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Quotes by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

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Books by Paul Johnson
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The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.

1980 - from The Recovery of Freedom


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Western elites were confident that men and progress were governed by reason. A prime discovery of modern times is that reason plays little part in our affairs.

1992 - from Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties, Harper Collins


The study of history suggests that the sum total of intolerance in society does not vary much. What changes is the object against which it is directed. Those who shape the conventional wisdom at the top are always anxious to censor unorthodoxy, thus demonstrating their power and consolidating their grip.

Nov. 21, 1987 - from a column in The Spectator, quoted in The Quotable Paul Johnson, Marlin, Rabatin, Higgins, eds.


Most of the debates of principle in present-day society come down to the question of authority. In every sphere of life authority is being defied and often it does nothing to earn respect by its feebleness and pusillanimity. Broadcasting is an outstanding case.

Mar. 1, 1986 - from an essay in The Spectator


The Left is very clever at relabelling to produce and inversion of reality, as their categorization of fascism shows (and look at what they did to 'democratic'). In the West it is now recognised, even among the socialist intelligentsia, that Soviet Russia is a failure, and they want to distance themselves from it. What easier way to do it than by labelling those identified with the failure as 'conservatives' and 'the Right'?

Oct. 7, 1989 - from a column in The Spectator, quoted in The Quotable Paul Johnson, Marlin, Rabatin, Higgins, eds.


Most people are resistant to ideas, especially new ones. But they are fascinated by character. Extravagance of personality is one way in which the pill can be sugared and the public induced to look at works dealing with ideas.

1988 - from The Intellectuals, Harper and Row, New York


The art of politics is the minimization of unhappiness, or of unavoidable suffering... The process of avoiding suffering is greatly assisted by the existence of free institutions. The greater their number, variety and intrinsic strength, and the greater their individual independence, the more effective the democracy which harbours them will be. All such institutions should be treated like fortresses: that is, soundly constructed and continually manned.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


By early 1933 ... the two largest and strongest of Europe were firmly in the grip of totalitarian regimes which preached and practiced, and indeed embodied, moral relativism, with all its horrifying potentialities. ... Throughout these years, the power of the State to do evil expanded with awesome speed.

1983 - from Modern Times


America's federal experience, it is true, was bedeviled by slavery and race, two factors which do not divide the Europeans. As against this, however, Americans had overwhelming compensatory advantages in building a continental federation: a common language and literature, a common political culture and law; for the most part a common religion; even shared inspirational texts, such as Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government; and, not least, a common Anglo-Saxon tradition of pragmatism and compromise.

Aug. 1992 - from an essay in Commentary Magazine


Free institutions will only survive when there is the rule of law. This is an absolute on which there can be no compromise: the subjection of everyone and everything to the final arbitration of the law is more fundamental to human freedom and happiness than democracy itself... Once the law is humbled, all else that is valuable in a civilized society will vanish, usually with terrifying speed. On the other hand, provided the rule of law is maintained intact, the evil forces in society, however powerful, will be brought to book in the end.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


Truth is much more than a means to expose the malevolent. It is the great creative force of civilization. For truth is knowledge; and a civilized man is one who, in [Thomas] Hobbes' words, has a 'perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of knowledge.'

1977 - from Enemies of Society


The cruelty of ideas lies in the assumption that human beings can be bent to fit them.

1988 - from The Intellectuals


The more I study history, the more convinced I am that what happens is influenced as much by the willpower of key individuals as by the underlying presence of collective forces.

Jul. 1988 - from a column in The American Spectator, quoted in The Quotable Paul Johnson, Marlin, Rabatin, Higgins, eds.


The new creeds are all variations ... of political nostrums long since tried, and found wanting - or indeed wholly destructive. The only novelty lies in the permutations of falsehood and unreason which academic ingenuity has contrived to concoct. ... Unknowingly, the ancient and dusty obattles of nineteenth-century revolutionaries are re-fought in new and fashionable trappings. With each successful assault on the customary standards of deduction and logic, of proof and plausibility, the threshold of reason is lowered.

1972 - from A History of the English People


The person who is in the weakest moral position to attack the state is he who has largely ignored its potential for evil while strongly backing its expansion on humanitarian grounds and is only stirred to protest when he falls foul of it through his own negligence.

1988 - from The Intellectuals, Harper and Row, New York


Thanks to the exertions of the homosexual lobbies, AIDS is the first epidemic to be politicized and information about it is correspondingly muddled... As a result, statistical assertions about AIDS, often from exalted quarters, are an inextricable mixture of ... tendentious projections, propaganda, and downright falsehoods.

Dec. 7, 1991 - from an essay in The Spectator


If you wish to form a government you cannot afford to behave like one.

1971 - from Statesman and Nation


The family is essentially a protective force, and not least against the claims of the state. It is an area of private custom, as opposed to public law. It is an alternative to the state as a focus of loyalty, and thus a humanizing force in society. Unlike the state, it upholds non-material values - makes them paramount, indeed. It repudiates the exclusive claims of realpolitik. ... The family, in fact, is a gentle ideology in itself, because it is inconcievable without a system of morality based on altruism. The family embraces tradition rather than fashionable dogma. It upholds a balance of rights and responsibilities, and not merely within generations: it insists on respect for the past, and concern for the future.

1985 - quoted in The Pick of Paul Johnson


Labour today is so deeply anti-creative, so organically and instinctually lacking in any positive impulses, that it actually likes banning things or people, for its own sake. It's motto is: accentuate the negative. To ban, to boycott, to embargo, to exclude, blacklist, close down, shut up, silence, censure - these are the things which now come naturally to it, perhaps the only things it really knows how to do.

Nov. 14, 1986 - from a column in The Spectator, quoted in The Quotable Paul Johnson, Marlin, Rabatin, Higgins, eds.


Throughout history, the attachment of even the humblest people to their freedom, above all their freedom to earn their livings how and where they please, has come as an unpleasant shock to condescending ideologues. We need not suppose that the exercise of freedom is bought at the expense of any deserving class or interest - only of those with the itch to tyrannize.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


[Liberal fascism] It is constituted not so much by liberals themselves as by the well-organised and increasingly aggressive pressure groups liberal triumphalism has spawned. Its two most dangerous manifestations ... are the race relations industry and the homosexual lobby, though there is a growing number of other objectionable groups ... What worries me is not so much the demands of these liberal fascists as the willingness of the rich and powerful, both people and institutions, to bow to them. There is the stench of cowardice in the air, as in the original fascist heyday of the Thirties.

May 5, 1990 - from a column in The Spectator


The pursuit of truth is our civilization's glory, and the joy we obtain from it is the nearest we shall approach to happiness, at least on this side of the grave. If we are steadfast in this aim, we need not fear the enemies of society.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


... by cutting the umbilical cord with God, our source of ethical vitality would be gone. Morally we would become nothing better than a species of fantastically clever monkeys. Our ultimate fate would be too horrible to contemplate. For the truth is that we humans are all Jekyll and Hyde creatures, and the monster within each of us is always striving to take over.

Jun. 1985 - from an essay in Readers Digest


[Early socialists] were uplifted by tremendous hopes of ideal societies just round the corner. They delighted in thoughts of communes and Owenite towns; and later of model co-operatives, kibbutzim, public ownership, national investment boards, ideal council housing, 'waving cornfields and ballet in the evening'. All that has now vanished, with the discrediting alike of Soviet and Chinese communism on the one hand and of social democratic nationalisation on the other. No one now believes in these utopias, and communal experiments are at best a minority taste. So all that remains is the discontent with existing society, which has filled the vacuum left by the collapse of idealistic solutions and now dominates the minds of the middle-class Left almost to the exclusion of anything else. They have developed a positive taste for misery-mongering and expect the rest of us to share it.

1986 - from a column in The Spectator, London


The essence of civilization is the orderly quest for truth, the rational perception of reality and all its facets, and the adaptation of man's behaviour to its laws. So long as we follow the path of reason we shall not move far from the lighted circle of civilization. Its enemies invariably lie among those who, for whatever motive, deny, distort, minimize, exaggerate or poison the truth, and who falsify the processes of reason. At all times civilization has its enemies, though they are constantly changing their guise and their weapons. The great defensive art is to detect and unmask them before the damage they inflict becomes fatal. 'Hell.' wrote Thomas Hobbes, 'is truth seen too late.' Survival is falsehood detected in time.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


What is important in history is not only the events that occur but the events that obstinately do not occur. The outstanding event of modern times was the failure of religious belief to disappear. For many millions, especially in the advanced nations, religion ceased to play much or any part in their lives, and the ways in which the vacuum thus lost was filled, by fascism, Nazism and Communism, by attempts at humanist utopianism, by eugenics or health politics, by the ideologies of sexual liberation, race politics and environmental politics, form much of the substance of the history of our century. But for many more millions--for the overwhelming majority of the human race, in fact--religion continued to be a huge dimension in their lives.

1983 - from Modern Times


The argument that the West was somehow to blame for world poverty was itself a Western invention. Like decolonization, it was a product of guilt, the prime dissolvent of order and justice.

1983 - from Modern Times


I once thought liberty was divisible, that you could have very great personal liberty within a framework of substantial state control of the economy, but I don't mind saying I was quite wrong. The thing that finally convinced me was the issue of compulsory unionism.

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.

1989 - from "The Heartless Lovers of Humanity"


When absolute or fundamental values, resting on a sacral notion of natural moral law, are abandoned in favour of moral relativism, or even the complete suspension of moral law represented by modern 'permissiveness', there is a danger, as Pope John Paul II puts it, if 'a purely utilitarian relationship between individual and individual.' It is at this point that dehumanization occurs, because each individual tends increasingly to see the other not as a person but as an object, to be made use of or exploited. Altruism disappears, the humanity of the other is no longer considered, a quasi-animal relationship develops, and as it does so the humanity of the exploiter diminishes too. We end with two exceptionally ingenious animals which are, because ingenious, exceptionally destructive.

1981 - from Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Restoration


Throughout history, the attachment of even the humblest people to their freedom ... has come as an unpleasant shock to condescending ideologues.

1977 - from Enemies of Society


America's entrepreneurial market system was itself an effective homogenizer, binding together and adjudicating between ethnic and racial groups without regard to colour or national origins.

1992 - from Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties, Harper Collins


The disintegration of doctrine has, inevitably, been followed by a clouding of the moral vision.

1980 - from The Recovery of Freedom, quoted in The Quotable Paul Johnson, Marlin, Rabatin, Higgins, eds.


Reality cannot for long be banished from history. Facts have a way of making their presence felt.

1992 - from Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Nineties, Harper Collins


It is a curious fact about human nature that many people actually seem to want to believe in an approaching catastrophe. In the Dark and Middle Ages - indeed right up to the seventeenth century - religious seers would always collect a substantial following if they predicted the end of the world, especially if they gave a specific date for it. When the date came and went, and nothing happened, human credulity did not disappear. It re-emerged promptly when the next persuasive prophet mounted his soapbox. The ecological panic of our times is driven by exactly the same emotional needs. Indeed it is yet another example of how, during the twentieth century, the declining religious impulse has been replaced by ... secular substitutes, which are often far more irrational and destructive.

Jun. 29, 1984 - from an essay in National Review


Nothing appeals to intellectuals more than the feeling that they represent 'the people'. Nothing, as a rule, is further from the truth.

1991 - from Birth of the Modern, Harper Collins


British historian and author. Mr. Johnson's books include The History of Christianity (1976), The History of the Jews (1987), The Intellectuals (1988), and The Birth of the Modern (1991). However he is probably most famous for Enemies of Society (1977), his attack on the 'left-wing fascists' of labour unions and related organizations, and for Modern Times (1983), his chronicle of twentieth-century tyranny.

See more books by Paul M. Johnson.

Quotes complied by The Conservative Forum website.



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