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The Treason of the Intellectuals Paperback – October 30, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

Review

“It is rich, quirky, erudite, digressive, and polemical. . . . Partisan in its claims for disinterestedness, it is ruthless in its defense of intellectual high-mindedness. . . . [G]iven the horrific events that unfolded in the decades following its publication, Benda’s unremitting attack on the politicization of the intellect and ethnic separatism cannot but strike us as prescient. And given the continuing echo in our own time of the problems he anatomized, the relevance of his observations to our situation can hardly be doubted.”

—Roger Kimball, The New Criterion

About the Author

Julien Benda (1867–1956) was a novelist and critic. Among his other books are The Yoke of Pity and Uriel’s Report.

 



Roger Kimball is co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion, president and publisher of Encounter Books, and an art critic for the London Spectator and National Review.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers (October 30, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1412806232
  • ISBN-13: 978-1412806237
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #191,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Well, the title is certainly suggestive.
Jill Malter
He further insists that his injunction amor fati requires that we enthusiastically accept this aspect of our present condition.
P. Capofreddi
As relevant today as it was when it was written.
TC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By P. Capofreddi on November 20, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nietzsche cogently recognized that disinterested reason, when it disinterestedly looks upon its own origins, finds that it is really not so disinterested after all. French intellectuals such as Maurras, Sorel, Péguy and Barrès proclaimed that reason not only must abandon all pretenses of being disinterested, but must even celebrate this abandonment, placing itself enthusiastically in the service of practical interests, particularly of the interests of the race, the nation or the state. Although these thinkers are now remembered, if at all, primarily as progenitors of fascism, their response to Nietzsche remains very much a part of contemporary intellectual life. Benda's indictment of this response in The Treason of the Intellectuals therefore remains very relevant.

Benda decries the change in the attitude toward intellectual activity manifested by proto-fascists like Maurras:

"Since the Greeks the predominant attitude of thinkers towards intellectual activity was to glorify it insofar as (like aesthetic activity) it finds its satisfaction in itself, apart from any attention to the advantages it may procure. Most thinkers would have agreed with ... Renan's verdict that the man who loves science for its fruits commits the worst of blasphemies. ... The modern `clerks' have violently torn up this charter. They proclaim the intellectual functions are only respectable to the extent that they are bound up with the pursuit of concrete advantage." (p. 151)

The "concrete advantage" that was most important to the proto-fascists was of course that of the state. "Up until our own times," Benda reminds us, "men had only received two sorts of teaching in what concerns the relations between politics and morality.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Gary Wolf on February 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
One of the more interesting texts for understanding the decline of the West in the twentieth century is "La Trahison des Clercs" (The Treason of the Intellectuals) by the French philosopher Julien Benda (1867-1956). The central thesis of the book, first published in 1927, is that the intellectual class in modern times has abandoned its historic role of being a voice for justice, fairness, liberty, and freedom of inquiry. It has substituted its former adherence to timeless principles for a crass subservience to ideology. As Benda puts it (all translations in this review are mine, from the French edition):

"The men whose role is to defend eternal and disinterested values, like justice and reason, whom I call the intellectuals, have betrayed this role for the sake of practical interests."

This is the age of politics, says Benda. "Political passion" has become entwined with our lives like never before. This translates into fanatical advocacy on behalf of race, class, and nation. One would be hard pressed to find, in all of history, an age in which masses of people have become agitated to such an extent for these causes.

"One is amazed, when one studies for example the civil wars that stirred France in the 16th century and even the end of the 18th, at the small number of people whose soul was truly troubled [by these events]; history is full, up to the 19th century, of long European wars that left the great majority of the population completely indifferent, apart from the material damage that was caused. [By contrast] one can say that today, there is almost no one in Europe who is not touched (or at least believes he is) by the passions of race, class, or nation...Political passions today attain a universality that they have never known...
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Bilar on July 9, 1998
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This book should have served as a wake-up call when it first appeared in the twenties. The issue it addresses is as pertinent today as it was then: Intellectuals who abandon their calling to guide and instruct the masses according to the principles of the siecle de lumiere to become apologists for nationalist, irrationalist thoughts and deeds. Everybody who is active in shaping public discourse (politician, writers, especially professors) should head this book's warning and think twice before abdicating his or her responsibility towards society.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By M. Turner on November 17, 2007
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I first became aware of this work after seeing that Hayek quoted a lengthy passage of Mr. Benda's book in "The Road to Serfdom". I'm only halfway through "The Treason of the Intellectuals" and I'm impressed with the breadth and depth of Benda's vision. This book's thesis, that the intellectuals have abandoned the study of the universal for the promotion of transitory goals, serves not just as a warning only against those who crave complete submission no matter the reason. It's also a reminder of the finite and fallible nature of Man.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
This prescient warning of what was to come as the intellectuals abandoned their disinterested critique for service to power bears rereading. Only John Ralston Saul in the Unconscious Civilization and Voltaire's Bastards currently makes the case for enlightened values with the fervour of Benda's wistfull invocation of Christ and Socrates.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David M. Frost on June 24, 2010
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This was a very good, very interesting and-- surprisingly, considering that it was written in the 1920's-- very timely book. Despite his insistence on repeatedly quoting or referencing rather obscure sources (and not bothering to translate Latin quotes), and despite a tendency to reiterate the same point, Benda's thesis-- that the world's intellectual elite has given up the pursuit of truth in favor of blatant agitprop in support of their political causes is a thought-provoking one. Benda's implicit secondary point (that Julien Benda is way more erudite than I am) is also undeniable.
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