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Opinion

R.I.P. Paul Johnson


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jan. 24, 2023 - 2:40 PM

R.I.P. Paul Johnson

The Newnan Times-Herald

On Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, British historian Paul Johnson passed into the pages of history himself at the age of 94.

One of the most productive British authors and journalists of the last half-century, his voluminous writings included more than 50 books, and hundreds of articles in numerous magazines and newspapers.

Some of Johnson’s books are masterpieces of epic proportion: “Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s”; “Ireland: A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day”; “Art: A New History”; “The Civilization of Ancient Egypt”; “The Renaissance”; “A History of Christianity”; “A History of the American People”; “A History of the Jews”; “A History of the English People”; plus biographies of Mozart, Napoleon, Washington, Churchill, Socrates, John Paul II and God knows who else (because Johnson wrote a book about Him too).

Johnson’s work featured good, factual reporting of history. He didn’t cherry pick the evidence to support a preconception, let alone a misconception.

In his early days, Johnson’s political outlook was “leftist” by his own admission. But he not only wrote history, he learned from it. And the more he learned, the less credible the leftist perspective was.

My favorite of Johnson’s books is his 1989 classic, “Intellectuals.” It’s an insightful examination of the personalities and behavior of more than a dozen left-leaning thinkers — the super-pontificating, state-worshiping types that are full of prescriptions for the rest of us.

Johnson was himself a consummate intellectual, the honest and scholarly kind committed to truth for the sake of it — unlike the charlatans, hypocrites and monsters he wrote about in “Intellectuals.” He proved that you can be an intellectual without fancying yourself God’s gift to a stupid humanity in need of your wisdom.

None of Johnson’s subjects in “Intellectuals” can match Karl Marx for sheer loathsomeness and shameless fakery. He was a virulent racist and anti-Semite with a vicious temper. On a good day, he enjoyed threatening those who disagreed with him by blurting, “I will annihilate you!” His personal hygiene was nonexistent. He was heartlessly cruel to his family and anyone who crossed him. This is the same man who postured as a thinker whose ideas would save humanity.

We learn in “Intellectuals” that the chef who cooked up communism professed to be “scientific.” But Johnson argued, “there was nothing scientific about him; indeed, in all that matters he was anti-scientific.”

Marx’ own mother, I learned from Paul Johnson, said she wished her freak show of a son “would accumulate some capital instead of just writing about it.”

Moreover, Johnson informed us, Marx “never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life,” steadfastly abjured invitations to do so and denounced fellow revolutionaries who did. He had no money because he refused to work for it, then cursed those who had it and didn’t share it with him.

As economist Thomas Sowell summed it up so well, “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

History repeats itself, according to the old maxim. If it does, then there’s hope that someday humanity might produce another historian like Paul Johnson.

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(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org.)