London, , England
|| November 02, 1928
|Last Modifed||Juan Croniqueur|
Dec 06, 2015 01:45am
Conservative - Catholic -
|Info||Paul Johnson (born Paul Bede Johnson on November 2, 1928 in Manchester, England) is a British Roman Catholic journalist, historian, speechwriter and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst College, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Johnson first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. A prolific writer, he has written over 40 books and contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers. Whilst associated with the left in his early career, he is now a prominent conservative popular historian. |
At Stonyhurst, Johnson received an education grounded in the Jesuit method, which he preferred over the more secularized curriculum of Oxford. One of his tutors was the historian A.J.P. Taylor.
After graduating with a lower second-class honours degree, Johnson performed his National service in the army, joining the King's Royal Rifle Corps and then the Education Corps where he was commissioned as a Captain (acting) based mainly in Gibraltar. Here he saw the "grim misery and cruelty of the Franco regime" (Conviction, p. 206).
In the early 1950s he worked on the staff of the Paris periodical Realités, where he was assistant editor (1952-55).
Johnson became a liberal during this period as he witnessed, in May 1952, the police response to a riot in Paris, the "ferocity [of which] I would not have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes." Subsequently, he also served as the New Statesman's Paris correspondent. For a time he was a convinced Bevanite and an associate of Aneurin Bevan himself. Moving back to London in 1955, he joined the Statesman's staff; he was leader writer, deputy editor and then editor from 1965 to 1970.
Johnson received some resistance to his appointment as New Statesman editor, not least from the writer Leonard Woolf who objected to a Catholic filling the position, and Johnson was placed on six month's probation. Some of Johnson's article's already showed signs of iconoclasm though: in 1964 he warned of "The Menace of Beatlism," and he was also found suspect for his attendances at the soirees of Lady Antonia Fraser, then married to a Conservative MP.
Statesmen And Nations (1971), the anthology of his Statesman articles, contains a curious split between numerous reviews of biographies of Conservative politicians and an openness to continental Europe; in one article Johnson even took a positive view of events of May 1968 in Paris, although remaining conscious of the problems of violence in periods of political change. According to this book, Johnson filed fifty-four overseas reports during his Statesman years. Alan Watkins, the political journalist and a former colleague at the Statesman, once claimed in a Guardian feature on Johnson that he is at heart a paternalist conservative who fitted in with the left for a time.
During the 1970s Johnson become increasing conservative in his outlook, where he has largely remained. In his Enemies of Society (1977), following a series of articles in the British press, he vehemently attacked the trade union movement over violence and intolerance, terming them "fascists". Certainly, as Britain’s economy faltered, Johnson was seduced by Margaret Thatcher’s message of less government and less taxation. Emotionally and mentally, he was won over to the Right and became among the closest advisers to Margaret Thatcher. “In the 1970s Britain was on its knees. The left had no answers. I became disgusted by the over-powerful trade unions which were destroying Britain,” he recalls. After Margaret Thatcher's victory in the general election of 1979 Johnson advised on changes to legislation concerning trade unions, and was also one of Mrs Thatcher's speechwriters. “I was instantly drawn to her," he recalls. "I’d known Margaret at Oxford. She was not a party person. She was an individual who made up her own mind. People would say that she was much influenced by Karl Popper or Frederick Hayek." He taught her to follow a mix of Adam Smith and the Ten Commandments. "The result was that Thatcher followed three guiding principles: truthfulness, honesty and never borrowing money,” says Johnson.
Johnson began writing a column for The Spectator in 1981; initially focusing on media developments, it subsequently acquired the title "And Another Thing", which varies in tone and content. In his journalism Johnson is apt to see evidence of general decline, whether in art, education, religious observance or personal conduct.
Johnson wrote a column for the Daily Mail until 2001. His break with the Mail has left him bitter. In a Daily Telegraph interview in November 2003 though, he criticised the Mail for having a pernicious impact: "I came to the conclusion that that kind of journalism is bad for the country, bad for society, bad for the newspaper".
In addition to his column in The Spectator, Johnson is a regular contributor to The Daily Telegraph, mainly as a book reviewer, and in the United States to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the National Review. For a time in the early 1980s he wrote for the The Sun.
Johnson is a critic of modernity because of what he sees as its moral shortcomings. and also finds those who use Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to justify their atheism or use it to promote biotechnological experimentation objectionable. As a result of Johnson's views on evolution, the Darwinian scientist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins has been a target of Johnson's pen in the past. As a conservative Catholic, he regarded Liberation theology as a heresy and defends clerical celibacy, but sees women priests as inevitable.
Admired by conservatives in the United States, he is strongly anti-communist. Johnson has defended Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, finding his cover-up considerably less heinous than Bill Clinton's perjury, and Oliver North in the Iran-Contra Affair. In his Spectator column he has defended convicted perjurer and friend Jonathan Aitken and has expressed admiration for General Franco and General Pinochet.
He served on the Royal Commission on the Press (1974-77) and later was a member of the Cable Authority (regulator) from 1984 to 1990.
In 2006, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.
Paul Johnson has been married to the psychotherapist and former Labour Party parliamentary candidate Marigold Hunt, since 1958. The marriage, by Johnson's own admission, has been stormy; he once commented that his marriage could have broken up over a dozen times. Once reportedly a heavy drinker, he now limits his intake, and as a result, his wife is believed to have described him in the late nineties as "far less barmy than he used to be". They have three sons and a daughter: the journalist Daniel Johnson, who worked until recently as an associate editor of The Daily Telegraph, before becoming a freelance writer in 2005; Luke Johnson, businessman and chairman of Channel 4 Television and Cosmo Johnson; and Sophie Johnson-Clark, who has worked as a television script editor and now resides in the USA. Paul Johnson has eight grandchildren.