Bitter Carnival, by Michael Andre Bernstein
Intellectuals often exhibit a fatal attraction for everything that intellectuality would seem to exclude. As if to prove that they, too, have charisma and erotic energy, mild-mannered professors allow themselves to be captivated by a truly monstrous figure: the raging rebel, filled with envy, spite, and murderous audacity. In the early 1970′s Tom Wolfe chronicled how limousine radicals loved to rub shoulders with Black Panthers, but something much more sinister than this pathetic spectacle sometimes emerges from the intelligentsia’s self-congratulatory self-loathing. The 20th century has witnessed intellectuals supporting Mussolini and Stalin, Mao and Ché, the Khmer Rouge and the Shining Path: anyone, so it seems, whose horrible energy might offer a vicarious thrill, at whatever cost to millions of people.
As if to feed off this tendency, our time has witnessed the rise to prominence of a second type, once treated with contempt but now beloved by intellectuals: the rebellious victim. Shabby but angry flouters of bourgeois social norms have made careers by cultivating this image. The spurious moral capital they appropriate allows them to indulge in a strange kind of whining spite, sometimes called ressentiment: a mixture of megalomania and self-contempt, a hatred for others fused with a hatred of themselves. Such figures regard themselves as unappreciated heroes while still suspecting that they are worthless nonentities. Dostoevsky called them underground men, and he regarded them as profoundly dangerous.
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