Julien Benda was not so naïve as to believe that intellectuals as a class had ever entirely abstained from political involvement, or, indeed, from involvement in the realm of practical affairs. Nor did he believe that intellectuals, as citizens, necessarily should abstain from political commitment or practical affairs. The “treason” or betrayal he sought to publish concerned the way that intellectuals had lately allowed political commitment to insinuate itself into their understanding of the intellectual vocation as such.
It seems to me that we are seeing the correlative today: as intellectuals became politically committed, so politicians portray themselves as intellectuals and convey their ideas by stealing the lightning of the academy. Al Gore, the world’s greatest scientist, is the foremost example. The working man cannot hope to understand the science; the scientist cannot convey it to the working man; step forward the intellectual politician, who emerges as arbiter of both science and public opinion.
Yet the dangers are obvious. As Schumpeter foresaw, the intellectuals and in particular the intellectual politician, who has far more power than the mere intellectual, are attacking the capitalist system that created them. It goes without saying that, in doing that, the intellectual politician will appeal first and foremost to the Goddess Reason.