Review of Intellectuals by Paul Johnson

Intellectuals by Paul Johnson, New York: Harper and Row, 1988, 385 pp.
Intellectuals is Paul Johnson’s critique of those who have set themselves up as critics and social revolutionaries. He seeks to show that their lives grossly fail to meet the standards set down by their own philosophies. He targets twelve of these intellectuals in each their own chapters: Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Russell, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Gollancz, and Hellman. They prove to each possess a combination of vile characteristics, most which are common to the lot: egotism, atheism, socialism, drunkenness, adultery, polygamy, womanizing, advocacy of violence, money problems, even a lack of cleanliness.
Sure, the author has a right-wing bias. His targets are leftist intellectuals, not any on the right. And, as I’m not incredibly knowledgable on any of the twelve intellectuals I cannot say whether he does not make historical or biographical errors. But yet Intellectuals makes for interesting reading and provides an important balance to any hagiographic account of these individuals.
What I think this book really displays — while I have no indication that this was the author’s goal — is that all men are sinful and that man-made systems of philosophy are completely unlivable. It is a great joy that we Christians do not have to follow one or another tyrannical egotist but have the very Word of the living, loving, and unchangeably holy God to direct our lives. The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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