R.W. Johnson

R.W. Johnson is an emeritus fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he taught politics and sociology for many years. His most recent books are How Long Will South Africa Survive? and Look Back in Laughter: Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age. He lives in Cape Town.

In​ his monumental biography of De Gaulle, Jean Lacouture describes a meeting of the Free French in London in 1941 at which several of the younger members expressed their admiration for Churchill. In response De Gaulle warned them ‘never to forget that within him breathes the soul of Pitt’. What he meant was that every true Englishman is, at least potentially, an opponent of...

Trump: Some Numbers

R.W. Johnson, 3 November 2016

Whatever our dismay about the US election result, this year was always meant to have been a Republican year. If you looked at the postwar presidencies that ran across two terms, and then at who won the mid-terms in the sixth year, you would have been able to predict the presidential result two years later in all but one or two cases. In 2014 the GOP heavily defeated the Democrats, gaining nine Senate seats, thus giving them a clear majority in both houses. On that basis alone any Republican should have won this year. If you add in the fact that the GOP went into this election holding the governership in 31 of the fifty states – a powerful fact once the state administration is effectively put behind the governor’s party – 2016 should have been a shoo-in for a Mitt Romney or a John McCain, especially against such an unpopular candidate as Hillary Clinton.

Already a Member: Clement Attlee

R.W. Johnson, 11 September 2014

There is an old​ Pathé News clip of Attlee being interviewed on the stump in 1950. He has so little to say that the interviewer, in some desperation, asks, ‘Have you anything to add, prime minister?’ to which Attlee replies: ‘No, I don’t think so.’ The idea of a modern politician turning down such a soundbite opportunity makes one sigh.

Similarly, Michael...

Forever on the Wrong Side: Jean Suret-Canale

R.W. Johnson, 27 September 2012

Jean Suret-Canale, or Suret as everyone called him, was one of the finest Marxist historians and geographers of the last century. A pioneering Africanist, his books on Francophone Africa were translated into many languages and won him a large audience in Africa, China, Russia and Eastern Europe. The lives of most historians are lived in the comfort of libraries and university departments and...

Running for Congress in Louisiana in 1961, Joe Waggonner, a conservative Democrat and militant segregationist, faced a tough challenge from the Republican candidate, a wealthy oilman called Charlton Lyons. Waggonner came up with a novel – and winning – argument: he warned that electing Lyons would help bring about a competitive two-party system in which a contest could easily be...

Bristling Ermine: R.W. Johnson

Jeremy Harding, 4 May 2017

R.W. Johnson​ is a long-standing contributor to the LRB. His first appearance was on the letters page in 1981, where he took ‘mild issue’ with a review of his most celebrated book,

Read More

Anyone in South Africa, white or black, rich or poor, who reads R.W. Johnson’s new book could be forgiven for rushing to the airport. It’s a familiar tale of African hopelessness,...

Read More

Making things happen

Ross McKibbin, 26 July 1990

This Johnson is an energetic essayist. His energy is not simply physical, though he has plenty of that: it is mental too. He seems to write quickly – how else the productivity? – but...

Read More

The scandal that never was

Paul Foot, 24 July 1986

Profound embarrassment has greeted the publication of R.W. Johnson’s book on the shooting-down of a Korean airliner over Russian airspace. Even its serialisation in the Sunday Telegraph...

Read More


David Marquand, 19 September 1985

As late as 1951, the British economy was the strongest in Western Europe. Only the wartime neutrals, Sweden and Switzerland, surpassed us in income per head. In his magisterial new history of the...

Read More

Althusser’s Fate

Douglas Johnson, 16 April 1981

‘Is it easy to be a Marxist?’ Louis Althusser put this question to a crowded audience at the University of Picardy in 1975. Is it possible to be an Althusserian? The question has to...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences