Charles Moore comments on a new biography of Hewlett Johnson (d. 1964), for over three decades the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, and an ardent Stalinist. Moore writes that Johnson’s biographer, John Butler, reports all these things, but manages also to report admirable qualities the man demonstrated — qualities that made him popular with his congregation. Observes Moore:

I am glad that Mr Butler has approached his task in this way, because it makes the book much fresher than a work of character assassination. But its effect is to point up how extraordinary it was that a free country like ours could excuse people who defended mass murderers so long as they were from the Left. If Johnson had spoken of Hitler as he did of Stalin, no one would have received him in polite society.

For his unusual views, Johnson suffered nothing worse than a few cross letters from the Archbishop and semi-successful attempts to dislodge him from various Canterbury positions (“Ominously, the governors began to plot Johnson’s removal as Chairman of the Governing Body”). By contrast, the victims of the man he worshipped died in their tens of millions. His speeches and writings helped legitimise this. Johnson was told by Raul Castro (who, replacing brother Fidel, rules Cuba to this day) that people believed his pro-Communist writing because he was a priest. That is a terrible thought.

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