We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
The event in question took place over four days in an obscure building, the Musée Social, just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris at the end of August, 1938. Present were some 26 academics, business people and writers, mostly from Europe, but including the American commentator and journalist Walter Lippmann (who, as it turned out, was in Paris on honeymoon at the time). Also in attendance, apart from the young Raymond Aron, were some of Europe's leading economists: Louis Rougier and Jacques Rueff from France, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek of the Austrian School, and two Germans, both living in exile, Wilhelm Röpke and Alexander Rüstow. Although invited, neither the future Italian President Luigi Einaudi nor the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset was able to attend.
The immediate cause of this coming together was the publication of a French version of Lippmann's An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society by the Librarie de Médicis, the same publisher that had also recently published Rougier's Les Mystiques Economiques and von Mises's anti-collectivist broadside, Socialism. The wider context was the challenge to liberalism and the free market posed by the rise of a generalised state interventionism in the form of planning, corporatism and socialism. Capitalism seemed on the brink of systemic failure and for many it was capitalism itself that was to blame. Its decline and its end appeared inevitable.
But the participants also saw that the challenge they faced was directed against more than simply the liberal economic order and the political democracy born out of the 19th century. "The totalitarian rebellion," Lippmann commented in his introductory remarks to the conference, "attacks the entirety of the Western tradition - its religion, its science, its law, its state, its property, its family, its morality and its conception of the human person." As a matter of urgency, the civilised world had to find a response to an inhuman enemy.
And, like Benda, they saw that intellectuals were aiding and abetting this enemy. Never, Rougier asserted, had the clercs betrayed as much as they were now doing. They denounced the crimes of Hitler and of fascism but remained silent before the Moscow show trials. They called for the socialisation of the economy without understanding that they were weakening democracy and helping dictators. Believing themselves to be the most implacable enemies of tyranny, they were in fact its best allies. They were betraying the very cause that they professed to serve.