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RIP, David Nicholas Mayer, 1955-2019

RIP, David Nicholas Mayer, 1955-2019

3 Mins
December 30, 2019

We note with great sorrow the loss of David Mayer, who died November 23, 2019 at 63, of a lengthy illness.


David was a professor of law and history at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, from 1990 to his retirement as emeritus in 2015, teaching courses across a wide range of topics in his field, especially in the history of the Founding Fathers and their work in creating the U.S Constitution. Previously, he taught at the Chicago-Kent College of Law and worked in private practice. He earned his law degree from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia.

David’s special interest was Jefferson; his book The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (1995) is the authoritative work on the subject. He also published a seminal work for the Cato Institute, Liberty of Contract: Rediscovering a Lost Constitutional Right (2011), and was working on a magisterial book on the Constitution until his untimely death.

David was a great friend of The Atlas Society, as he was to many other organizations. He was a generous donor, a member of our Board of Advisors, and—most of all—a regular speaker at our conferences. From his first appearance at our annual Summer Seminar in 1996, and for the next 20 years, he gave many talks at that Seminar and other events. He was one of our “stars,” invariably earning top ratings from participants along with comments that convey his charm, enthusiasm, and breadth of knowledge:

“David's knowledge and enthusiasm makes me wish the class was an all-day session.”

“Mayer is great! So clear, such a natural delivery, such enthusiasm for his subject, such obvious knowledge of the material. His fresh insights into history’s great figures never cease to amaze, impress, and encourage me!”

David’s topics at our events covered a wide range of historical and constitutional issues. Taken together, they are the best introduction you will find to Constitutional law and the animating ideals of our Founding Fathers, from a perspective that honors their intent. See the titles below for links to some of David’s best talks on the subject.

David also wrote frequently for our publications, Navigator (1997-2004) and The New Individualist (2005-2011). My favorite work of his (hard as it is to choose) is his article “Completing the American Revolution,” based on his talk at our 2007 celebration of Atlas Shrugged’s 50th anniversary. Ayn Rand said (in “Man’s Rights”), “America’s inner contradiction was the altruism-collectivist ethics. Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights.”

David took that briefly-stated philosophical insight and, as an historian and legal scholar, spelled out in detail why it was true. I love the conclusion to his article:

To resolve the conflict, and to place the Founders' "new science of politics" upon a firm philosophical footing—and thus to complete the work of the American Revolution—we need not only to reaffirm the Founders' commitment to individual rights but to ground that commitment in a coherent theory of rights….

By presenting a new code of ethics—the morality of rational self-interest—Rand’s novel [Atlas Shrugged] helps to provide what the Founders failed to grasp, the missing element of the American Revolution: the moral justification of capitalism, and with it, of the rights of all persons—including the American businessman….

To fully protect property rights and all aspects of the basic right to liberty, including economic liberty, it might even be necessary to add such provisions to the text as the amendment suggested by Judge Narragansett, in the concluding section of Atlas Shrugged: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade.”

To complete the American Revolution, much work has yet to be done. Thanks to Ayn Rand’s magnificent novel, however, we can identify the path along which we must travel to reach that destination. As John Galt states in the closing lines of the novel, “The road is cleared.”

David was a consummate scholar, a prolific writer, a generous teacher and mentor, and a dear friend. His death is a loss to TAS, to the Objectivist movement, and to the future of freedom.

For Further Review

Restoring the Constitutional Presidency (2012) –– Part 1, Part 2:

Rights and the Constitution (2015) –– Part 1, Part 2

Postmodernism and the Jefferson-Hemmings Myth

David Kelley


David Kelley

David Kelley is the founder of The Atlas Society. A professional philosopher, teacher, and best-selling author, he has been a leading proponent of Objectivism for more than 25 years.

David Kelley Ph.D
About the author:
David Kelley Ph.D

David Kelley founded The Atlas Society (TAS) in 1990 and served as Executive Director through 2016. In addition, as Chief Intellectual Officer, he was responsible for overseeing the content produced by the organization: articles, videos, talks at conferences, etc.. Retired from TAS in 2018, he remains active in TAS projects and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees.

Kelley is a professional philosopher, teacher, and writer. After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1975, he joined the philosophy department of Vassar College, where he taught a wide variety of courses at all levels. He has also taught philosophy at Brandeis University and lectured frequently on other campuses.

Kelley's philosophical writings include original works in ethics, epistemology, and politics, many of them developing Objectivist ideas in new depth and new directions. He is the author of The Evidence of the Senses, a treatise in epistemology; Truth and Toleration in Objectivism, on issues in the Objectivist movement; Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence; and The Art of Reasoning, a widely used textbook for introductory logic, now in its 5th edition.

Kelley has lectured and published on a wide range of political and cultural topics. His articles on social issues and public policy have appeared in Harpers, The Sciences, Reason, Harvard Business Review, The Freeman, On Principle, and elsewhere. During the 1980s, he wrote frequently for Barrons Financial and Business Magazine on such issues as egalitarianism, immigration, minimum wage laws, and Social Security.

His book A Life of One’s Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State is a critique of the moral premises of the welfare state and defense of private alternatives that preserve individual autonomy, responsibility, and dignity. His appearance on John Stossel’s ABC/TV special "Greed" in 1998 stirred a national debate on the ethics of capitalism.

An internationally-recognized expert on Objectivism, he has lectured widely on Ayn Rand, her ideas, and her works. He was a consultant to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, and editor of Atlas Shrugged: The Novel, the Films, the Philosophy.


Major Work (selected):

Concepts and Natures: A Commentary on The Realist Turn (by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl),” Reason Papers 42, no. 1, (Summer 2021); This review of a recent book includes a deep dive into the ontology and epistemology of concepts.

The Foundations of Knowledge. Six lectures on the Objectivist epistemology.

The Primacy of Existence” and “The Epistemology of Perception,” The Jefferson School, San Diego, July 1985

Universals and Induction,” two lectures at GKRH conferences, Dallas and Ann Arbor, March 1989

Skepticism,” York University, Toronto, 1987

The Nature of Free Will,” two lectures at The Portland Institute, October 1986

The Party of Modernity,” Cato Policy Report, May/June 2003;and Navigator, Nov 2003; A widely cited article on the cultural divisions among pre-modern, modern (Enlightenment) and postmodern views.

"I Don't Have To" (IOS Journal, Volume 6, Number 1, April 1996) and “I Can and I Will” (The New Individualist, Fall/Winter 2011); Companion pieces on making real the control we have over our lives as individuals.

Law / Rights / Governance