The Duty of the Clercs to the Nation
Why Schmitt, Strauss, and Eliot Tie Intellectuals to Liberalism
This paper examines three key political thinkers of the interwar years—Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, and T.S. Eliot—for their responses to the question Julien Benda posed in 1927 in La Trahison des Clercs: What duties do intellectuals have to their nations? For each of these critics of liberalism, intellectuals are closely implicated in the failures of liberal regimes to defend against the totalitarian threat, and the solution must be thought theologically. Both Schmitt and Strauss analogize the position of German Jews to that of the clercs, poised between universal and national loyalties. But as Schmitt descends into Nazism and Strauss sets the philosopher against the city, Eliot develops a theory of mediation, giving clercs the task of communicating universal ideas into particular national idioms. I argue that Eliot provides the most helpful guidance amid contemporary anxieties for intellectuals who feel torn between loyalty to guild and to country.