Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Redressing the Betrayal of the Intellectuals: Finkielkraut's Continuation of Benda's Program

Roland A. Champagne.

Julien Benda’s 1927 pamphlet, La Trahison des clercs, identifies the compromise of intellectual voices in the twentieth century to material interests driven by political passions. The scientific spirit of order haunted these modern intellectuals who betrayed their integrity with a misguided notion that reason allowed them to distinguish differences among the peoples of the world which led to the exclusions of identity politics. While twentieth-century intellectuals continued in their service of political passions, Benda had riposted to deaf ears with the utopian mission of “true intellectuals” as a separate class from the laity with the necessity of maintaining their vision of “the cult of justice and truth” alongside the practical values of the laity.
In contrast to positivism and pragmatism identified as “the silliness of the mind” by Benda, Finkielkraut’s voice stands out for its moral leadership setting the parameters for the human, especially a humanistic, future that the virtue of tolerance should give to world communities and their interactions with each other. Inspired in the immediate past by Arendt, Sartre, and Lévinas, Finkielkraut probes Benda’s “moral history of humanity” by stirring up debate about how individuality contributes to a collective self-image about how community discussion is based on the commitment of intellectuals to propose new directions and to abandon non-viable ones.


Roland A. Champagne  (United States)
Visiting Scholar of Modern Languages & Literatures
Department of Modern Languages & Literatures
Trinity University

Professor Emeritus of French, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Jan. 2003-present; Chair, Department of Modern Foreign Languages & Literatures, UM-St. Louis, 1997-2002; Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, UM-St. Louis, 1984-1989; Chair, Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, UM-St. Louis, 1980-1983. Professor of French, UM-St. Louis, 1980-2002.

  • Intellectuals
  • Moral history of humanity
  • Cult of justice and truth
  • Utopian integrity
  • Socially-conscious clercs
Person as Subject
  • Benda, Julien Finkielkraut, Alain Arendt, Hannah Sartre, Jean-Paul Lévinas, Emmanuel

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)