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In his Seminar on the Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan elaborates the distinction between two types of the contemporary intellectual, the fool and the knave.

The right-wing intellectual is a knave, a conformist who refers to the mere existence of the given order as an argument for it, and mocks the Left on account of its 'utopian' plans, which necessarily lead to catastrophe; while the left-wing intellectual is a fool, a court jester who publicly displays the lie of the existing order, but in a way which suspends the performative efficiency of his speech.

Today, after the fall of Socialism, the knave is a neoconservative advocate of the free market who cruelly rejects all forms of social solidarity as counterproductive sentimentalism, while the fool is a deconstructionist cultural critic who, by means of his ludic procedures destined to 'subvert' the existing order, actually serves as its supplement.


It was noted then that, for a long time now, there have been left-wing intellectuals and right-wing intellectuals. I would like to give you formulas for them that, however categorical they may appear at first sight, might nevertheless help to illuminate the way.

"Fool" (sot) or, if you like, "simpleton" (demeuré) - quite a nice term for which I have a certain fondness - these words only express approximately a certain something for which the English language and its lterature seem to me to offer a more helpful signifier - I will come back to this later. A traidtion that begins with Chaucer, but which reaches its full dvelopment in the theater of the Elizabethan period is, in effect, centered on the term 'fool'.[1]

The 'fool' is an innocent, a simpleton, but truths issue from his mouth that are not simply tolerated but adopted, by virtue of the fact that this 'fool' is sometimes clothed in the insignia of the jester. And in my view it is a similar happy shadow, a similar fundamental 'foolery,' that accounts for the importance of the left-wing intellectual.

And I contrast this with the designation for that which the same tradition furnishes a strictly contemporary term, a term that is used in conjunction with the former, namely, 'knave' - if we have the time, I will show you the texts, which are numerous and unambigious.

At a certain level of its usage 'knave' may be translated into French as valet, but 'knave' goes further. He's not a cynic with the element of heroism implied by that attitude. He is, to be precise, what Stendhal called an 'unmitigated scoundrel.' That is to say, no more than your Mr. Everyman, but your Mr. Everyman with a greater strength of character.

Everyone knows that a certain way of presenting himself, which constitutes part of the ideology of the ring-wing intellectual, is precisely to play the role of what he is in fact, namely, a 'knave'. In other words, he doesn't retreat from teh consequences of what is called realism; that is, when required, he admits he's a crook.[2]

See Also


  1. In this and subsequent passages, the words 'fool' and 'knave' along with 'foolery' and 'knavery' in quotation marks are in English in the original.
  2. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.182-3