Paul Johnson, Prolific Historian Prized by Conservatives, Dies at 94

In 1994, a group of his American conservative admirers produced “The Quotable Paul Johnson: A Topical Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom, and Satire.” Arranged in alphabetical order, from “Abolition” to “Zionism,” with an introduction by William F. Buckley Jr., the book’s 2,000 excerpts from his writings included this typical excerpt on “Television” from a 1987 Spectator column:

“If everyone agrees that television has unrivaled efficiency at selling goods, services, culture, music, God, politics and fashion, why does the industry continue to claim that the one thing it cannot sell is violence?”

Mr. Johnson’s reputation as a Tory moralist suffered a setback when his own failings were exposed. Shortly after denouncing President Bill Clinton, who had been accused of lying under oath over a liaison with a White House intern, Mr. Johnson was revealed in 1998 to have had an 11-year extramarital affair with another writer, Gloria Stewart. (Her published account did not skimp on salacious details; spanking, for instance, was “a big part of our relationship,” she wrote. Mr. Johnson did not publicly respond, and his marriage, to Marigold Hunt, a psychotherapist and one-time Labour Party parliamentary candidate, survived.)

Many of his opinions seemed intended to outrage liberals and modernists, or at least force them to question their orthodoxies. In a 1999 article for The Spectator about the 20th century’s greatest political leaders, he ranked Lee Kuan Kew of Singapore and Mrs. Thatcher at the top, with the repressive dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile only a rung below. Stability and economic progress were his measuring sticks of success.

“I don’t fall for the hype about Nelson Mandela, under whose timid rule South Africa went straight for the rocks,” Mr. Johnson scoffed.

Elsewhere, he expressed his loathing for Picasso, as an artist and as a man, and declared that William Randolph Hearst’s Mediterranean Revival castle in San Simeon, Calif., was “arguably the finest building in North America.’’ He promoted the neglected art of watercolor and practiced it assiduously himself.

His longstanding admiration for the United States and many of its political and military leaders, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant to Richard M. Nixon (he despised John F. Kennedy), was reciprocated in 2006 when President George W. Bush honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

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