Paul Johnson

Great Quotes By: PAUL JOHNSON

From Modern Times:

Men who carry through political revolutions seem to be of two main types, the clerical and the romantic. Lenin was from the first category.… Religion was important to him, in the sense that he hated it. Unlike Marx, who despised it and treated it as marginal, Lenin saw it as a powerful and ubiquitous enemy.… He was not just anti-clerical like Stalin, who disliked priests because they were corrupt. On the contrary, Lenin had no real feelings about corrupt priests, because they were easily beaten. The men he really feared and hated, and later persecuted, were the saints. The purer the religion, the more dangerous. (50-51)

The effect of the Great War [WWI] was enormously to increase the size, and therefore the destructive capacity and propensity to oppress, of the state. (14)

But his [Lenin’s] humanitarianism was a very abstract passion. It embraced humanity in general but he seems to have had little love for, or even interest in, humanity in particular. (51)

Within a few months of seizing power, Lenin had abandoned the notion of individual guilt, and with it the whole Judeo-Christian ethic of personal responsibility. He was ceasing to be interested in what a man did or had done–let alone why he had done it—and was first encouraging, then commanding, his repressive apparatus to hunt down people, and destroy them, not on the basis of crimes, real or imaginary, but on the basis of generalizations, hearsay, rumours. (70)

The German state was a huge creature with a small and limited brain. The Easterners, following the example of Bismarck, grafted onto the Prussian military state a welfare state which provided workers with social insurance and health-care as of right and by law. As against the Western liberal notion of freedom of choice and private provision based on high wages, it imposed the paternalistic alternative of compulsory and universal security. The state was nursemaid as well as sergeant-major. It was a towering shadow over the lives of ordinary people and their relationship towards it was one of dependence and docility. (122)

History shows us the truly amazing extent to which intelligent, well-informed and resolute men, in the pursuit of economy or in an altruistic passion for disarmament, will delude themselves about realities. (175)

Commenting on the New Deal:
If interventionism worked, it took nine years and a world war to demonstrate the fact. (257)

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. (275)

Those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the victims not so much of Anglo-American technology as of a paralyzed [Japanese] system of government made possible by an evil ideology which had expelled not only absolute moral values but reason itself. (427)

The Cold War may be said to date from the immediate aftermath of the Yalta Conference, to be precise from March 1945. Of course in a sense Soviet Russia had waged Cold War since October 1917: it was inherent in the historical determinism of Leninism. The pragmatic alliance from June 1941 onwards was a mere interruption. It was inevitable that Stalin would resume his hostile predation sooner or later. (435)

Gandhi was not a liberator but a political exotic, who could have flourished only in the protected environment provided by British liberalism.… All Gandhi’s career demonstrated was the unrepressive nature of British rule and its willingness to abdicate. (470, 472)

Up to the mid-1950s, however, he [Nehru] was the cynosure of a new entity which progressive French journalists were already terming le tiers monde. The concept was based upon verbal prestidigitation, the supposition that by inventing new words and phrases one could change (and improve) unwelcome and intractable facts. There was the first world of the West, with its rapacious capitalism; the second world of totalitarian socialism, with its slave-camps; both with their hideous arsenals of mass-destruction. Why should there not come into existence a third world, arising like a phoenix from the ashes of empire, free, pacific, non-aligned, industrious, purged of capitalist and Stalinist vice, radiant with public virtue, today saving itself by its exertions, tomorrow the world by its example? Just as, in the nineteenth century, idealists had seen the oppressed proletariat as the repository of moral excellence—and a prospective proletarian state as Utopia—so now the very fact of a colonial past, and a non-white skin, were seen as title-deeds to international esteem. An ex-colonial state was righteous by definition. A gathering of such states would be a senate of wisdom. (476-477)

Sukarno had no more moral mandate to rule 100 millions than Nehru had in India; rather less in fact. He too was devoid of administrative skills. But he had the gift of words. Faced with a problem, he solved it with a phrase. Then he turned the phrase into an acronym, to be chanted by crowds of well-drilled illiterates. (478)

In the late 1940s, the Asian half of the human race had been told that there was direct, immediate and essentially political solution to their plight. Experience exposed this belief as a fallacy. There were strong grounds for concluding, indeed, that politics, and especially ideological politics, was a primary contributor to human misery…. Calcutta became the realized anti-Utopia of modern times, the city of shattered illusions, the dark not the light of Asia. It constituted an impressive warning that attempts to experiment on half the human race were more likely to produce Frankenstein monsters than social miracles. (573-574)

Though the Chicago-style gangsterism of Stalin had been replaced by the low-key Mafia of Brezhnev and his associates, the essential criminality remained. The regime rested on a basis not of law but of force. (677)

In due course the term “Third World” began to seem a little threadbare from overuse. The Paris intellectual fashion-factory promptly supplied a new one: “North-South.” … The idea was to link guilt to “the North” and innocence to “the South.” This involved a good deal of violence to simple geography, as well as to economic facts.… In short the concept was meaningless, except for purposes of political abuse. But for this it served very well. (692)

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. (700)

From A History of the American People:

The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures. No other national story holds such tremendous lessons, for the American people themselves and for the rest of mankind. (3)

What was remarkable about this particular contract [the Mayflower Compact] was that it was not between a servant and a master, or a people and a king, but between a group of like-minded individuals and each other, with God as a witness and symbolic co-signatory.… They [the Pilgrims] saw themselves as exceptions to the European betrayal of Christian principles, and they were conducting an exercise in exceptionalism. (30)

These early diaries and letters, which are plentiful, and the fact that most important documents about the early American colonies have been preserved, mean that the United States is the first nation in human history whose most distant origins are fully recorded. For America, we have no ancient national myth or prescriptive legends but solid facts, set down in the matter-of-fact writings of the time. We know in considerable detail what happened and why it happened. And through letters and diaries we are taken right inside the minds of the men and women who made it happen. There can be no doubt then why they went to America. Among the leading spirits, those venturing out not in the hope of a quick profit but to create something new, valuable, and durable, the overwhelming thrust was religious. (32)

[What most Americans believed was] that knowledge of God comes direct to them through the study of Holy Writ. They read the Bible for themselves, assiduously, daily. Virtually every humble cabin in Massachusetts colony had it own Bible.… This direct apprehension of the word of God was a formula for religious excitement and exaltation, for all felt themselves in a close, daily, and fruitful relationship with the deity. It explains why New England religion was so powerful a force in people’s lives and of such direct and continuing assistance in building a new society from nothing. They were colonists for God, planting in His name. (40)

The early settlers, then, came from an intensely religious and political background, and most of them were independent-minded, with ingrained habits of thinking things out for themselves.… And every colony, almost from its inception, and in most cases within a year of its foundation, had some kind of representative assembly. Electing people was one of the first things a settler in America learned to do. (71)

It is probably true to say that colonial America was the least taxed country in recorded history.… One reason why American living standards were so high was that people could dispose of virtually all their income.… Until the 1760s at any rate, most mainland colonies were rarely, if ever, conscious of a tax burden. It is the closest the world has ever come to a no-tax society. That was a tremendous benefit which America carried with it into Independence and helps to explain why the United States remained a low-tax society until the second half of the twentieth century. (108)

The Great Awakening was thus the proto-revolutionary event, the formative moment in American history, preceding the political drive for independence and making it possible. It crossed all religious and sectarian boundaries, made light of them indeed, and turned what had been a series of European-style churches into American ones.… The Revolution could not have taken place without this religious background. The essential difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution is that the American Revolution, in its origins, was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event. That fact was to shape the American Revolution from start to finish and determine the nature of the independent state it brought into being. (116-117)

Unfortunately for Britain—and fortunately for America—the generation that emerged to lead the colonies into independence was one of the most remarkable group of men in history—sensible, broad-minded, courageous, usually well educated, gifted in a variety of ways, mature, and long-sighted, sometimes lit by flashes of genius.… Great events in history are determined by all kinds of factors, but the most important single one is always the quality of the people in charge; and never was this principle more convincingly demonstrated than in the struggle for American independence. (127-128)

Next to religion, the concept of the rule of law was the biggest single force in creating the political civilization of the colonies. This was something they shared with all Englishmen. The law was not just necessary—essential to any civil society—it was noble. What happened in courts and assemblies on weekdays was the secular equivalent of what happened in church on Sundays. (147)

In America the moral and political dilemma over slavery had been there right from the start, since by a sinister coincidence 1619 marked the beginning of both slavery and representative government. But it had inevitably become more acute, since the identification of American moral Christianity, its undefined national religion, with democracy made slavery come to seem both an offense against God and an offense against the nation. Ultimately the American religious impulse and slavery were incompatible. Hence the Second Great Awakening, with its huge intensification of religious passion, sounded the death-knell of American slavery just as the First Awakening had sounded the death-knell of British colonialism. (307)

What makes [Alexis] de Tocqueville’s account memorable is the way in which he grasped the moral content of America. Coming from a country where the abuse of power by the clergy had made anticlericalism endemic, he was amazed to find a country where it was virtually unknown. He saw, for the first time, Christianity presented not as a totalitarian society but as an unlimited society, a competitive society, intimately wedded to the freedom and market system of the secular world. (390)

Lincoln was as much concerned for the slave-owner as for the slave—the institution morally destroyed the man supposed to benefit from it.… This image of the strutting slave-owner, corrupted and destroyed by the wretch at his heels, haunted Lincoln. He wept for the South in its self-inflicted moral degradation. (441)

In material and moral terms, assimilation was always the best option for indigenous peoples confronted with the fact of white dominance. That is the conclusion reached by the historian who studies the fate not only of the American Indians but of the aborigines in Australia and the Maoris in New Zealand. To be preserved in amber as tribal societies with special “rights” and “claims” is merely a formula for continuing friction, extravagant expectations, and new forms of exploitation by white radical intellectuals. (521)

It is impossible to understand this period of American history [the rise of big business] unless you grasp that people like [J. P.] Morgan had absolute standards of conduct which they would die rather than repudiate.… He was in no sense a Robber Baron. His riches were based on standard, respectable margins and incremental accumulation. In the immortal words of John D. Rockefeller, “Mr. Morgan is not even a wealthy man.” But by the early 1880s he stood right at the center of the New York financial community and was the only member of it everyone else trusted. That gave him power and responsibility. (557)

The administration of Woodrow Wilson is one of the great watersheds of American history. Until this time, America had concentrated almost exclusively on developing its immense natural resources by means of a self-creating and self-recruiting meritocracy. Americans enjoyed a laissez-faire society which was by no means unrestrained but whose limitations to their economic freedom were imposed by their belief in a God-ordained moral code rather than a government one devised by man. (627)

There was indeed a streak of selfish egotism in Wilson, a self-regarding arrogance and smugness, masquerading as righteousness, which was always there and which grew with the exercise of power. Wilson, the good and great, was corrupted by power, and the more he had of it the deeper the corruption bit, like acid in his soul. (641)

Yet when he [Coolidge] did speak, what he said was always worth hearing. It was direct, pithy, disillusioned, unromantic, and usually true. No one in the 20th century defined more elegantly the limitations of government and the need for individual endeavor, which necessarily involved inequalities, to advance human happiness. (716)

[Coolidge] was widely read in history, like Woodrow Wilson, but he was much more conscious than Wilson of Lord Acton’s warning about the tendency of power to corrupt. He liked the idea of an America in which a man of ability and righteousness emerged from the backwoods to take his place as first citizen and chief executive of the republic and then, his term of office completed, retired, if not exactly with relief, then with no regrets, to the backwoods again.… He was sufficiently old-fashioned to find the concept of a professional politician, making a career of office-seeking and hanging on to the bitter end, profoundly distasteful and demeaning. He had a strong, if unarticulated, sense of honor, and it was offended by the prospect that some people, even in his own party let alone outside it, might accuse him of “clinging” to power. (720)

The conventional explanation is that Herbert Hoover, President when Wall Street collapsed and during the period when the crisis turned into the Great Depression, was a laissez-faire ideologue who refused to use public money and government power to refloat the economy. As soon as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded him, in 1933, and—having no such inhibitions about government intervention—started to apply state planning, the clouds lifted and the nation got back to work. There is no truth in this mythology, though there were indeed profound differences in character between the two men, which had some bearing on the crisis. Hoover was a social engineer, Roosevelt was a social psychologist. But neither understood the nature of the Depression, or how to cure it. It is likely that the efforts of both merely served to prolong the crisis. (736)

FDR’s unsuspicious approach to dealing with Stalin and the Soviet Union was reinforced by his rooted belief that anti-Communists were paranoid and dangerous people, reactionaries of the worst sort.… When the fate of Poland came to be decided, FDR refused to back the British demand for an international team to supervise the elections which Stalin promised, being content with the Russian assurance that “all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part.” He added a typical piece of Rooseveltian rhetoric called “The Declaration on Liberated Europe,” which verbally committed all its signatories to respect “the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live.” Stalin was happy to sign it, and was delighted to hear from FDR that all American forces would be out of Europe within two years. (791)

The Eisenhower decade was the last of the century in which the traditional elements in American society held the cultural upper hand. Eisenhower’s American was still recognizably derived from the republic of the Founding Fathers. There were still thousands of small towns in the United States where the world of Norman Rockwell was intact and unselfconsciously confident in itself and its values. Patriotism was esteemed. The flag was saluted. The melting-pot was still at work, turning out unhyphenated Americans. Indeed the “American Way of Life” was a term of praise, not abuse. (837)

The Sixties were one of those meretricious decades where novelty was considered all-important, and youth peculiarly blessed. Normally circumspect men and women, who had once made a virtue of prudence, and were to resume responsible behavior in due course, did foolish things in those years. Such waves of folly recur periodically in history. (845)

The media did everything in its power to build up and sustain the beatific myth of John F. Kennedy, throughout his life and long after his death, until it finally collapsed in ruins under the weight of incontrovertible evidence. The media protected him, suppressed what it knew to be the truth about him, and if necessary lied about him, on a scale which had never done even for Franklin Roosevelt.… He happily accepted the family philosophy, especially its central tenet: that the laws of God and the republic, admirable in themselves, did not apply to Kennedys, at any rate male ones. (848-849)

One of the deepest illusions of the Sixties was that many forms of traditional authority could be diluted—he authority of America in the world, and of the President within America—without fear of any consequences. (886)

Reagan looked, spoke, and usually behaved as if he had stepped out of a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover from the 1950s. More important, he actually thought like a Rockwell archetype. He had very strong, rooted, and unshakeable views about a few central issues of political and national life, which he expressed in simple and homely language.… Like [Margaret] Thatcher, Reagan saw himself as a radical from the right, a conservative revolutionary who had captured the citadel of the state but, like Thatcher, still treated it as an enemy town. Both these remarkable figures of the 1980s replaced the doubts and indecisions of the 1970s with “conviction politics,” homely ideologies based on the Judeo-Christian ethics of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. (919)

It could be argued that the growing reluctance of gifted men and women to become candidates for national office explained the presidency of Bill Clinton. (937)

Whereas in Europe, religious practice and fervor were often, even habitually, seen as a threat to freedom, in America they were seen as its underpinning. In Europe religion was presented, at any rate by the majority of its intellectuals, as an obstacle to “progress,” in America, as one of its dynamics. From the 1960s, this huge and important difference between Europe and America was becoming blurred, perhaps in the process of disappearing altogether. It was one way in which America was losing its uniqueness and ceasing to be the City on the Hill. For the first time in American history there was a widespread tendency, especially among intellectuals, to present religious people as enemies of freedom and democratic choice. There was a further tendency among the same people to present religious beliefs of any kind which were held with certitude, and religious practice of any kind which was conducted with zeal, as “fundamentalist,” a term of universal abuse. (968)

Selected by Dr. Alan Snyder