R.W. Johnson

R.W. Johnson was a fellow in politics at Magdalen College, Oxford for many years before returning to South Africa, where he was brought up, in 1995. His books include How Long Will South Africa Survive? and Look Back in Laughter: Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age.

Ross McKibbin, like many other analysts, dwells on the injustice of the Tories’ winning an overall majority on just 36.9 per cent of the vote (LRB, 4 June). It is worth pointing out that the great triumphs of the Gaullist party in France between 1958 and 1973 were all won on around 37 per cent of the first-ballot vote. In practice that was always enough to ensure a clear victory on the second round....

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...


Thatcher or Williams

19 December 2013

Writing about Shirley Williams and Margaret Thatcher a while back, a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education who served both described the two as complete opposites of each other (LRB, 19 December 2013). When you entered Williams’s office she would welcome you and be very interested in what you had to say. As you talked she would put her head on one hand, look very hard at you and drink...

The Logic of Nuremberg

7 November 2013

‘In a short period of time,’ Mahmood Mamdani writes of Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War, ‘the Allies had carried out the most far-reaching ethnic cleansing in the history of Europe … the overriding principle here was that there must be a safe home for survivors’ (LRB, 7 November). This gives a wholly false impression. The major population flows the Allies countenanced were...

Who benefits?

25 April 2013

I could not but sympathise with Ross McKibbin’s tearing critique of attempts to stereotype welfare claimants (LRB, 25 April). However, I am in Germany at the moment and the first point made in discussion of the subject here is Merkel’s: that the EU accounts for 9 per cent of the world’s people, 15 per cent of its GDP and 50 per cent of its welfare payments. Even if these figures are only approximately...

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,

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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