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166. Coming to meet (V)

Previously, I identified the intellectual—personified by Marx—as the source of leftism; he is the man of ideas, somewhere between a scholar and a journalist, who attempts to change the world with schemes; he is the sermoniser, as opposed to the mystic. I noted that two groups are paradigmatically intellectual or admire the intellectuals: the French and the Jews. Other groups have intellectuals—such as the English Puritans, Levellers, and Ranters—but in no two groups does the idea of the intellectual find such a receptive home.

Before English swallowed the world, there was a division of labour in the languages. English was the language of seafaring and trade, a practical and common sense all-round language—and it still performs this function today; German was the language of science and philosophy, it is—as with Ancient Greek and Sanskrit—a precise language, perfect for scientific and philosophical documents where ambiguity must be avoided; French, meanwhile, is known for its elegance and style—it was the language of diplomacy and of love, the language of lies.

The French know very well that their language is stylish and elegant. Nietzsche knew it too, this was why he admired the French. His aphoristic style was formulated as an antidote to those pedantic German sentences that run on for two pages, leaving no ambiguity at all. Nietzsche wanted to be a master of wit, elegance, and ambiguity; he wanted to be a French fencing master in language, rapier quick. As with Nietzsche, French, from Descartes onwards, has been the language of radical doubt and deconstruction; the fear of postmodern Deconstruction is an echo of the original deconstructor: Descartes and his preference for the rational geometric city over the organic town, his descendant was Le Corbusier.

The problem is that French was uniquely suited to develop “the intellectual”; the man who had elegant and subversive thoughts. We are familiar, as I noted before, with French theory—a word that means “to picture”. For the French, the intellectual is the man who creates an elegant intellectual picture with language; unlike the common sense Englishman or the autistic German, this picture need not have any relation to reality whatsoever. French provides us with our words for fashion: chic, haute couture, prêt-à-porter, and so on. In the same way, we have ressentiment, jouissance, objet petit a, négritude, and so on. What would intellectuals be without these words? When the autistic Germanic sees the French intellectual translated he finds little there of substance—the point was to coo and preen over the style, the point was lost in translation.

As for the Jews, the matter is more simple. Jews usually have above average intelligence and a tilt towards verbal abilities. When Jews leave Judaism, they apply the old practices of Talmudic exegesis and rabbinic entrepreneurship to the secular domain—and these skills make them uniquely well-positioned to be intellectuals, to be sermonisers.

Unlike the autistic Germanics, the Jews try to see both sides of the story and develop a novel interpretation. This is why they make good lawyers, they look for loopholes in the law just as their ancestors looked for loopholes in the Talmud; they also take joy in making a case, as opposed to getting to the truth—lawyers do not care about the client’s guilt or innocence, they just make the best case possible with what they have to work with. These skills can also be turned to entertainment, since comedy relies on quick reversals and word play—absurd juxtapositions, absurd interpretations of the law.

This gives rise to the archetypal New York Jewish intellectual who develops novel social theories. Given that Judaism is a story of former slaves overcoming their masters, the secularised Jewish theories of social change are almost always leftist in some way. In conclusion, the left originates with the intellectuals: the French salon-loafer, the secular non-scientific Jew, and the English Puritan pamphleteer—a man who hardly conceptualises himself as an intellectual at all, though he is one.

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