In 1927, the French philosopher Julien Benda published an essay that would make him famous: The betrayal of the clergy.
In this pamphlet, Benda accused the intellectuals of his day – both left and right – of having left the world of ideas to turn to ideologies.
FROM THINKER TO SOLDIER
Intellectuals are freethinkers who base their opinions on facts, while ideologues put their critical sense and freedom of thought and speech at the service of a camp.
They are not true freethinkers, they are soldiers who always attack the enemy camp and always defend their camp, even if it is wrong.
“Men whose function is to uphold eternal and unselfish values such as justice and reason have betrayed that function in favor of practical interests,” he wrote.
The primary duty of an intellectual, Benda said, is not to engage in politics, to take “orders” and foolishly defend the interests of his party or camp, but to be vigilant.
You felt some sympathy for communist ideology and learned that the regime, which you have often publicly defended, sends thousands of people to re-education camps?
They denounce this regime!
You’re a Republican and you see a madman took over the party you were throwing?
They denounce it!
You don’t put your critical sense at the service of any ideology, whatever it may be…
In short, you like Camus, not like Sartre!
THE TEMPTATION OF THE EXTREME
Where are the real intellectuals today?
We have more and more soldiers and fewer and fewer people who think freely.
Therefore the extremes increase. Both left and right.
Extremist ideas relieve you of the terrible responsibility of thinking for yourself. Like religions, extremist ideologies, whether the wokism or libertarian ideology, provide ready-made answers to the questions that every citizen asks himself in the course of his life.
For some, the magic word is “minority”. For others it is “freedom”.
Everything, every decision that a state has to make must be measured against this word.
Ideologues don’t think. You don’t think. They think.
That’s why Julien Benda said they were traitors. Because they betrayed their primary function.
THE GUARDIANS HAVE ADICTED
95 years after its publication, Benda’s essay is still so relevant, so essential, and so bold.
Because our time is very similar to time The betrayal of the clergy was published.
The sky of ideas is darkening. Clouds are gathering. More and more people who were thought to be intelligent and enlightened are being seduced by the sirens of ideology.
The guardians of culture have abdicated. The Knowledge Keepers have abdicated.
The university no longer teaches exchange and confrontation of ideas, but censorship!
At the university it is no longer the knowledge that counts, but the feeling! The feeling!
In short, the hour is serious.
More than ever, we need people who are not afraid to think outside the box.