Paul Johnson

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Paul Johnson (right) 2006

Paul Bede Johnson (born 2 November 1928) is an English journalist, historian, speechwriter and author.



  • I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read. It is a new novel entitled Dr. No and the author is Mr Ian Fleming. ... By the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away, and only continued reading because I realised that here was a social phenomenon of some importance.
    There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill, the construction of the book is chaotic, and entire incidents and situations are inserted, and then forgotten in a haphazard manner. But the three ingredients are manufactured and blended with deliberate, professional precision ...
    Our curious post-war society, with its obsessive interest in debutantes, its cult of U and non-U, its working-class graduates educated into snobbery by the welfare state, is a soft market for Mr Fleming's poison. ...
    • "Sex, snobbery and sadism" New Statesman (5 April 1958), as reproduced in Stephen Howe (ed) Lines of Dissent: Writings from the New Statesman (Verso, 1988) p. 151-54
  • Before I am denounced as a reactionary fuddy-duddy, let us pause an instant and see exactly what we mean by this "youth". Both TV channels now run weekly programmes in which popular records are played to teenagers and judged. While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience. What a bottomless chasm of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces, bloated with cheap confectionery and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the broken stiletto heels: here is a generation enslaved by a commercial machine. ...
    Are teenagers different today? Of course not. Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures: their existence, in such large numbers, far from being a cause for ministerial congratulation, is a fearful indictment of our education system, which in 10 years of schooling can scarcely raise them to literacy.
  • But violence is an evil continuum which begins with the inflammatory verbal pursuit of class war, continues with Grunwick and the lawless use of union power, progresses to knives, clubs and acid-bombs of Lewisham and Ladywood and then—as we may well fear—rapidly accelerates into full-blooded terrorism with firearms, explosives and an utter contempt for human life.
    This where the Labour Party is heading. It has already embraced corporatism, which ultimately must mean the end of parliamentary democracy. But corporatism plus violence is infinitely worse. It is fascism; Left-wing fascism maybe, marxist-fascism if you like, but still fascism all the same.


Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s (1983)[edit]

  • A Stalin functionary admitted, "Innocent people were arrested: naturally - otherwise no one would be frightened. If people, he said, were arrested only for specific misdemeanours, all the others would feel safe and so become ripe for treason.
  • Men are excessively ruthless and cruel not as a rule out of malice but from outraged righteousness. How much more is this true of legally constituted states, invested with all this seeming moral authority of parliaments and congresses and courts of justice! The destructive capacity of an individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and the destructive capacity necessarily expands too. Collective righteousness is far more ungovernable than any individual pursuit of revenge. That was a point well understood by Woodrow Wilson, who warned: 'Once lead this people into war and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.
  • Mussolini was a reluctant fascist because, underneath, he remained a Marxist, albeit a heretical one.
    • (2001 ed.) p. 101.
  • With Lenin he shared a quasi-religious approach to politics, though in sheer crankiness he had much more in common with Hitler (…) One of his favourite books was Constipation and Our Civilization, which he constantly reread. (…) His eccentricities appealed to a nation which venerates sacral oddity. But his teachings had no relevance to India’s problems. (…) His food policy would have led to mass starvation. In fact Gandhi’s own ashram (…) had to be heavily subsidized by three merchant princes. And Gandhi was expensive in human life as well as money. The events of 1920–21 indicated that though he could bring a mass-movement into existence, he could not control it. Yet he continued to play the sorcerer's apprentice, while the casualty bill mounted into hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, and the risks of a gigantic sectarian and racial explosion accumulated. This blindness to the law of probability in a bitterly divided subcontinent made nonsense of Gandhi’s professions that he would not take life in any circumstances.
    • About Mahatma Gandhi. Modern Times, pp. 470–472., Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2018). Why I killed the Mahatma: Uncovering Godse's defence. New Delhi : Rupa, 2018.

Intellectuals (1988)[edit]

  • It was part of Rousseau’s vanity that he believed himself incapable of base emotions. ‘I feel too superior to hate.’ ‘I love myself too much to hate anybody.


A History of the American People (1997)[edit]

  • This book is dedicated to the people of America--strong, outspoken, intense in their convictions, sometimes wrong-headed but always generous and brave, with a passion for justice no nation has ever matched.

About Johnson[edit]


  • Well then, who had he had time for, during his 24 years in the Party, if he didn't like collectivists and didn't like moderates? There was a pause. "Well, Benn. I have a high opinion of Wedgwood Benn. He is committed to a form of collectivism, but at least he is honest and original. I'd like to see him leading the Labour Party."
    You could have knocked me down with a feather. But, I said, would not Benn's leadership of the Labour Party make it still more likely that the country would go collectivist, with the inevitable erosion of our liberties as outlined by Johnson in his "Farewell"?
    Not necessarily, Johnson replied, because Benn was a genuine democrat, and might, when it came to the crunch between collectivism and liberty, choose liberty. But it would be too late by then! Well, said Johnson, it might be. But at least Benn leading Labour and Thatcher leading the Tories would present the country with "a proper chloice" between collectivism and individualism.
    This struck me as dotty.


  • In a novel called Left of Centre which is now, to the relief of its publisher and author alike, safely out of print, Paul Johnson wrote what is generally agreed to be the most embarrassing spanking scene ever penned. The eclipse of this otherwise unreadable novel did nothing to dim the memory of the cringemaking episode, which was continually called to mind by Johnson's public and social behaviour. This often involved drunken and boorish conduct towards women, including his wife. On a famous occasion in a Greek restaurant in Charlotte Street in 1973, he struck her across the face for disagreeing with him in public and, when rebuked for this by a colleague of mine, threatened to put him through a plate-glass window. At a lunch given for the Israeli ambassador to Britain in the boardroom of the old New Statesman, I watched Johnson bully and barrack Corinna Adam, then the foreign editor, as she attempted to engage Gideon Raphael in conversation. "Don't listen to her, she's a Communist", he kept bellowing, his face twisted and puce with drink. "Fascist bitch!", he finally managed, before retiring to a sofa on the other side of the room and farting his way through a fitful doze for the rest of the meal. ...
    Long before he made his much-advertised stagger from left to right, Johnson had come to display all the lineaments of the snob, the racist and the bigot.
    • Christopher Hitchens "The Life of Johnson" Critical Quarterly (1989), republished in For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports (Verso, 1993) p. 260
    • The article is a review of Johnson's book Intellectuals (1988)

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