Consider the following paragraph from the essay entitled "The usefulness of useless knowledge" by the founder of the Institute for Advanced Study, A. Flexner:

The subject which I am discussing has at this moment a peculiar poignancy. In certain large areas-Germany and Italy especially-the effort is now being made to clamp down the freedom of the human spirit. Universities have been so reorganized that they have become tools of those who believe in a special political, economic, or racial creed. Now and then a thoughtless individual in one of the few democracies left in this world will even question the fundamental importance of absolutely un- trammeled academic freedom. The real enemy of the human race is not the fearless and irresponsible thinker, be he right or wrong. The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings, as its wings were once spread in Italy and Germany, as well as in Great Britain and the United States.

I do not understand the usage of the boldfaced. In my first thought, I deduce from the context around the boldfaced that it should mean something like "whether or not he is right or wrong". But even if my conclusion is correct, I still cannot handle such usage to the extent that I can freely apply it in my writings.

  • Okay, thank you for your efforts. Indeed, I do not see the necessity of additional information. – Megadeth Jul 29 '14 at 10:47

You are right. "Whether or not he is right or wrong" is the correct interpretation.

"Be" here is in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive isn't used much these days except in certain cases. No one would say "be he" these days, unless they were trying to create an old fashioned effect. You don't need to worry about it too much.


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