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Pourquoi les intellectuels sont-ils fascinés par les dictatures?

Eric Hoffer

Depuis toujours on essaie de comprendre la fascination des intellectuels pour les dictateurs: le Français Robert Brasillach pour Hitler, Aragon pour Staline, Françoise David, François Saillant, Lorraine Guay, pour Mao, Pierre Dubuc pour Staline, Amir Khadir, Pierre Beaudet et les penseurs de la CSQ pour Castro. ERIC HOFFER, pur produit de cette classe ouvrière qu’ils veulent libérer, a été ouvrier agricole et débardeur toute sa vie. Il a écrit une dizaine de livres et d’essais et s’est intéressé aux liens entre les intellectuels et les masses.

Voici des extraits de son texte sur les intellectuels et les masses ( voir le troisième articles sur la page)

[ The intellectual goes to the masses in search of weightiness and a role of leadership. Unlike the man of action, the man of words needs the sanction of ideals and the incantation of words in order to act forcefully. He wants to lead, command, and conquer, but he must feel that in satisfying these hungers he does not cater to a petty self. He needs justification, and he seeks it in the realization of a grandiose design and in the solemn ritual of making the word become flesh. Thus he does battle for the downtrodden and disinherited and for liberty, equality, justice, and truth, though, as Thoreau pointed out, the grievance which animates him is not mainly « his sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God, is his private ail. » Once his « private ail » is righted, the intellectual’s ardor for the underprivileged cools considerably. His cast of mind is essentially aristocratic.]

[ He sees himself as a leader and master (1). Not only does he doubt that the masses could do anything worthwhile on their own, but he would resent it if they made the attempt. The masses must obey. They need the shaping force of discipline in both war and peace. It is indeed doubtful that the typical intellectual .would feel wholly at home in a society where the masses got their share of the fleshpots. Not only would there be little chance for leadership where people were almost without a grievance, but we might suspect that the cockiness and the airs of an affluent populace would offend his aristocratic sensibilities]

[There is considerable evidence that when the militant intellectual succeeds in establishing a social order in which his craving for a superior status and social usefulness is fully satisfied, his view of the masses darkens, and from being their champion he becomes their detractor.]

[It is the twentieth century, however, which has given us the most striking example of the discrepancy between the attitude of the intellectual while the struggle is on, and his role once the battle is won.]

[In no other social order, past or present, has the intellectual so completely come into his own as in the Communist regimes. Never before has his superior status been so self-evident and his social usefulness so unquestioned. The bureaucracy which manages and controls every field of activity is staffed by people who consider themselves intellectuals. Writers, poets, artists, scientists, professors, journalists, and others engaged in intellectual pursuits are accorded the high social status of superior civil servants. They are the aristocrats, the rich, the prominent, the indispensable, the pampered and petted. It is the wildest dream of the man of words come true.

And what of the masses in this intellectual’s paradise? They have found in the intellectual the most formidable taskmaster in history. No other regime has treated the masses so callously as raw material, to be experimented on and manipulated at will, and never before have so many lives been wasted so recklessly in war and in peace. On top of all this, the Communist intelligentsia has been using force in a wholly novel manner. The traditional master uses force to exact obedience and lets it go at that. Not so the intellectual. Because of his professed faith in the power of words and the irresistibility of the truths which supposedly shape his course, he cannot be satisfied with mere obedience. He tries to obtain by force a response that is usually obtained by the most perfect persuasion, and he uses terror as a fearful instrument to extract faith and fervor from crushed souls.]

[One cannot escape the impression that the intellectual’s most fundamental incompatibility is with the masses. He has managed to thrive in social orders dominated by kings, nobles, priests, and merchants but not in societies suffused with the tastes and values of the masses. The trespassing by the masses into the domain of culture and onto the stage of history is seen even by the best among the intellectuals as a calamity.]

[It is remarkable how closely the attitude of the intellectual toward the masses resembles the attitude of a colonial functionary toward the natives. The intellectual groaning under the dead weight of the inert masses reminds us of sahibs groaning under the white man’s burden. Small wonder that when we observe a regime of intellectuals in action we have the feeling that here colonialism begins at home.]

[There is a chronic insecurity at the core of the creative person, and he needs a milieu that will nourish his confidence and sense of uniqueness. Discerning appreciation and a modicum of deference and acclaim are probably more vital for his creative flow than freedom to fend for himself. Thus a despotism that recognizes and subsidizes excellence might be more favorable for the performance of the intellectual than a free society that does not take him seriously.]

[Actually, the intellectual’s dependence on the masses is not confined to the economic field. It goes much deeper. He has a vital need for the flow of veneration and worship that can come only from a vast, formless, inarticulate multitude.]

[To sum up: the intellectual’s concern for the masses is as a rule a symptom of his uncertain status and his lack of an unquestionable sense of social usefulness. It is the activities of the chronically thwarted intellectual which make it possible for the masses to get their share of the good things of life. When the intellectual comes into his own, he becomes a pillar of stability and finds all kinds of lofty reasons for siding with the strong against the weak.]

[Actually, an antagonism between the intellectual and the powers that be serves a more vital purpose than the advancement of the masses: it keeps the social order from stagnating.]

[There is also the remarkable fact that where the intellectuals are in full charge they do not usually create a milieu conducive to genuine creativeness. The reason for this is to be found in the role of the noncreative pseudo-intellectual in such a system. The genuinely creative person lacks, as a rule, the temperament requisite for the seizure, the exercise, and, above all, the retention of power. Hence, when the intellectuals come into their own, it is usually the pseudo-intellectual who rules the roost, and he is likely to imprint his mediocrity and meagerness on every phase of cultural activity. Moreover, his creative impotence brews in him a murderous hatred of intellectual brilliance and he may be tempted, as Stalin was, to enforce a crude leveling of all intellectual activity.

Thus it can be seen that the chronic thwarting of the intellectual’s craving for power serves a higher purpose than the well being of common folk. The advancement of the masses is a mere by-product of the uniquely human fact that discontent is at the root of the creative process: the most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents.]

(1) In 1935 a group of students at Rangoon University banded themselves together into a revolutionary group and immediately added the prefix « Thakin » (master) to their names.

HOFFER, Eric. Between the Devil and the Dragon, The best essays and aphorisms of America longshoreman philosopher, including The True Believer, and selections from diaries. New York, Harpercollins, juillet 1982, 486p.