I’ve been blogging recently about Paul Johnson’s book “Intellectuals”. Johnson points out similarities between the intellectuals he has chosen to focus on, particularly similarities in their faults:

  • they are self-deluded
  • they believe they have a mission to change the world, to change other people’s thinking
  • they lack self-awareness and humility
  • they exploit their womenfolk something dreadful
  • they fall out with just about everyone
  • they find it difficult to relate to individual people around them, but instead they claim to love “the world”, “society”, people in general, or a particular group or class.

Johnson’s implication is that it is because they are intellectuals. Intellectuals want to change the world and be seen to be doing so, believe it is their mission to do so. Writers, playwrights, poets, novelists, etc., can develop these tendencies. If they do, they become intellectuals.

However, there is another interpretation, one which focuses on human beings desire to change their fellow-man. Here is Frank Chodorov talking about socialism and socialists in his autobiography, Out of Step:

In a way, the basic urge toward socialism is in all of us, since every one of us is inclined to impose our set of values on others; we seek to “improve” the other fellow up to our own particular standards. But most of us will try to “elevate” the other fellow and, meeting resistance, will give it up as a hopeless job. The socialist, however, has an intuitive urgency for power, power over other people, and proceeds to bolster this urgency with an ethic: he seeks power for a humanitarian purpose. He would “elevate” all mankind to his ideal. Since the individual does not wish to be “elevated,” and lays claim to something called rights, the socialist undertakes to prove that the individual does not exist, that an amorphous thing called “society” is the only fact of reality, and proceeds to impose his set of values on this thing. Having made this discovery — that society is something greater than the sum of its parts, with an intelligence and a spirit of its own — the socialist dons his shining armor and sets forth on a glorious adventure for its improvement. He works for the “social good” — which is what he wanted to do since first he became aware of his instinct.

 I have never met a dedicated socialist who did not consider himself a leader — if not at the top of the revolution, then at least as commissar of toothpicks in the ninth ward. He is not a replaceable part of the thing called society but was destined, at birth, to be a regulator of this thing. This desire for power is quite common, even among nonsocialists, but while others seem willing to win their spurs according to the rules of the market place, the socialist claims the scepter because he has a mission. He is of the anointed.

This seems to me a more accurate, though still not entirely satisfactory, explanation. We can see the similarities with the faults of Paul Johnson’s intellectuals:

  • the socialist claims the scepter because he has a mission. He is of the anointed.
  • I have never met a dedicated socialist who did not consider himself a leader — if not at the top of the revolution, then at least as commissar of toothpicks in the ninth ward. He is not a replaceable part of the thing called society but was destined, at birth, to be a regulator of this thing. This desire for power is quite common, even among nonsocialists,
  • The socialist, however, has an intuitive urgency for power, power over other people, and proceeds to bolster this urgency with an ethic: he seeks power for a humanitarian purpose.
  • Since the individual does not wish to be “elevated,” and lays claim to something called rights, the socialist undertakes to prove that the individual does not exist…

Chodorov’s analysis explains why so many of Johnson’s intellectuals “fell” for Marxist propaganda and supported Stalin and the Communists. It was not fortuitous, it is explained by their desire to impose their values on their fellow beings, as does socialism, and it offers them the potential role of leader, an explainer, a teacher, a guide, but one who imposes his values on others, not simply informs. The cloak of respectability for this rather unpleasant and potentially violent enterprise (what are you going to do with those who disagree, or who do not accept someone else’s values?) is provided by the apparent humanitarianism of the whole enterprise.

In addition, their difficulty relating to the actual people around them as individuals, all the while claiming to love “humanity” is explained by Chodorov thus:  Since the individual does not wish to be “elevated,” and lays claim to something called rights, the socialist undertakes to prove that the individual does not exist…