Julien Benda was a French philosopher. In 1927 he published a little book called La Trahison des Clercs, which was translated into English in 1928 and is generally known as The Treason of the Intellectuals or The Treason of the Scholars. The book argued that intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had failed in their primary task of speaking truth to power. They had, he claimed, become too close to authority and allowed themselves to be co-opted and corrupted. For example, they had not spoken out against militarism and colonialism. Benda predicted that another great war would be the logical outcome of this failure of independence. A little over a decade later, the Second World War broke out.
The great Czech write Franz Kafka was writing his novels of bureaucratic nightmare at around the same time that Benda was pondering these matters. The Castle and The Trial depict societies in which semi-unnamed characters live lives at once dictated and yet opposed by invisible rulers via brutal, ignorant intermediaries.
These themes and preoccupations are as relevant today as they ever were – perhaps more relevant than ever, when the levers of power are manipulated behind a veneer of democracy. I fancied having a go at a short story inspired by Kafka and his ‘Joseph K.’ character. I hope my anger and despondency about politics shows through La Trahison des Clerks. It’s the nearest I’ve got to writing about such things, which many authors tend to avoid because it is so hard not to sound artificial or pompous or trivial. I’ve probably fallen into that trap. Tell me I’m wrong!