Paul Johnson examines whether intellectuals are morally fit to give advice to humanity.
Do the private practices of intellectuals match the standard of their public principles?
How great is their respect for truth? What is their attitude to money? How do they treat their spouses and children - legitimate and illegitimate? How loyal are they to their friends?
Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Edmund Wilson, Victor Gollancz, Lillian Hellman, Cyril Connolly, Norman Mailer, Kenneth Tynan and many others are put under the spotlight. With wit and brilliance, Paul Johnson exposes these intellectuals, and questions whether ideas should ever be valued more than individuals.
Written from a conservative standpoint, these pummeling profiles of illustrious intellectuals are caustic, skewed, thought-provoking and thoroughly engaging. The author of A History of the World skeptically weighs each pundit's moral and judgmental credentials to give advice to humanity. He plays up the personal shortcomings of Marx, a failed academic given to pseudoscientific jargon, habitual anger and dictatorial habits; Sartre, a spoiled only child, existentialist philosopher of action who did nothing of consequence for the French Resistance and never lifted a finger to save the Jews; pacifist Bertrand Russell, who repeatedly advocated ``preventative'' nuclear war against Stalinist Russia between 1945 and 1949; Hemingway, whose adolescent rejection of his parents' religion is said to have triggered his secular ethic of action and violence. This rogues' gallery includes ``notorious liar'' Lillian Hellman; self-publicists Norman Mailer and Bertolt Brecht; leftist publisher Victor Gollancz, ``a monster of self-deception''; Shelley, Rousseau, Tolstoy, Ibsen, others.