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249 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating Stuff
This is the kind of book that is either going to inspire or infuriate you, but it should provoke valuable discussion and thought in either case. Johnson's thesis is quite simple: the revolutionary thinkers whose ideas have shaped intellectual history over the past 250 years were, for the most part, lousy human beings. These were not not common or garden variety jerks but...
Published on December 31, 2007 by Prairie Pal

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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Before We Review A Book, Read It & Understand It
I am not surprised to see that people here violate the basic rules of reviewing a book that I suspect of many tenured academics, namely failure to read a book before judging it and failing to be sure you understand it before you criticize it.

Before we rush to Criticize "Intellectuals" too harshly, we should make sure we read it and understand it and we should...
Published on October 28, 2011 by J_Onyx


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249 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devastating Stuff, December 31, 2007
By 
Prairie Pal (Winnipeg, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
This is the kind of book that is either going to inspire or infuriate you, but it should provoke valuable discussion and thought in either case. Johnson's thesis is quite simple: the revolutionary thinkers whose ideas have shaped intellectual history over the past 250 years were, for the most part, lousy human beings. These were not not common or garden variety jerks but personalities whose flaws were so manifest that they must call into question the value of the theories they generated.

This is an interesting proposition. Does it matter that Peter Sellers, the world's greatest comedic actor, was a vile neurotic, that Marilyn Monroe was a goddess on screen but a drug-addled manipulator in everyday life, that Winston Churchill, who saved civilization during World War II, was also an alcoholic egomaniac? Probably not. But Johnson asks a deeper question: if a thinker cannot live out his own principles, can these ideas have any real merit? His book convinces us that there is a real connection between the rancid lives lived by intellectuals and the disasters their ideas produced.

For example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is adored by educational theorists and his ideas are entrenched in the curricula of teachers' colleges, despite the fact that he serially abandoned every one of his children. Karl Marx was bourgeois to the core and seems to have exploited the only working-class woman he ever knew: paying her starvation wages, impregnating her and forcing her to abandon their child. Johnson lacerates the behaviour of these prominent figures but more importantly shows how their shabby personal values foreshadow the social harm their works engendered.
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123 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bombastic, but the core message resonates, August 29, 2008
This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
Unfortunately, this book suffers from the sacred cow syndrome. Johnson discredits so many of the secular world's heroes, that many will not allow his voice to come through the din of their ad hominem accusations. It really is a shame because they cry foul without looking at the big picture.

At first glance, this work appears to be using an Ad Hominem attack against mostly secular thinkers. But at its core, it has a much more profound message. These 'attacks' are actually case studies on the validity of the ideas these intellectuals are passing on to our society.

His point is this: If these intellectuals' ideas are going to affect the quality of our lives, we must inspect the quality of these intellectuals' lives. This is not ad hominem, it is looking for the proof in the pudding. If the thinkers are putting forth ideas on the mating habits of the Blue Whale, then looking at their personal life is indeed ad hominem. But if our moral framework is being influenced by a great thinker, then it is perfectly acceptable to look at his or her morality.

I will say that Johnson is very caustic in his critiques (and hilarious at points), but I believe if you read critiques of non-secular moral advocates who were caught with inconsistencies between their private and public lives, the critiques are at least as biting.

Finally, I don't believe most skeptics have read the whole book. The last line of the book is actually where the most clarity is shared.

"Above all, we must at all times remember what intellectuals habitually forget: that people matter more than concepts and must come first. The worst of all despotisms is the heartless tyranny of ideas."

In my podcast, Christian With A Brain, this book was a tremendous resource when I discussed the Limits of Logic. When our leaders experiment with the governing of people, when they construct plans for societal design, it would be wise to first place an ear upon the chest of humanity, hear their heartbeat, feel their pain, look into thier eyes, then begin, and end - with them.
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53 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Critic misses the point, November 4, 2010
This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
Most reviews of this book are positive, but those which are critical have, I believe, missed the point.

It is easy to accuse Dr. Johnson of ad hominem attacks on these leftist icons. However, his main thesis, as pointed out by others, is that in their own lives they manifestly embraced completely different principles. They clearly did not believe the ideas they were advocated to the rest of us. In some cases -- Bertolt Brecht in particular -- it is clear that they simply profited personally from promoting ideas favorable to the state or to other powerful interests. In other cases -- Marx, for example -- we see the resentful expressions of people who had vaulting opinions of themselves and believed the world owed them a lavish living for sharing their genius with us.

The ideas themselves -- communism and socialism -- have, of course, been thoroughly dissected, debunked and disproved in the course of the 20th century. Unfortunately, they have not been entirely discarded; they are still revered by the current crop of intellectual elites.

Incidentally, is is technically correct that there are conservative intellectuals. However, the term, like "progressive", has been largely co-opted by the political Left, so that its basic meaning has been supplanted by an ideological one.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent but not Wise, March 19, 2014
By 
David Hoffman (Madison, IN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Intellectuals (Kindle Edition)
In his Republic, Plato had Socrates arguing that in order to create an ideal city-state of perfect justice either philosophers must be kings or kings must become philosophers. In other words, the only rulers of a truly just state must be philosopher-kings. Only the philosopher has the inner vision required to rule justly.

The example of history seems to have shown that rule by philosopher-kings is more likely to be the worst and most tyrannical form of government. There have been few, if any, actual kings who have been philosophers or philosophers who have been kings, to be sure, but governments ruled by an inner vision of perfect justice have proved to be devastating in terms of human lives and freedom. The history of the twentieth century ought to have proved that beyond any doubt.

Despite the example of history and common sense, there remains a class of individuals who believe that they and they alone, possess the inner vision needed to reform or remake society into a utopia of perfect justice. These individuals have seldom possessed political power, but through their writings and thoughts have had an enormous influence on the society around them. These individuals are often referred to as intellectuals.

Paul Johnson profiles a few of these overly influential people in his book Intellectuals. As Johnson notes at the beginning, there have always been people who have held themselves as having a special capacity to determine proper behavior and beliefs and to use this capacity to enlighten their neighbors. These intellectuals, generally priests or teachers were limited by tradition or official doctrine. A preacher could try to create heaven on Earth, but his view of Heaven was determined by scripture or tradition. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the influence of religion in the West declined, and the cleric was gradually replaced by the secular intellectual.

These secular intellectuals were quite different from their predecessors. Rather than upholding traditional rules and authority, these new intellectuals sought to tear down the old to make way for a new world based upon their inner visions of justice and reason. It is these people that Johnson writes about. He begins with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and continues with such diverse individuals as Percy Byshe Shelley, Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others. These individuals have been very different in their ideas and lives, yet there are some striking similarities, as Johnson notes. These intellectuals all believed that they should not be bound by the same rules as others. Instead, they needed complete freedom from mundane cares to work out their ideas. They professed to be great lovers of humanity, yet didn’t seem to like the people around them very much, often using their associates as tools.

Some might object that Paul Johnson spends too much time on his subjects’ scandalous private lives. One might argue that a thinker ought to be judged by the quality of his ideas rather than the sordidness of his private life. To a great extent, this is true, yet a person’s private and public life cannot really be separated that easily. The private lives of these intellectuals were either a reflection of their philosophy, in which case that life shows the real-life effects of that philosophy, or they were unable to live up to the ideals of their philosophy, which implies that perhaps no human being could live up to such ideals.

Most of the people profiled by Johnson might be considered somewhat “left wing” in their politics. This might be because of Paul Johnson’s own political prejudices, but I think that it is also likely that the sort of person who wishes to remake civilization according to his own wishes is far more likely to be drawn to progressive politics. A conservative intellectual, would perhaps, be more inclined to defend and preserve traditional institutions rather than tear them down to be remade. One exception to this rule might be the example of Ayn Rand. She was not a defender of tradition despite her defense of capitalism and she sought, through her Objectivist philosophy, to undo the past two-thousand years of “altruist” Judeo-Christian ethics, so perhaps she fits the pattern of the intellectuals better than it might appear at first glance. It is a pity that Paul Johnson did not include her with the intellectuals since the unrealism of some aspects of her philosophy and her wretched treatment of most of her associated made her a better example than some of the people he did include.

I have no complaints about Intellectuals, however. It is a book that anyone who believes that the right sort of ideas or the right sort of people could usher in a perfect world would do well to read this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it twice., July 17, 2012
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This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
"This book is an examination of the moral and judgmental credentials of certain leading intellectuals to give advice to humanity on how to conduct it's affairs." This first line in the Acknowledgments prepares you for what is to come. The great irony Mr. Johnson exposes in Marx is poetic: "In all his researches into the iniquities of British capitalists, he came across many instances of low-paid workers but he never succeeded in unearthing one who was paid literally no wages at all. Yet such a worker did exist in his own household. Read about Helen Demuth who worked in the Marx household as a maid for 45 years and never made a penny. "[She was] the only member of the working class that Marx knew at all well, his one real contact with the proletariat" (p. 80, '88 ed.).

Another book something like this is "The Philosophers" by Ben-Ami- Scharfstein (0-19-505927-1). He tend to over-psychologize at times, but it's an interesting read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a hoot!, February 10, 2014
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This review is from: Intellectuals (Kindle Edition)
Don't read this if your personal gods include the giants of twentieth century intellectualism. Do read it if you often find yourself scratching your head at the stupid things that self styled intellectuals say. I enjoy this book so much that I am sending copies to my friends. Strongly recommended for right thinking people!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the (Broken) Mind, May 2, 2012
By 
Ryan C. Holiday (Los Angeles, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
Turns out the uber-intelligent are, or can be, or just are, a-holes. Johnson covers a diverse group of intellectuals from Marx to Chomsky. Behind the public face of the intellectual is usually a deeply inconsistent, strange and sometimes appalling individual. That isn't to say their work should be discounted, but it does color it in an important way. You cannot and should not separate the two. Edmund Wilson's socialism rings hollow when you hear that he didn't pay income taxes for 10 years. Rousseau's unforgivable treatment of his children (abandoned them at an orphanage for no reason) makes it hard to stomach his criticism of society.

Intellectuals can be read as a strong exhortation against the selfish life of the ambitious intellectual. How did these great men justify the horrible things they did (which unlike soldiers were never matters of self-preservation or protecting the innocent)? They claimed their big ideas necessitated it. Their commitment to their "genius" allowed them to treat people this way. But what good is writing a book people read long after you're dead if you have to hurt, betray and abuse the people around you--people who, like you, are alive right now?
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In effect -- Distinguished con men, May 19, 2011
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This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
Rousseau wrote about truth and virtue but had neither himself. Karl Marx "...was not interested in finding the truth but proclaiming it" but sadly appealed to "unrigorous minds". Hemingway was a big liar, progressive alcoholic and a supporter of Communism. Berthold Brecht was a Communist who stole others' work and refurbished it. Bertrand Russel was an intellectual aristocrat like Lenin who despised and sometime pitied people. Jean-Paul Sartre had a philosophy of action but in reality he was an: "Odd philosophy teacher who...has specialized in the study of his students underwear." And in 1952 he decided to back the Communist Party. Noam Chomsky does not get pulled down by the author for alcoholism, womanizing etc., but for falling into the "Necessary Murder Syndrome", the antithesis of his pacifism. He approved of the horrific massacre of millions in Cambodia that were carried out by Communists trained in Paris. According to Paul Johnson what all these intellectuals have in common is that they: "...habitually forget that people matter more than concepts and must come first."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remakable Unknown Similarities, October 17, 2013
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This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
The writing is superb. but what the author has uncovered is a wealth of information which exposes the abnormal psychology of many of the "respected intellectuals" that are honored and followed to this day. Much of the lauded philosophy is based on no data and is exposed as fraudulent. Aside from the creation of "facts", many or most of the intellectual heroes treated women worse than the worst psychopaths in history. The analyses (note the plural) of the various pathologies will shock the true believers. But the dogmas will continue as "outliving" the men who produced them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If this book doesn't make you a Libertarian nothing will, September 18, 2012
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This review is from: Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (Paperback)
This book made me realize that 40 years ago I made the right decision when I left the republican party and became a libertarian. The protagonists....for lack of a better word.....should be studied in schools, if only, to learn that people who tell you how to live your life are not the best examples you want to follow. These folks had a profound effect on civilization and not for the good either. I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks that their "god" may have feet of clay after all.
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Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky
Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky by Paul Johnson (Paperback - May 1, 2007)
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