Intellectuals by Paul Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A book that is devastating to many of those that modern thinkers hold in high esteem, such as Rousseau, Marx, Tolstoy, Sarte and Brecht. Johnson knows a lot, has studied a lot, and is willing to call these men (and one woman) what they were: mean, greedy for fame and often money, immoral, hateful towards women and children, and above all persistent liars. Truth for them was malleable, especially when their reputation was at stake.
One reviewer said that Johnson ignored their good contributions, which is not true. He notes that if Tolstoy has stuck to writing he would have been fine. He says that Hemingway’s devotion to his craft was unsurpassed. But the point of the book is that they did not just write or speak. They thought they were messiahs who had some special destiny to guide humanity in truth. The theme is not what they did well, but how their lives were staunchly immoral, despite their accomplishments.
As I look around our world the thoughts and ideas of these men still echo, but it has shifted to Hollywood. Today it is not philosophy professors or even playwrights who shape thinking, but actors, directors, and the movies they make. Fascination with sexual freedom, the love of money, the shading of the truth in the name of Humanity, the desire to identify with the workers, excusing violence when it accomplishes their ends, and the vicious intolerance of all opposing viewpoints was characteristic of intellectuals and is now characteristic of Hollywood and our ruling class in general.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s book assumes, what can no longer be assumed, a standard of right and wrong that has long since be lost. Most who read it today will be fascinated, but ultimately will say, “So what that Hemingway was a drunk adulterer? Who cares that Marx lied? Who cares that men claimed to be pacifists, but often supported violence to accomplish their goals? What is that to me? I like their books and their ideas and their movies. And isn’t my opinion and feelings what really matters?” That response goes to show that, at least in America and Europe, the intellectuals have won.