Prosyletizing for Stupidity: Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals
Thu 5/14/09 11:55 PM
Good ideas are rare. I take them from wherever I can get them. The world is too varied and complex to look for ideas only from those who lack vices. The hero of Homer’s Odyssey sits close to the bottom of the 8th circle of Dante’s Inferno. The Greek virtue of megalopsuchia becomes the Latin superbia, one of the seven deadly sins. Another of the deadly sins is today widely regarded as the motivating force behind liberal democracy. All this is compounded by our natural tendency, pointed out by Montaigne is his essay On Drunkenness, that “each man lays weight on his neighbor’s sin and lightens his own.” It is challenging enough to read and evaluate the works of men so I will leave the sanctimonious moralizing about their lives to writers like Paul Johnson.
Why would someone who won’t read Hayek and finds Leo Strauss “way to conservative” consider reading Paul Johnson? Hayek’s works, especially The Road to Serfdom, should be read and understood by anyone on the who wants to create viable and sustainable socialism because his criticism is rational, well-founded and put forward in good faith. Leo Strauss, no matter what his misguided students have done in his name, was a brilliant scholar of dedication and integrity.
Hayek and Strauss belong to the world of rational critical discourse and reality-based scholarship. Johnson is an advocate of the anti-rational, anti-intellectual fantasy that rejects science and scholarship. He is the worst sort of Enterprise Institute mountebank posing as a historian. He begins his “research” with ultra-right-wing ideology and then digs through the gossip mill for any scrap that he can exaggerate, interpolate or blatantly misread to suggest moral degeneracy and scandal. He is the master of the phony footnote, a clever scheme where you present, in a single statement, something ordinary and something outrageous, for example “Mr. Smith likes apples and torturing small mammals.” Then you provide a footnote to references that clearly and rigorously document Mr. Smith’s love of apples.
His unreadable Modern Times was recommended by the literary critic and former VP Dan Quayle as “a very good historical book about history.” This is the same book where Johnson credits Thomas Edison with inventing the telephone, no doubt thoroughly documented with his famous footnotes.
His goal is to undermine and cast doubt upon the intellectual basis for social justice which is why he directs his spurious ad hominem attacks against the likes of Rousseau, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Brecht, Sartre and Orwell. His program is clearly outlined in the conclusion to Intellectuals, although it could apply to just about anything that he has written:
“A dozen people picked at random on the street are at least as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligencia … Not merely should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advise. Beware committees, conferences and leagues of intellectuals. Distrust public statements issued from their serried ranks. Discount their verdicts on political leaders and important events.”
Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (p. 342)
This is the same strategy that is so fruitful in creating confusion and apathy about social issues as diverse as global warming, the dangers of tobacco and even evolution (another bit of morally degenerate science that Johnson is against). But then this is nothing new as Schopenhauer pointed out a century and a half ago:
“In the republic of letters men have at all times endeavored to extol every kind of mediocrity and to belittle the really precious and great and, where possible, to set it aside as something embarrassing.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, Senilia (§46)
- Would Hayek Have Approved Obamacare? (reason.com)
- Oakeshott as Conservative (manwithoutqualities.com)