Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The way of the clerk

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Side by side with [the laymen]…there existed until the last half century another, essentially distinct humanity, which to a certain extent acted as a check upon the former. I mean that class of men whom I shall designate “the clerks,” by whom I mean all those whose activity essentially is not the pursuit of practical aims, all those who seek their joy in the practice of an art or a science or metaphysical speculation, in short in the possession of non-material advantage, and hence in a certain manner say: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Indeed, throughout history, for more than two thousand years until modern times, I see an uninterrupted series of philosophers, men of religion, men of literature, artists, men of learning (one might say almost all during this period), whose influence, whose life, were in direct opposition to the realism of the multitudes…

Although these “clerks” founded the modern state to the extent that it dominates the individual egotisms, their activity undoubtedly was chiefly theoretical, and they were unable to prevent the laymen from filling all history with the noise of their hatreds and their slaughters; but the “clerks” did prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities. It may be said that, thanks to the “clerks,” humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.

Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals

Written by nevalalee

July 23, 2017 at 7:30 am

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