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Paul Johnson


Harper & Row, N.Y., 1988, 385 pgs., index, end notes


Most important is his general introduction. "Over the past two hundred years the influence of intellectuals has grown steadily. Indeed, the rise of the secular intellectual has been a key factor in shaping the modern world. Seen against the long perspective of history it is in many ways a new phenomenon. It is true that in their earlier incarnations as priests scribes and soothsayers, intellectuals have laid claim to guide society from the very beginning. But as guardians of hieratic cultures, whether primitive or sophisticated, their moral and ideological innovations were limited by the canons of external authority and by the inheritance of tradition. They were not, and could not be, free spirits, adventurers of the mind. With the decline of clerical power in the eighteenth century, a new kind of mentor emerged to fill the vacuum and capture the ear of society. The secular intellectual might be deist, sceptic or atheist. But he was just as ready as any pontiff or presbyter to tell mankind how to conduct its affairs." The description is much longer and very valid.


The list of 'intellectuals' includes: Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Gollancz, and Lillian Hellman. I do not believe some of these folks were all that influential, especially compared with many others. But Johnson probably selected these because comparing their public policy statements and their private lives reveals their huge hypocrisy. They are all moral monsters.


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