"The belief [hopefully] seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars, than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that skepticism. A dozen people picked at random off the street are at least as likely to offer sensible views on moral and political matters as a cross-section of the intelligentsia."
Paul Johnson

Having spent much of my life with intellectuals, I say this with all honesty:
intellectuals are some of the stupidest people I have ever met.
Not all by any means, but many of them.

Or perhaps better said, intellectuals are smarter than other people
but no less wise when it comes to politics --
as evidenced by so many intellectuals who became communists.


"Marxist socialism appears to be dying,
except perhaps in that home of lost causes, the university campus."

Paul Johnson
Foreign Affairs magazine
January 1989

As a college student at UCLA at the end of the Cold War, I must have had some of the very last Marxists in the whole world as my political science professors. What is this strange attraction by intellectuals to Marxism when virtually everyone else has discounted it as a poison to humanity?

"...if we look at the ravages which Communist politics... inflicted on those areas where they were allowed full play - the sheer destruction of resources... the obliteration of morality and truth-telling, the contempt for life, the ubiquitous corruption, the long-term poverty - we have to count as an immeasurable blessing that Marxism took over only one-fifth of the world... Supposing it had triumphed and run the entire planet by its catastrophic system of wealth-destruction. The whole of humanity would have then entered a new dark age of savagery and want."
Paul Johnson
The National Review

Karl Marx

"This communism, so threatening to my peace of mind, so opposed to my interests, casts a spell over me. I cannot struggle against its logic... Let the old social order be destroyed... Let right be done, though the world perish."
Heinrich Heine
June 20, 1842

"The myth of the Revolution serves as a refuge for utopian intellectuals; it becomes the mysterious, unpredictable intercessor between the real and the ideal."
Raymond Aron
The Great Debate, The Opium of the Intellectuals

"Why I am Not a Communist"
by Betrand Russell

"The Pope and Fidel Castro: The End of an Era"
by Geroge Weigel

"They [the Western intellectuals] needed to believe; they wanted to be duped..."

Say what?

"It is capitalism which is destructive of all culture and Communism which desires to save civilization and its cultural heritage from the abyss to which the world crisis is driving it."
joint letter urging the election of American Communist presidential candidate William Z. Foster in 1932 signed by American authors and intellectuals Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, Edmund Wilson, John Dos Passos, Lincoln Steffens, Malcolm Cowley, Sidney Hook, Clifton Fadiman, and Upton Sinclair to their great disgrace.

Try saying that today with a straight face!

"I believed in anti-fascism and international solidarity and brotherhood and the liberation of man, and the Soviet Union stood for all these."
screenwriter Walter Bernstein,
explaining why he joined the American Communist Party

"I have been over into the future - and it works!"
the excited Lincoln Steffens describes the wonder and goodness of the Bolshevik future after visiting the Soviet Union in 1919.

"We cannot afford to give ourselves moral airs when our most enterprising neighbour... humanely and judiciously liquidates a handful of exploiters and speculators to make the world safe for honest men."
George Bernard Shaw

"Just as the Inquisition did not affect the fundamental dignity of Christianity, so the Moscow trials have not diminished the fundamental dignity of Communism."
André Malraux

It is interesting to reflect where exactly lies the line between naïveté and criminal complicity when one thinks about the Western defenders of the regime of Joseph Stalin.

Political Idealism and Praxis
a discussion

"I care not only that a person have idealistic motivations in their life and work but also that the results of their work help rather than harm people."

How The World Should Be and What Should We Do
a discussion

"Communism in and of itself is valuable in providing a counterpoint to our most cherished ideas."

a re-Evaluation

"...Perhaps we have no choice."

from "Modern Times"
Paul Johnson

"In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin tyranny - or indeed its very existence - was scarcely grasped at all. Most of those who traveled to Russia were either businessmen, anxious to trade and with no desire to probe or criticize what did not concern them, or intellectuals who came to admire and, still more, to believe. If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot - and his crimes - so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstition. There is no other explanation for the credulity with which scientists, accustomed to evaluating evidence, and writers, whose whole function was to study and criticize society, accepted the crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face value. They needed to believe; they wanted to be duped...

Self-delusion was obviously the biggest single factor in the presentation of an unsuccessful despotism as a Utopia in the making. But there was also conscious deception by men and women who thought of themselves as idealists and who, at the time, honestly believed they were serving a higher human purpose by systematic misrepresentation and lying. If the Great War with its unprecedented violence brutalized the world, the Great Depression corrupted it by appearing to limit the options before humanity and presenting them in garishly contrasting terms. Political activists felt they had to make terrible choices, and having made them, stick to them with desperate resolution. The Thirties was the age of the heroic lie. Saintly mendacity became its most prized virtue. Stalin's tortured Russia was the prime beneficiary of this sanctified falsification...

The attempt by Western intellectuals to defend Stalinism involved them in a process of self-corruption which transferred to them, and so to their countries, which their writings helped to shape, some of the moral decay inherent in totalitarianism itself, especially its denial of individual responsibility for good or ill. Lionel Trilling shrewdly observed of the Stalinists of the West that they repudiated politics, or at least the politics of 'vigilance and effort':

In an imposed monolithic government they saw the promise of rest form the particular acts of will which are needed to meet the many, often clashing, requirements of democratic society... they cherished the idea of revolution as the final, all-embracing act of will which would forever end the exertions of our individual wills.

For America, the development was particularly serious because the Stalinists then formed the salient part of the new radical movement; and as Trilling also noted:

In any view of the American cultural situation, the importance of the radical movement of the Thirties cannot be overestimated. It may be said to have created the American intellectual class as we now know it in its great size and influence. It fixed the character of this class as being, through all mutations of opinion, predominantly of the Left.

This was the class which shaped the thinking of the liberal-Democratic political establishment, which was to hold power in the most powerful nation on earth until virtually the end of the 1970s.