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Insult of the Day

August 7, 2012

Noam Chomsky on the French intelligentsia:

While a graduate student in literary studies, I attended a brown bag lunch at which the relationship between literary criticism and political activism was discussed. While a few of my peers insisted that our French “theory” infused diatribes on race, class, and gender had some relevance to the outside world, many expressed indifference toward non-academic readers. It was around that time I realized that “theory” mainly serves to socialize graduate students and legitimate literary studies as a discipline. Outside of that context, it is almost totally irrelevant. While I think somewhat more highly of continental philosophy than Chomsky, and am less inclined to generalize about French culture, I think he’s got the right idea.

Chomsky’s remarks on the pernicious influence of French “theory” on third world intellectuals reminds me of a similar point Chesterton made in this passage of Orthodoxy:

The Jacobin could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it . . . In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

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