]]]]]]]]]]]]      THE HEARTLESS LOVERS OF HUMANKIND     [[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                          by Paul Johnson
           From the Wall Street Journal, 5 January 1987
           (Kindly uploaded 9/4/88 by Freeman 10602PANC)

          [Note: Dates in square brackets are not in the original.]

         In the past 200 years the influence of intellectuals has grown
      steadily.   It has  always been  there, of  course, for  in their
      earlier  incarnations   as  priests,   scribes  and  soothsayers,
      intellectuals  have laid  claim to  guide  society from  the very
      beginning.  From  the time  of Voltaire  [1694-1778] and Rousseau
      [1712-78], the secular intellectual  has filled the position left
      by  the decline  of  the cleric,  and  is proving  more arrogant,
      permanent and above all more dangerous than his clerical version.

         It was Percy Bysshe Shelley who, in his 1821 tract "In Defense
      of Poetry," first articulated what  I might term the Divine Right
      of  Intellectuals.  "Poets,"  he  wrote, "are  the unacknowledged
      legislators of the  world."  This claim is  now taken for granted
      by  the  large  if  amorphous  body  that  sees  itself  as  "the
      intellectuals" or  "the intelligensia."   The practical influence
      of intellectuals has  expanded enormously since  then.  As Lionel
      Trilling [1905-75] put it,  "Intellect has associated itself with
      power as perhaps never before in  history, and is now conceded to
      be itself a kind of power."

         I believe  the reflective portion  of mankind  is divided into
      two groups:  those who  are interested  in people  and care about
      them; and  those who  are interested  in ideas.   The first group
      forms the pragmatists and tends  to make the best statesmen.  The
      second is the intellectuals; and  if their attachment to ideas is
      passionate, and  not only  passionate but  programmatic, they are
      almost  certain  to  abuse  whatever  power  they  acquire.  For,
      instead  of allowing  their ideas  of  government to  emerge from
      people, shaped by  observation of how  people actually behave and
      what  they  really  desire,  intellectuals  reverse  the process,
      deducing their  ideas first  from principle  and then  seeking to
      impose them on living men and women.

         Almost all  intellectuals profess to  love humanity  and to be
      working for its improvement and happiness.  But it is the idea of
      humanity  they  love,  rather  than  the  actual  individuals who
      compose   it.    They  love   humanity-in-general,   rather  than
      men-and-women-in-particular.   Loving humanity  as an  idea, they
      can then  produce solutions as  ideas.  Therein  lies the danger,
      for  when people  conflict  with the  solution-as-idea,  they are
      first ignored  or dismissed  as unrepresentative;  and then, when
      they continue to obstruct the idea, they are treated with growing
      hostility  and  categorized  as  enemies  of humanity-in-general.
      Thus the way is opened for what W.H. Auden [1907-1973], a typical
      hard-nosed  intellectual  of  his  day,  approvingly  called "the
      necessary murder."   "The liquidation  of class  enemies," to use
      the Leninist  expression, and "the  Final Solution"  as the Nazis
      put it, are both the terminal point of intellectual process.

         Insensitivity  to  the needs  and  views of  other  people is,
      indeed,  a characteristic  of  those passionately  concerned with
      ideas.  For their primary focus  of attention is, naturally, with
      the evolution of those ideas in  their own heads; they become, in
      the full  sense, egocentric.  The  intellectual's indifference or
      hostility is  not directed  merely towards  those who  do not fit
      into his  schemes for humanity-in-general  but also  those in his
      own circle who, for  one reason or another,  refuse to play their
      allotted roles in his own life.


         The more I study the  lives of leading intellectuals, the more
      I perceive the ravages of a common, debilitating scourge, which I
      call the  heartlessness of  ideas.  The  rise of  the new secular
      intellectual has produced some notable specimens.

         Shelley (1792-1822) was  the prototype, so  far as Anglo-Saxon
      countries  are  concerned,  of  the  modern,  Western progressive
      intellectual.  He coined the notion of the right of intellectuals
      to  influence  public events.   The  poet, and  by  extension the
      intellectual class as a whole, was the true legislator because he
      had a purity,  in his devotion to  ideas, not open  to men of the
      world,  the  common  clay:  He  was  disinterested.   But Shelley
      exhibited, in his own life, what  can be seen as a characteristic
      failing of progressive intellectuals:  the inability to match his
      general benevolence to his particular behavior.  His treatment of
      virtually every  human being  over whom  he was  able to exercise
      some emotional  or physical  power was,  by the  standards of the
      common clay he despised, atrocious.

         Any  moth than  came near  his fierce  flame was  singed.  His
      first wife, Harriet, and his mistress, Fay Godwin, both committed
      suicide when he deserted them.  In his letters he denounced their
      actions roundly for  causing him distress  and inconvenience.  It
      looks as though he was about to desert his second wife, Mary (the
      author of "Frankenstein"),  when his death  by drowning ended his
      power to hurt.   His children by  Harriet were made  wards of the
      court.  He erased  them completely from his  mind, and they never
      received  a  single word  from  their father.   Another  child, a
      bastard,  died  in  a  Naples  foundling  hospital  where  he had
      abandoned her.

         Shelley  was  particularly skillful  at  exploiting  women and
      servants.   He wrecked  the life  of a  schoolmistress, Elizabeth
      Hitchener,  by seducing  her both  to his  bed and  his political
      schemes, got her in trouble  with the police, borrowed 100 pounds
      from her savings (which was never repaid) and then abandoned her,
      denouncing her narrow vision and selfishness.  He left a trail of
      other victims, mostly humble landladies and tradesmen.  He always
      had servants, but few were ever paid.

         Shelley's depredations  never shook  his superb  confidence in
      what he called "my  tried and unalterable integrity."  Criticism,
      however well documented, left him  cold: "I speedily regained the
      indifference,"  he  wrote,  "which  the  opinion  of  anything or
      anybody but  our consciousness  merits."  Explaining  to a friend
      why he was deserting his wife and running off with another woman,
      he wrote:  "I am deeply  persuaded that, thus  enabled, [I shall]
      become a more constant friend, a  more useful lover of mankind, a
      more ardent asserter of truth and virtue."

         Karl Marx (1818-1883) was another  example of a man who became
      convinced that it was his duty to put ideas before people.  Hence
      his relentless and  often unthinking cruelty  to those around him
      became  a kind  of distant  adumbration of  the mass  cruelty his
      ideas would  promote when  they finally  became the  blueprint of
      Soviet state policy.  His father, who was afraid of him, detected
      the fatal  flaw: "In  your heart," he  wrote his  son, "egoism is
      predominant."  Marx  was particularly  odious to  his mother, who
      rebuked him for his financial improvidence and ceaseless attempts
      to dun for cash.   What a pity it was,  she remarked, that he did
      not try to acquire capital instead of writing about it.

         There was an enormous gap between Marx's egalitarian ideas and
      the way in which  he actually behaved.  In  one way or another he
      inherited considerable sums of money.  He never had less than two
      servants.   He  had  a  horror   of  what  he  called  "a  purely
      proletarian set-up."  He made his wife send out visiting cards in
      which she was described as  "nee Baronesse Westphalen."  He would
      not let  his three  daughters train  for any  profession or learn
      anything except  to play  the piano.   He kept  up appearances by
      pawning the silver  and even his wife's  dresses.  He seduced his
      wife's servant, begot  a son by her,  the forced Friedrich Engels
      to assume paternity.  Marx's daughter  Eleanor once let out a cri
      de coeur in a letter: "Is it not wonderful, when you come to look
      things squarely in the  face, how rarely we  seem to practice all
      the fine  things we  preach --  to others?"   She later committed

         Marx's whole  life was an  exercise in  emotional or financial
      exploitation --  of his wife,  of his daughters,  of his friends.
      Studying Marx's life leads  one to think that  the roots of human
      unhappiness, and especially the misery caused by exploitation, do
      not lie in  the exploitation by  categories or classes  -- but in
      one-to-one exploitation by selfish individuals.

         Nor is this indifference  to others a mere  human failing in a
      great public  man.  It  is central  to Marx's  work.  He  was not
      actually interested in  real human beings, how  they felt or what
      they wanted.   He never met  a member of  the proletariat, except
      across the platform at  a public meeting.  He  never made a visit
      to an  actual factory, rejecting  Engel's offers  to arrange one.
      He never  sought to  meet or  interrogate a  capitalist, with the
      solitary exception of  an uncle in Holland.   From first to last,
      his  source  of  information  was  books,  especially  government

      A GOOD MAN, BUT...

         It is no  accident, I think, that  Lenin [1870-1924] never set
      foot in a factory until he became the Soviet dictator, and never,
      so far as  we know, had  any real contact  with the workers whose
      lives  he  claimed  the  right  to  transform.  He,  too,  was  a
      library-socialist.  Nor did Stalin ever  seek out the working man
      or the peasant to discover what he actually wanted; he was also a
      great  devourer of  statistical  columns.  What  masses  of facts
      these  monsters  ingested before  they  went on  to  devour human
      flesh!  One might  say that the  road to the  gulag is paved with
      unwritten Ph.D. theses.

         Many, of course,  have lamented the  way that Marxism reflects
      its founder's indifference  to people as  emotional, living human
      beings.  If only, it is said,  Marx had been able to read Sigmund
      Freud!   But  if  we  examine  Freud's  life,  we  find  the same
      dichotomy:  and  unbridgeable gap  between  theory  and practice,
      between ideas and people.   Now Freud (1856-1939), unlike Shelley
      and Marx, was in many ways a good man -- even a heroic one.

         But this, too, was another case of a man who never allowed his
      ideas  to  penetrate  his private  relationships  or  improve his
      dealings  with  people.   Unlike  Marx,  he  did  not  look  into
      bluebooks; he looked into his  own mind, and there found infinite
      reasons for  righteousness.  Freud was  the dominant, patriarchal
      male all his  life.  His wife  was little more  than his servant,
      even  spreading  the  toothpaste   on  his  toothbrush,  like  an
      old-fashioned  valet.  He  never discussed  his work  or theories
      with her, and never  encouraged her to apply  his work in raising
      their children.   Nor did  he himself.  He  sent his  sons to the
      family doctor  to learn the  facts of life.   His large household
      revolved  entirely  around  his own  needs  and  habits.   When a
      visitor raised a Freudian  issue, Freud's wife replied pointedly:
      "We don't discuss anything like that here."

         There was  a strain of  exploitation, both in  his family life
      and still more in his treatment of his followers.  Men like Adler
      [1870-1937] and Jung [1875-1961]  were accused of "treachery" and
      renounced  as  "heretics."   Worse,  he  wrote  of  their  "moral
      insanity."  He  could not believe  that anyone who  had once come
      under  his influence  and then  had broken  away could  be wholly
      sane.  He  thought that  heresiarchs like  Jung were  actually in
      need of psychiatric treatment.

         Modern, progressive intellectuals  are similarly frustrated by
      those who do not  share their ideas.  I  have been reading a book
      by  Robert  L.  Heilbroner  called   "The  Nature  and  Logic  of
      Capitalism."  There is no evidence that the author, any more than
      Marx, really knows  anything about capitalists  or what motivates
      them.  Mr. Heilbroner simply assumes that capitalism is primarily
      about  the  exercise of  power  over  people.  This  seems  to me
      complete  nonsense.   I incline  to  the contrary  belief  of Dr.
      Samuel Johnson [1709-84] when he  observed, "Sir, a man is seldom
      so innocently employed  as when he  is getting money."  Johnson's
      opinion was  shared by John  Maynard Keynes  [1883-1946].  "It is
      better," he  wrote, "that  a man  should tyrannize  over his bank
      account than over other human beings."

         Both Johnson and Keynes were  among the many intellectuals who
      did not  succumb to  the desire to  push others  around, a desire
      that can  also affect intellectuals  on what most  would call the
      right.  For example, Ayn Rand [1905-82], the novelist-philosopher
      who championed the  dignity of man and  the individual's right to
      be free of  control by others, humiliated  and dominated many who
      came to know her privately.

         But there are good reasons why most intellectuals share common
      ground with socialists.  Keynes gets  to the heart of the matter,
      for  avarice  is  far  less dangerous  than  the  will  to power,
      especially  power  over people.   It  is not  the  formulation of
      ideas, however misguided, but the desire to impose them on others
      that is the deadly sin of  the intellectual.  That is why they so
      incline  by  temperament  to  the  left.   For  capitalism merely
      occurs, if no one does anything to stop it.  It is socialism that
      has  to be  constructed, and  as a  rule, forcibly  imposed, thus
      providing a far bigger role for intellectuals in its genesis.

         The  progressive  intellectual  habitually  entertains  Walter
      Mitty visions  of exercising  power.  Freud,  for instance, often
      described himself as a would-be  conquistador (it was the word he
      used),  wielding  the  pen rather  than  the  sword  and changing
      history  through  armies  of   followers  rather  than  soldiers.
      Precisely,   perhaps,   because   they   lead   sedentary  lives,
      intellectuals have a curious passion for violence, at any rate in
      the abstract.  A few, of course, actually embrace it in practice.
      More characteristically, though,  intellectuals, with much uneasy
      diffidence and many weasel words, support and justify violence in
      order that ideas with which they agree be imposed on unconforming


         In the 20th  century, building upon  19th century foundations,
      the appetite for violence in the pursuit and realization of ideas
      has become the  original sin of  the intellectual.  Consider, for
      instance, the repeated expression  of admiration by intellectuals
      for ruthless men of action,  and their long succession of violent
      heroes: Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Castro, Ho Chi Minh.

         Intellectuals  occasionally  demur  at  the  quantity  of  the
      slaughter,  the sheer  number  of the  "necessary  murders"; they
      nearly always have accepted  the principle that socialist utopias
      must, if  necessary, be erected  on violent  foundations.  I well
      remember  my  old editor,  Kingsley  Martin, writing  in  the New
      Statesman, by  way of  a gentle rebuke  to Mao  Tse-tung, who had
      just massacred three million people, "Was it really necessary for
      the Chairman to kill  so many?"  This provoked  a letter from his
      old liberal friend Leonard Woolf.  Would Mr. Martin kindly inform
      the readers,  he asked,  "the maximum  number of  deaths he would
      have deemed appropriate?"

         While the armchair  men of violence in  the West applauded and
      condoned, intellectuals elsewhere participated and often directed
      the great  slaughters of  modern times.   Many helped  create the
      Cheka,  the progenitor  of the  present KGB.   Intellectuals were
      prominent at  all stages  in the  events leading  up to  the Nazi
      holocaust.  The events in Cambodia in the 1970s, in which between
      one-fifth and  one-third of  the nation  was starved  to death or
      murdered, were entirely the work of a group of intellectuals, who
      were for  the most part  pupils and admirers  of Jean-Paul Sartre
      [1905-80] -- "Sartre's Children," as I call them.

         Wherever  men  and regimes  seek  to impose  ideas  on people,
      wherever  the inhuman  process of  social  engineering is  set in
      motion -- shoveling flesh and blood around as though it were soil
      or  concrete  -- there  you  will find  intellectuals  in plenty.
      Pushing people around is the characteristic activity of all forms
      of  socialism,  whether  Soviet  socialism,  or  German  National
      Socialism,  or,  for  instance,   the  peculiar  form  of  ethnic
      socialism,  known as  apartheid, we  find  in South  Africa; that
      sinister  set  of  ideas,  it is  worth  noting,  was  wholly the
      invention    of   intellectuals    cobbled   together    in   the
      social-psychology department  of Stellenbosch  University.  Other
      African totalitarian ideologies are likewise the work of local
      intellectuals, usually sociologists.

         So  one  of  the  lessons   of  our  century  is:  Beware  the
      intellectuals.  Not merely should they be kept well away from the
      levers  of  power,  they  also  should  be  objects  of  peculiar
      suspicion  when they  seek  to offer  collective  advice.  Beware
      committees,   conferences,   leagues   of   intellectuals!    For
      intellectuals,   far  from   being  highly   individualistic  and
      nonconformist  people, are  in  fact ultra-conformist  within the
      circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value.  This
      is what  makes them, en  masse, so dangerous,  because it enables
      them to create cultural climates, which themselves often generate
      irrational, violent and tragic courses of action.

         Remember at  all times,  that people  must always  come before
      ideas and not the other way around.


         Mr. Johnson  is author  of the  forthcoming "A  History of the
      Jews" (Harper  & Row [meanwhile published]).  This  is based  on
      a recent  talk for the Institute for Contemporary Studies.

Return to the ground floor of this tower
Return to the Main Courtyard
Return to Fort Freedom's home page