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la trahison des clercs (The Treason of the Intellectuals) Part II

When hatred of culture becomes itself part of culture, the life of the mind loses all meaning.
 -- Alain Finkielkraut, The Undoing of Thought
Today we are trying to spread knowledge everywhere.  Who knows if in centuries to come there will not be universities established to establish our former ignorance.
-- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799)

Benda May Have Been Too Optimisitic

The Bear is an intellectual.  So are all of his ephemerists friends.  This is not a boast, it is simply the correct name for people who pursue the rewards of a life of the mind, as opposed to "realism," as our friend Julien Benda (la trahison des clercs) uses the word.

Although Benda was remarkably prescient in Treason of the Intellectuals, he did not get everything right.  The great evil that Benda saw was intellectuals abandoning their age-old calling of insisting upon the universal when it came to mankind.  In Benda's mind, the danger was that intellectuals were building philosophies based upon national differences. The German Völk, Italian Art, French elan, the English Empire.  They got their hands dirty, and became "realists," not as opposed to "realism," but concerned with practical outcomes.

It is true that we passed through that stage - disastrously.  It is just as true that patriotism seems to be a spent force in the West.  One would be embarrassed to express patriotism in the United States.  No longer do children perform the ceremony of innocence before the schoolroom flag, hand over heart.

How Benda Was Right

However, Benda turned out to be right, after all.  Intellectuals of today support ever-smaller divisions of humanity.  As  Benda specifically predicted: people wish even to be distinguished by their vices.  There is no eccentricity so rare as it does not have an intellectual spokesman -- or, spokesperson -- and political lobby.

Benda also observed that politics had become the concern of everyone, and that neighbors would wage an unending political war against one another.  This has come to pass.  It is a fairly recent historical development, although we can scarcely imagine it.  People have been concerned with politics all throughout history, but in fits and starts.  Never before has the vast majority of the West identified themselves by their political views, and never stopped banging the drum.

Humanity has been shattered into a thousand pieces by the treason of the intellectuals.  Yet the fragments tend to gravitate toward one of two poles: the Right and the Left.  Political people - almost everyone, that is - are comforted because they can look up and see one or the other of the great umbrellas that loosely unites and protects them.

Intellectuals Right and Left

In general, the Right is the philosophy of true conservatism.  True intellectuals of the Right preach a centripetal philosophy.  They are the true champions of mankind, because they advocate for man in general.  They do not feel compelled to tinker with history, to stick a name on part of mankind and champion The Worker, The Homosexual, The Refugee.  The intellectuals of the Right are mostly true and faithful, if few.  They know that when an intellectual is tempted to "realism," i.e. results, he will inevitably chose sides, and thereby lose the legitimacy of the universal.  He will, in other words, commit treason.

It is precisely by engaging in special pleading, that the intellectual of the Left commits treason.  "I raise this man up, and put all other men down."  They have a pact with one another that they will not step on each others' toes.  The intellectual of the Left is always modern.  "I celebrate today only; I erase the past."  There is always that fatal choice.  We come down to arguing with a straight face whether a man should use the ladies' room, because such practical absurdities are the inevitable tragicomical end of Leftist intellectualism.

By the way, the Left has won everywhere, if you have not noticed.  The Right, who are not "realists," in Benda's sense of the word (practical) cannot match the passionate intensity of a thousand people fighting for a thousand special recognitions.  Mankind has been more thoroughly fragmented than at Babel, and the past is forgotten.

When Facebook has 71 genders, you have to admit you're fighting a desperate rear-guard action for civilization, if not sanity.

Benda Wrong by 196, but Right by 7 Billion

But what would Benda say about the great supranational movements, where the old states of the West are giving up their independence and identity?  Does this not disprove Benda's thesis?  No.  First of all, this is a new development, and we do not know if it will last, or if national particularism will will reassert itself. But Benda might well point out that a mere 196 nations without nationalism are nothing compared to 71 genders,  1000 religions, 25,000 parties, 250,000 blogs, and people who shell out over a billion-and-a-half dollars for tattoos per year, in the U.S. alone.  Anybody can be a constituency.

So maybe Benda missed by 196 nations.  He still wins by 7 billion people, if everyone has their own individual party.


  1. This is a most wonderful article. The more we disconnect from the universal principles, the more we each lose our individuality in the insane 'special interests'. Your words are to be pondered and appreciated. Thank you for this piece.

  2. Oops I assumed you wrote "the great supernatural movements, where the old states of the West are giving up their independence and identity." I had to go back and read it twice. Well, whether it's the fragmentation of nationalistic patriotism, or the fragmentation of genders, religions, and blogs, either way the fragmentation serves dialectally to prepare for a totalitarian homogenization which apes the true unity of a Christendom or of the Universal Church. It's demonic.

    1. Yes. Nationalism is more physically destructive but identity politics is a more insidious version of the same thing.

  3. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

    Joshua 24:15

  4. Excellent Bear. It is all to be expected since the ideas of Truth and Reality have been rendered politically incorrect. Note pertinent article in the 'Deus Ex Machina blog:

    1. Yes. It is important to distinguish between reality, which I, too have argued is the essential failure of all liberalism, and the sine qua non of correctness and survival, and "realism" that Benda condemns in intellectuals.

      Benda means practicality. He argues that intellectuals commit treason when they apply their techniques and goals to politics, rather than maintain the universality that confers legitimacy. I just wanted to clear that up because of course Benda has no objection to the search for truth - universal truth - just special pleading.

      Liberalism will take the West and all its cargo of institutions (including the Church) to the icy floor of the North Atlantic. The West has struck the ice berg. It is 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1911. At this point only a few realize what it all means.

      But the Bear says: the show must go on. And it will, don't know how, don't know when. But you can take this to the bank: a mental construct, be it Communism, Peronism, Neoconservatism or NuKatholicism will not long survive a head-on collision with reality.

      Do not worry. All things fear time, but time fears the Bear. Good beasts shall serve as regents when flint is once more your high tech

    2. Excuse please Bear. Could you please enlighten us on the meaning of 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1911.

    3. Ruination Day April 14. "And the great barge sank, and the okies fled, and the Great Emancipator took a bullet in the back of the head."

      The Titanic struck the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. April 14, 1911, although it did not sink until early morning the next day. Western Civilization has already struck the iceberg. There is nothing to be done except find a place on a lifeboat. The Bear sees nothing but doom for now. But he survived the fall of Rome, so he plans on coming out the other side of this mess while liberals all starve to death or are eaten by natural beadts while arguing about who gets to use what bathroom. The problem is, the old barbarians, like the Lombards, respected Rome and wanted to be Romans. Liberals reject reality, reject the West.

    4. Perhaps the readers' confusion is because the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. But one mistake in several centuries is not bad, O Great Bear!

  5. Wikipedia says the year of the sinking was 1912. The Visigoths respected Rome, too, even though they were Arians.

  6. I forgot the year. You live 1300 years and see if you and remember every little thing. But while the Titanic didn't sink until the 15th, she was doomed by the collision on the 14th. So the 14th of April is still Ruination Day, and the symbolic and of the West is 1912, not 1911.

  7. "In general, the Right is the philosophy of true conservatism. True intellectuals of the Right preach a centripetal philosophy. They are the true champions of mankind, because they advocate for man in general."

    I am dubious about this generalization, and in particular about the dichotomy of Left and Right [I give the Bear the benefit of the doubt of holding a more nuanced position]. That is, I'm not convinced Right is correct, but rather another error. This comes back to your piece on the "Catholic center". I was listening to a sermon where the priest points out that when the devil wishes to take man down, he does not give man one choice, but two. If the first doesn't attract, man can be driven to the other out of revulsion for the first. (sounds a bit like how our elections are decided).

    Let me elaborate a bit more. Jerry Pournelle examined this one dimensional model in his thesis for his Phd in political science titled "The American political continuum; an examination of the validity of the left-right model as an instrument for studying contemporary American political 'isms'". He produces a two dimensional model called the Pournelle chart

    I ran across this a couple of years ago, and the first thing that struck me was it is missing an axis for spirituality. Rather than trying to describe a plane with Divine truth missing, it should be 3 dimensional. The shape would depend on where you place Catholicism. If it’s placed at 0, you have a sphere of ideologies. But if you put atheism at 0, and Catholicism as defined as infinity, you’d have a cone tending toward perfection with the various political manifestations forming the outer shell of the cone.

    Left/Right is far too simplistic.

    1. Left and Right are indeed simplistic if you try to understand them outside of my application of Benda's thesis. Any other discussion of whether the Right is politically correct or the Left is politically wrong is irrelevant.

      Benda said that politics was now a part of the ordinary man's life in a way it had never been before. I agree, and I do observe that the two great umbrellas are, in general Right and Left. Note that I have not said one is better than the other. Benda would just as readily condemn an intellectual in the Catholic Center if that intellectual were trying to conform the world to his vision.

      I find that if you know A about someone, it is likely you know B, C, D, E, and F about him, too. I am sure there are pro-abortion, Latin-Mass-going, NRA members who's favorite blogger is Mark Shea, but I am sure you would agree they are few. So perhaps Right and Left are not useless in this rough-and-ready context of where people live.

      If a "traitor" is an intellectual who applies his mind to a philosophy that departs from the traditional role of the intellectual -- dealing in universal truths for the universal man -- then one on the political right may just as easily be a traitor as one on the political left.

      Remember, Benda's definition of a traitorous intellectual is one who applies his talents to "realism," or advancing particular real-world programs or themes: "the German Völk;" "100% Americanism;" "political Conservatism;" "political Liberalsm."

      If an intellectual is in the trenches providing ammunition for wide gun ownership, rolling back homosexual influence, promoting American exceptionalism, quashing the teaching of evolution in the classroom, muzzling the Russian Bear, restricting immigration, eliminating nudity on television, promoting larger families, etc. etc. etc. then he would be just as much a traitor - in the context of this continuing discussion, which should not be forgotten - as an intellectual of the Left.

      In general - and now this is the Bear, not Benda - the Left of our time is far more guilty of the sort of special pleading that is emblematic of "la trahison des clercs." A conservative will probably not object to a manger scene and a menorah in the public square. A liberal has a visceral horror of both, and will fanatically fight the natural, human expression of humanity's universal religious impulse and impose the narrow, momentary and inhuman fad of atheism.

      A conservative will likely simply accept the biological and time-honored convention of separate restrooms for men and women without a thought. It is the liberal who must slice humanity into as many slivers as possible - 71 Facebook "genders" - and each one must have its own philosophy and philosophers intent on "realism," e.g. making sure their constituency imposes its will on everyone else.

      Liberals admire the so-called "superior American Indian culture and spirituality" so much that they will go so far as to actually pretend to be an Indian. (Or black.) "Identity politics" is la trahison des clercs writ on a hillside as big as the "Hollywood" letters.

      Inasmuch as conservatism naturally reflects the less particular, rejects the fever of intellectual fads, and is oriented toward eternal truths, then conservatism is less disposed by nature to treason.

      Of course, once conservatives apply their talents to "realism," i.e. practical results, they are just as treasonous. See "neconservativism" and the gospel of militarily spreading democracy to people who have no use for it. Of course today, people can hardly conceive of a true intellectual, one who is not an advocate for the particular.

    2. Why was Pope Pius XII not a traitor to the Church, and the West, and what makes Pope Francis a traitor to the Church and the West? If you can answer that question in the most general terms possible, you will understand what Benda is saying.

      Pope Francis is not a universal thinker. To him, everything is a "case" he witnessed in Argentina, a "pastoral exception," a "cause." His is theology by anecdote. This is how Leftists think: they do not have a mind for universal scope that can derive fundamental truths. (It also appears he shares the Leftist's peculiar need of cultural approval and "relevance.")

      Pope Francis has never uttered a single word of unqualified application to everybody. He has never once said that, "Everybody needs the Catholic Church to attain Heaven and avoid Hell." It is telling how in Pope Video One, Francis's handlers have to divide people up into four religions, only one of which is even Christian. Division is the signature of the traitor.

      Now, one might argue that such a view is actually MORE universal, because it includes everyone in a single, overarching religious truth that recognizes their common humanity.

      And, yes. That would be correct. For an intellectual who was not Pope. An intellectual ceases to be one when he embraces "realism" (results). A Pope is a special case. The universality that gives him legitimacy as an intellectual is the universality of the Catholic religion. In his proper sphere, he is an advocate, even a chauvinist. It would be wrong for a German Catholic priest to give a homily in WWI about the colonial aspirations of Germany, and the martial excellence of the German people. But what if a German Catholic priest stood up and gave a homily that a German Catholic priest could have given 700 years ago? A timeless message of love of God, and repentance?

      Benda did not speak much about religious intellectuals. I think he would have thought it to be an oxymoron, since religious leaders should definitely have an objective in mind. He did talk about how religious thinking could become mired in politics.

      I think the difference between Pope Pius XII and Pope Francis can be understood in light of Benda. The former, for all his engagement with the evils of his day, did not ever commit the treason of substituting that for the truths of the Catholic Faith. So, in that sense, at least, he did not descend to "realism." I sense a qualitative difference in Pope Francis.

      He, unlike Pope Pius XII, is a realist par excellence, again as Benda used "realist." It is the truth of the Catholic Faith that must adapt to the "realism" of people having access to Communion, or the advancement of the "brotherhood of man." Pope Pius XII was a good Catholic doing good. Pope Francis might be thought of as a man using Catholicism to do good. We want a Catholic Pope on a throne, and we get the World's Most Popular Man who sees the Church as nothing more than a Bully Pulpit. This is why Pope Francis is a traitor, and if there is any animus from the Bear toward Pope Francis it is because, as everyone knows, Bears are 100% Loyal and True and can abide anyone before a traitor. But humans are not under the jurisdiction of Bears, or any animal. This is the First Law. Sometimes we wonder why humans are so tolerant of evil. But there are many things we do not understand.

    3. And one more thing. There are almost no intellectuals today. I cannot think of a single one now in the public sphere who qualifies as an intellectual according to Benda. (Not saying there are none, but it seems that everyone has one drum or another to beat.)

      Glenn Beck.

      Just kidding.


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