I’ve stolen the idea for this blog from Albert Camus. In 1945 he gave a speech to L’Amitié Française (French Friendship) called “Defense of Intelligence.” Camus speaks about the third word in the French trinity of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We Americans do not speak of fraternity, but the speech made me think that perhaps we should.
The subject is not back-slapping camaraderie, but a more serious kind of deeper friendship which requires an intelligent assault on falsehood and hatred. For Camus these were the legacy of Hitlerism. In America in 2011 we see other forms of falsehood and hatred — a frightening trend in the debasement of fact and mindless hatred. More fundamentally Camus believed that intelligence had to be saved from the leftover poison of Hitlerism and the constant threat of dictatorship. Poisoning intelligence is job one for the would-be dictator. And “the most difficult battle to be won against the enemy in the future,” said Nobel Laureate and French Resistance member Camus, “must be fought within ourselves, with an exceptional effort that will transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice.”
In devastated France nothing less than intelligence itself had to be saved and defended before the French could be friends again. Camus quotes Goering who declared, “When anyone talks to me of intelligence, I take out my revolver.” Does this sound familiar? Does it ring any bells? In occupied Europe and Vichy France, “philosophies of instinct” and “feeling over understanding” dominated. At the time according to Camus, “If you merely make an effort to understand without preconceptions, if you merely talk of objectivity, you will be accused of sophistry and criticized for having pretensions. No we can’t have that! That is what must be reformed.”
The French man of action was not defending what some Americans might now call fuzzy-headed intellectualism or pinko liberalism. He was defending intelligence backed by courage. He suggested that a nation “passionately attached to truth” is the only insurance against a “vast solitude” and the only way to friendship in a democratic republic.
Steadfast and cautious,