In 1927, the French philosopher Julien Benda published an essay that would make him famous, The Treachery of the Clerks.
In this pamphlet, Benda accused the intellectuals of his time – both those on the left and those on the right – of having abandoned the world of ideas to embrace ideologies.
FROM THINKERS TO SOLDIERS
Intellectuals, he said, are free thinkers who base their opinions on facts, while ideologues put their critical sense and their freedom of thought and speech at the service of a camp.
They are not true freethinkers, they are soldiers, who always attack the opposite side and always defend their side, even if this one is wrong.
“Men whose function is to uphold eternal and selfless values, such as justice and reason, have betrayed that function for the benefit of practical interests,” he wrote.
The primary obligation of an intellectual, said Benda, is not to engage in politics, to take "orders" and stupidly defend the interests of his party or his camp, it is to be vigilant.
You felt a certain sympathy for the communist ideology and you learn that the regime that you often defended publicly sends thousands of people to re-education camps?
You denounce this regime!
You are a Republican and you see that a madman has taken control of the party you were celebrating?
You denounce it!
You do not put your critical sense at the service of an ideology, whatever it is...
In short, you do like Camus, not like Sartre!
THE TEMPTATION OF EXTREMES
Where are the real intellectuals today?
We have more and more soldiers, and fewer and fewer people who think freely.
This is why the extremes rise. Both left and right.
Extremist ideas free you from the terrible responsibility of thinking for yourself. Like religions, extremist ideologies, whether wokism or libertarian ideology, provide ready-made answers to the questions that every citizen asks himself during 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 judged in the light of this word.
Ideologues do not think. They don't think. They believe.
Here is why Julien Benda said they were traitors. Because they betrayed their primary function.
THE GUARDIANS HAVE ABDICATED
Ninety-five years after its publication, Benda's essay is still as relevant, as essential, as courageous.
Because our time is very similar to the time when The Treachery of the Clerics was published.
The sky of ideas is darkening. Clouds are gathering. More and more people who were thought to be intelligent and enlightened are tempted by the sirens of ideology.
The guardians of culture have abdicated. The knowledge keepers have abdicated.
The university no longer teaches exchanges and confrontations of ideas, but censorship!
It is no longer the knowledge that is important at university, it is the feeling! The emotion!
In short, the hour is serious.
More than ever, we need people who are not afraid to think against the grain of their camp.