Evil and the Intellectual

Evil has always accompanied the intellectual. To be the latter is to philosophize, to pry beneath the shell or rind of visible, tangible reality to seek the strata or heart or seed hiding beneath. It is an unfortunate side effect that such dissection can often kill the appreciation of the Intellectual for the object of this inquiry, but the more dangerous consequence is the concept of things beneath things, the organs concealed beneath the shell or skin of Creation that explain the latter. 

But surely one would think that this urge of the Intellectual to look beneath is simply the expression of a natural human impulse to know? 

Yes, just as surely as a farmer tending the earth is a natural expression of our God-given stewardship. Yet this does not excuse the evils of over-farming or other exploitative practices. In the same way, it is an expression of Man’s nature as rational to seek to know the causes of things. But, like the farmer, he must know when to stop digging.

Man has shown that he is not satisfied in the end of inquiry: there must be an explanation behind the explanation; a motivation of the motivation and a secret will always hiding behind the obvious one waiting for the intemperate Intellectual’s relentless need to over-turn, break through, or peel back. 

This is no surprise: evil accompanies man as surely as rot accompanies fruit. But it appears that this corruption in particular has gone unnoticed (or, perhaps, unmarked) for many years. Perhaps it is linked the ever-repeated humanist maxim “Within man lies the seed of the divine.” Truly, man, in his rationality, bears within his soul an element of divinity. That truth should not be ignored or denied. But man is also finite. There are final answers for his inquiries, even if the “answer” is just the fact that man’s head is not big enough to fit the reality into which he probes. But the vicious, intemperate, hubristic intellect can “choose” to “reject” the limits of the seed of divinity within himself and attempt to explain everything to the extent just described. As G.K. Chesterton once observed, Man has attempted to fit the universe into his head, and “it is his head that splits.” Any man afflicted with this particular delusion of grandeur becomes a blithering, stupid, bitter, cruel and small thing, endlessly repeating his maxim: “seek the cause, seek the cause, seek the cause…” into eternity. One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’ Orual at the conclusion of Till We Have Faces: an endless repetition, “idiot-like” of a single, all-consuming monomaniacal phrase that is the sentiment that we struggle all our lives to communicate. For the lover, it is his possession of the beloved. For the victim, his wound. For the intellectual, the vastness of his own mind. The first two are simply tedious, the third is both tedious and destructive. The intellectual’s head is split, and out of it spills the acid of nominalism, cynicism, relativism, and their basest element, doubt, to corrode and split the skulls of those who follow the intellectual’s example.

To return to Chesterton: Perhaps there is an even more literal sense to what he says? It appears that he means that man, in his hubris, cracks his skull against the roof of the heavens, but might there be a second meaning here? Perhaps, in splitting his own skull, man splits his own being in two? It seems necessarily so. With his head now believing itself to be “both [his] God and [his] devil,” his body is still undeniably one, finite, and fragile. The intellectual monomaniac may claim an understanding hitherto never claimed of the secret motivations of the subconscious or “the unconsciously purposive dynamism” of life or the genealogy of morals, but the claims themselves generally posit some form of self-generation. Milton’s Lucifer claimed to be self-begot. Lewis’ Weston (of Perelandra) implied that the “main force” of life ended in a consciousness which, having transcended time itself, reached back into the ages and created itself. For a more recent example, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar explained away its own supernatural elements by chalking them up to the work of humanity in the far future, having conquered time and preserving itself through the ages by intervening in its own history. Yet it is clear that the intellectual’s conception was not of his own doing, nor his body the work of his own hands. He receives his body as all do: without his consent and from people he can never fully know. He can, of course, claim that mankind, through a series of self-realizations and destructions of moral taboos – of which he is a unique and  indescribably important  progenitor – will eventually reach back into the past and give rise to itself. He may as well claim to be from the moon. Chesterton, most likely, would be content to call him a lunatic. Furthermore, it seems the intellectual will have immobilized himself: having seen through all facades and peeled back all the rinds of reality to the self-originating void that is “consciousness,” he will have destroyed his reasons to get out of bed, to eat, or even to breathe. Granted, he may now do whatever he likes, but as Lewis has pointed out, what he likes will be determined by factors outside of his control: the association of ideas, his digestion, the weather, etc. Yet the intellectual will still act, and action, as we all know, requires the termination of all possibilities except one. That one action will, in combination with the countless others taken over a lifetime, reveal a character for the particular intellectual. Not many characters, not an “unconsciously purposive dynamism,” but a single man. A man who looks like one man and not all men. A man who is one and not many. A man who has lived one life and not just any life. Thus, while his head continues to see secret truths behind secret truths in an ever-crazier attempt to make his own seed of divinity into divinity itself, his body will continue on as a horse does when his rider has fallen asleep in the saddle: lazily, in the general direction of home, but as a dumb beast and not as a man. It will not take much for any passers-by – man, devil, or politician – to take the halter and lead the intellectual where even he does not want to go. 

2 thoughts on “Evil and the Intellectual

  1. Could you elaborate a bit more about what you mean when you say an “intellectual?” What kind of person do you have in mind when you say that? Or does the term apply to all men?


    • I take an “intellectual” to be someone who focuses on mental rather than physical work. So basically the distinction between white collar and blue collar. In my experience, both white and blue collar workers have their respective forms of arrogance: white collars are over-confident in their own divinity as described above, while blue collars are overly focused on their finitude and animality. The former shut off their rationality by over-inflating it and the latter shut off their rationality by belittling it.


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