The life of the (hypocritical) mind

Adam Gopnik has a lovely piece about Albert Camus in the April 9 issue of the New Yorker (sadly, behind a pay wall) in the course of which he neatly evicerates the hypocrisy of a certain celebrated caste of French intellectuals:

For all their self-advertised agonies, the lives Sartre and Camus led after the war mostly sound like a lot of fun. Their biographies are popular because they dramatise the agonising preoccupations of modern man and also because they present an appealing circle of Left Bank cafes and late-night boĆ®tes and long vacations. A life like that implicitly assumes that the society it inhabits will go on functioning no matter what you say about it, that the cafes and libraries and secondhand bookstores will continue to function despite the criticism. A professor at the College de France who maintains that there should be no professors at the College de France does not really believe this, or else he would not be one. This isn’t a luxury that thinkers in Moscow, still less Phnom Penh, ever had. Sartre’s great sin was not his ideology, which did indeed change all the time. It was his insularity. The apostle of ideas in action didn’t think that ideas would actually alter life; he expected that life would go on more or less as it had in spite of them, while always giving him another chance to make them better. Nice work, if you can get it.