Ashley Herzog

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose theory of the general will was a precursor to modern socialism, believed that private ownership of property was selfish and destructive to the collective state. As historian Paul Johnson wrote in his book Intellectuals, Rousseau “was the first intellectual systematically to exploit the guilt of the privileged.”

So how did Rousseau conduct his personal life? After repeatedly borrowing money from his parents, he never repaid them and allowed his foster mother to die of malnutrition. He kept a peasant girl as his mistress, exploited her sexually, and forced her to abandon all five of their children at birth. He didn’t let her name the babies, and, as Johnson noted, “it is unlikely that any of them survived long.”

Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, wrote about the oppression of the working class – a subject he knew nothing about since he refused to work, keeping his wife and children destitute. He kept a young girl as his household slave, sexually abused her, and forced her to send their son to a foster home. If that weren’t enough, Marx also made his family’s life distinctly unpleasant by refusing to bathe.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a correlation between radical socialist views and heinous personal conduct?

In fact, from the seventeenth century forward, it’s difficult to find a prominent leftist intellectual who wasn’t manipulative, abusive, selfish, or violent – including Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre. That reality is covered in-depth in Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, originally published in 1988 but updated in May 2007. Maybe the next version will include a chapter on Arthur Miller and his abandoned son.

As Phyllis Schlafly noted in a column on the book, these men were not irrelevant left-wing scolds. They were influential writers and philosophers “who arrogantly presumed to diagnose the ills of society…and to tell mankind how we should all live our lives and how society and the economy should be structured.”

From now on, before textbooks and college courses demand that we admire these intellectuals’ unique brilliance and follow their dictates for humanity, how about a few side notes on how they treated actual humans?

Ashley Herzog

Ashley Herzog can be reached at