I could have just made a list of fascinating quotes from this book (and then let you dwell on them), instead of a review, but I’d be here all day as this essay has them by the cartload, so you are stuck with a brief overview of this book instead.
Having previously read and been fascinated by Camus’ fiction, I rifled through my somewhat over dusty piles of books to get at this brilliant work on rebellion, an attempt to understand and define the many contradictory stances of the values, beliefs and morality of the rebels that have shaped history.
Published (in English) in 1953, Camus writes :
‘One might think, that a period which, within fifty years, uproots, enslaves or kills seventy million human beings should only, and forthwith, be condemned. But also its guilt must be understood.
‘Slave camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or the taste for the superhuman, cripple judgement. On the day when crime puts on the apparel of innocence, through a curious reversal peculiar to our age, it is innocence that is called to justify itself’.
The human race have attempted legitimizing murder for freedom since before sliced bread, but the sheer magnitude of the attempts in the 20th century were and forever will be simply breathtaking in their audacity, Camus, in an attempt to comprehend the ideologies of the rebel, defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader’ explores the mindset of various opposition and terrorist groups, most notably in Russia and France, and how they were influenced by writers and philosophers.
The book is split into four parts and deals with a lot of complexities, whilst being a very readable book, although I did have to look a few words up. The diverse personalities that figure range through, Spartacus, Plato, de Sade, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Hegel, to name a few. The arguments of the book are to nuanced for me to write about them in this review, so maybe I’ll pick it up in another post sometime, but for now here’s a (very) brief overview of each of the first two parts as they’re the most fascinating:
The first part explores the attempts to ‘kill God’ in the French Revolution and studies Nietzsche’s nihilism to its extreme conclusions. It also seeks to explain how the Nazi’s inverted his ideas for their own ends, disregarding the ones that didn’t fit.
This part looks at the attempts at human perfection through the ideals of the state by Lenin and Marx, and also the confliction of ideals and morality facing terrorists in Russia, Hegel’s master/slave dynamic, Jean Jacque Rousseau’s Social Contract and Nazi doctrine seen as religion,
The final two parts look at rebellion through literature and art, and then a look at syndicalism (essentially trade unionism) that Camus advocates and has likewise been advocated my Bertrand Russell in his excellent book Roads to Freedom. I found the last two parts tailed off, but this is still a fascinating book that helped clarify a very emotive topic that still reverberates around the world today.