What is an intellectual? Johnson makes a clear distinction between writers, artists, men of letters on the one hand and intellectuals on the other. Of course, a person could be both, and Edmund Wilson is a good example: someone who started out as purely a writer, then became an intellectual, then gave that up and returned to being a writer, a process that Johnson seems to approve of.

Johnson  compares Hemingway to Kipling and Byron, and in the process reveals a little more of his definition of an intellectual (the emphases are mine):

It is the subtle universality of the Hemingway ethic which makes him so archetypically an intellectual… But Kipling was not an intellectual. He was a genius, he had a ‘daemon’ but he did not believe he could refashion the world by hiw own unaided intelligence, he did not reject the vast corpus of its inherited wisdom. On the contrary, he fiercely upheld its laws and customs as unalterable by puny man and depicted with relish the nemesis of those who defied them. Heminway is much closer to Byron, another writer who longed for action and described it with enthusiastic skill. Byron did not believe in the in the utopian and revolutionary schemes of his freind Shelley… but he had fashioned for himself a system of ethics, devised in reaction to the traditional codehe had rejected when he left his wife and England for good. In this sense, and only in thise sense, he was an intellectual… It is a system of honour and duty, not codified but illustrated in action. No one can read these poems without being quite clear how Byron saw good and evil and especially how he measured heroism.

Heminway worked in a similar manner… His novels are novels of action and that makes them novels of ideology because to Heminway there was no such things as a morally neutral action… The framework is personal and pagan; certainly not Christian.

You might expect Johnson to continue exploring his definition of intellectual through Hemingway, but he stops there. Instead, he goes on to point to similarities between Hemingway and other “intellectuals” he has written about: the lying, the creation of a public persona that may or may not coincide with reality; the self-publicizing; the drinking and womanizing; the quarrels with and meanness towards former friends (“As with so many intellectuals – Rousseau and Ibsen for instance – his quarrels with fellow writers were particularly vicious”. p. 159…. By 1937 he had quarreled with every writer he knew.” p. 160 …)

Hemingway, like many other intellectuals of the time and like some others described in Johnson’s book, was a supporter of Communism and Stalin: “It was Hemingways’ line, in accordance with CP policy, to play down the role of the Soviet Union [in the Spanish Civil War].” (p. 156.)

Is Johnson suggesting that quarreling bitterly with friends, and falling for Marxist ideology are definitions of an intellectual? At times it seems like it.

Another characteristic seems to be gross selfishness, a further one is someone who believes in total solutions, and a third is to lack self-awareness.

So, if an intellectual is someone who wants to change the world based on an idea or set of ideas, what about Ayn Rand? Hannah Arendt? Mary McCarthy? And if Tolstoy and Rousseau and Shelley had “messianic” tendencies, what about the original Messiahs, Jesus and Buddha? Would they qualify as intellectuals under Johnson’s definition?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the difference between Camus and Sartre: Camus believed that people were more important than ideas. Perhaps another part of the answer is that neither Jesus nor Buddha wanted to change the world, although some might disagree. I think Jesus and Buddha felt that people were more important than ideas, and that people had to come to an understanding of their own free will. I also think they were interested in individuals, not people as a whole or as a group.

By contrast, Johnson quotes Tolstoy’s wife Sonya on the question of whether Tolstoy “ever really loved any individual human being, as opposed to loving mankind as an idea.” (p. 125):

‘My little one is still unwell and I am very tender and pitying. You and Syutayev may not especially love your own  children, but we simple mortals are neither able nor wish to distort our feelings or to justify our lack of love for a person by professing some love or other  for the whole world.’ (p. 125)

Such an extreme cerebration is also close to Ayn Rand’s definition of the sin of altruism: putting other people’s interests before one’s own and those of one’s dependants and loved ones.