russell Kirk would later write, “Freda Utley has had some part in many of the grand and grim events of our time, and has known half the people worth knowing.”
Today, Jon sees a continuity with that of his mother in his own activism in the world of ideas. “She always supported or defended the oppressed,” he said recently in a meeting with Brad Lips in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. “Of course, I saw misery, poverty, and terrorism during my career when I worked in Cuba, Colombia, and Peru. Many people learned from Hayek about the impracticality of central planning, but I came to Atlas Network because of its support for free markets as the way to fight communism by raising living standards and opportunities in the Third World.”
In recent decades, Jon has focused his energy on sharing what he learned through his experiences. He speaks four languages. The Reagan Administration put him on the Voice of America advocating freedom and free markets to listeners behind the Iron Curtain. And as publisher of The American Conservative, Jon has helped revive a skepticism of foreign military interventions. The magazine’s online properties gain more than three million pageviews a month and have helped many other conservative and libertarian writers to get their foreign policy views publicized.
Through the years, Jon has been actively involved with Atlas Network. A former college classmate of Atlas Network’s late Executive Vice President of Academics Leonard Liggio, Jon has hosted many Atlas Network events, supported the work of its partners, and made key introductions. In 1998, he rekindled Atlas Network’s friendship with Sir John Templeton, whose philanthropic foundation would become a major supporter of Atlas Network. Jon continues to serve as a member of Atlas Network’s Advisory Council and just made a generous pledge to support a new Freda Utley Fellows Program as well as other programs supporting the participation of young think tank leaders from former Soviet nations and young Muslims yearning for societies with prosperity and freedom.