Mandeville, LA– The “think tank” that Joshua Maruvchik claims as his professorial home is supposed to be the incubation center for our best and brightest, our “[pseudo]-intellectuals. This is obviously not what the “Ivy League” or it’s preparatory schools are producing. In the essay “Intellectuals And Their Discontents” Russell Jacoby lays out the experience of the classical, “public intellectual” which in ancient Roman days would have meant “orator” (Augustine was emperor Flavius’s appointed “orator”).
“In Rome, public speaking was a pre- eminent civil occupation. “No pursuit,” wrote Cicero in “On the Orator,” “has ever flourished with greater vigour than public speak- ing….almost every ambitious young man felt he ought to bestir himself to the best of his ability to become eloquent.”an orator possesses: power to rescue the suppliant, to raise up the afflicted, to bestow salvation, to dispel danger, to preserve citizens’ rights; what in the whole world could be more noble, more generous, more princely?
Cicero argued against those who viewed oratory as a specialized field, separate from philosophy and history. In order to be eloquent and con- vincing, the speaker had to be drenched in knowledge; there was no special “art” of oration. Crassus, who represents Cicero in “On the Orator,” is asked at one point whether there is an “art” of oratory.
“Well, really!,” exclaimed Crassus, “Do you imagine I am just one of those idle and talkative Greeks, the sort of little man, no doubt scholarly and erudite enough, whom you can ask trivial questions…. On the contrary, I have always laughed at the impudent characters who sit on their chairs in the schools and call out to the assembled crowds…”
He goes on to say that oratory is more than a specialized “art”; the ora- tor needs broad knowledge, as well as familiarity with the poets and historians.
Indeed he must peruse and scrutinize the writers and experts on every liberal art…. He must know all about our law and our statutes; he must have a thorough understand- ing of ancient history; he must master the usages of the Senate, the nature of the constitution, the rights of subject allies, our national treaties and agreements…
The Ciceronian model of rhetoric, which inspired Renaissance thinkers, and its idea of “civic humanism” wore the stamp of the city and poli-tics; eloquence was prized in order to convince an audience. And real eloquence depended on wide knowledge and understanding.“
In this description we see a characterization of the intellectual life few are willing to enter into and even fewer to do so “publicly”. This is part of the crisis of leadership we are mired in like intelligible quicksand. The modern thinker (if there are any) cannot be bothered with the education and devotion to something higher than himself, this is plainly evident by taking a census of modern “intellectuals”, which are so numerous, (without being valid) that one cannot swing a dead cat in the Fox News “Green Room” without clipping one or seven. This is the condition that prevents real solutions to our self-inflcicted political crises.
It is the historical experience of Man that this understanding only comes from a grasp and devotion to the Truth, which precedes the beautiful and the transcendent. Wide knowledge as described by Jacoby is that knowledge which allows the thinker the benefit directing his thought through the CORRECT channels it must pass to be valid and clear (in agreement with the Truth), thus useful to the listener/reader.