Jon Utley, a supporter of The Institute of World Politics, dedicated his life to the preservation of freedom. He was courageous in his views, never shying away from fighting for what he believed was right. Mr. Utley passed away on March 22 at the age of 86.
Jon Utley was born in the Soviet Union in 1934. His mother, Freda Utley, was a British writer and intellectual. His father, Arcadi Berdichevsky, was a Soviet economist. Freda Utley joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1928, but after her husband’s arrest in the Soviet Union, she quickly became disillusioned. She was able to escape back to Britain with her young son Jon. There, she enlisted the help of prominent British figures to petition Stalin to release her husband. They later moved to the United States.
Freda Utley went on to write many books, some of which were strongly anti-communist. In The Dream We Lost, Ms. Utley describes the failings of the seemingly idealistic Soviet Communist system. She also wrote many books on war, often focusing on Japan’s war in China. These books had a profound effect on Jon, who would become an influential voice in conservative political circles in the United States.
Jon Utley began his career with American International Group Insurance and later worked in the oil and real estate industries. Eventually, he began a career in journalism, becoming the associate editor of The Times of the Americas in Bogotá, Colombia. He also worked with the Voice of America during the Reagan Administration.
Mr. Utley, like his mother, was a principled anti-communist. He celebrated the fall of the Soviet Union and worked with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (now the Atlas Network) to promote democracy and freedom in former Soviet states.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Mr. Utley sought to uncover the story of his father, Arcadi Berdichevsky. In 2004, he traveled to Russia hoping to see the publicized documents from the Soviet gulag. He visited Ukhta and Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, where his father was sentenced to compulsory labor in 1936. He discovered that his father led a hunger strike in the labor camp at Ukhta, was charged with “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,” and was executed in Vorkuta in 1938. This was a sobering experience for Mr. Utley, who said that “every society has these people — the communist and the Nazi type of killers — they exist in all societies. One values America more, above all for the freedom of speech and property rights. This is unlikely to happen to us, but my thing is to be aware that it could.”
Jon always maintained his passion for liberty in everything he did. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he shifted his focus from anti-communism to non-interventionism. He was a great skeptic about our military intervention and nation-building enterprise in Iraq. He was a man of uncommon courage because he opposed that policy at a time when just about everybody, particularly in national security-minded and conservative circles, was supporting it. He became the publisher of The American Conservative, a conservative periodical that was founded out of a strong feeling of skepticism about promiscuous military interventions where the vital national security interests of the U.S. are not at stake. Mr. Utley argued that his anti-war stance was based on both moral considerations and his view that war tended to degrade liberty at home.
Jon Utley was a towering figure of courage and integrity and a great defender of ordered liberty. Often at odds with his contemporaries, he was a decent and principled man who argued with grace and passion. His strength of character continues to inspire many of us at IWP who knew him. He will be missed.
Requiescat in pace.