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Intellectual bureaucrats

Albert Camus: “We [moderns] read more than we meditate. We have no philosophies but merely commentaries. This is what Étienne Gilson says, considering that the age of philosophers concerned with philosophy was followed by the age of professors of philosophy concerned with philosophers. Such an attitude shows both modesty and impotence. And a thinker who began his book with these words: ‘Let us take things from the beginning,’ would evoke smiles. It has come to the point where a book of philosophy appearing today without basing itself on any authority, quotation or commentary would not be taken seriously.” The reality that he describes is nothing else than institution-think. Expertly calibrated, self-replicating capitalist-friendly institutions dominate culture, and such institutions cannot get to the heart of the matter or exalt the sort of world-engendering creativity that highly ennobles. What they can do is manufacture minute monographs, reduce to the common denominator, and make ever less relevant to human concerns. I recall what I wrote once in college:

Looked at the Tufts University philosophy department website; I might apply there. Part of its mission statement is “to provide students with the skills necessary for Ph.D. research, as well as to foster the independence of mind required for genuinely creative philosophical work.” It depressed me to read that, as if a draft of nihilism had wafted by: life felt picayune suddenly, mechanical, scholarly—training people to think!—and denying philosophy even as they preach it! Well-oiled parts of the machine, functioning smoothly, cooperating with contemporary ways of doing things. What philosopher has ever cooperated? Philosophy is rebellion, war with authority in every form; it is a way of life, not ‘tidy thinking’ or scholarship or a specialty. Spartacus was a philosopher; Daniel Dennett is not.

The verbose perverseness that passes for philosophy now signifies a perversion of the human spirit, a discursifying of it, a domesticating institutionalizing of it, perversely appropriate to a society that has “repressively desublimated” all that is profound and creative in life. The late-capitalist categorical imperative of culture is to trivialize at all costs and for all profits, to privatize, atomize, marketize, professionalize, impersonalize, and stupidize, all in order to replicate and accumulate, to replicate and accumulate institutions and a New Man, homo bureaucraticus. Or, ultimately, homo economicus. Certainly philosophy, of all things, cannot flourish in such an environment, nor can anything else that demands to be free and unconstrained by institutional limits. The existentialist cry of the mid-twentieth century—followed by the barbaric yawp of the Sixties’ youth movements, preceded by the anti-capitalist vibrancy of labor movements in their heyday and earlier Romantic culture for the modernity-ambivalent elite and saturnalian revelry for the untamed multitude—has died, or faded from cultural prominence, but its echo cannot die until humankind itself does. The cycle continues, and we’re about to see another of its revolutions…

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