“I rebel, therefore we exist.”

~ an essay on ‘The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt’ (1951) by Albert Camus

Sisyphean Precursor

Before ‘The Rebel’ — a precipitously long and exhaustive essay upon the metaphysical and historical development of revolt, rebellion and revolution within humanity — Camus wrote of life-meaning and the problem of nihilism in its precursor, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus.’ An essay ultimately meant to clarify the writer-philosopher’s conception of the absurdity inherent in the human condition, it opens with the ominous statement:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

The preface further expounds Camus’ purpose in the writing — an attempt to answer the question of whether or not life has meaning — and how it leads into ‘The Rebel.’

Preface to ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’:

For me “The Myth of Sisyphus” marks the beginning of an idea which I was to pursue in The Rebel. It attempts to resolve the problem of suicide, as The Rebel attempts to resolve that of murder, in both cases without the aid of eternal values which, temporarily perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe. The fundamental subject of “The Myth of Sisyphus” is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate. Written fifteen years ago, in 1940, amid the French and European disaster, this book declares that even within the limits of nihilism it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism. In all the books I have written since, I have attempted to pursue this direction. Although “The Myth of Sisyphus” poses mortal problems, it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.

It has hence been thought possible to append to this philosophical argument a series of essays, of a kind I have never ceased writing, which are somewhat marginal to my other books. In a more lyrical form, they all illustrate that essential fluctuation from assent to refusal which, in my view, defines the artist and his difficult calling. The unity of this book, that I should like to be apparent to American readers as it is to me, resides in the reflection, alternately cold and impassioned, in which an artist may indulge as to his reasons for living and for creating. After fifteen years I have progressed beyond several of the positions which are set down here; but I have remained faithful, it seems to me, to the exigency which prompted them. That is why this hook is in a certain sense the most personal of those I have published in America. More than the others, therefore, it has need of the indulgence and understanding of its readers.

— Albert Camus, Paris, March 1955

Absurd’, in the way Camus conceives it within his philosophizing, is not meant to describe something as merely ridiculous or unreasonable, but instead as impossible, or “contradictory.” In an existential sense, absurdity arises not just in our thoughts and actions as conscious agents, but from our very condition as human beings within the universe around us. Yes, hypocrisy and contradictory speech versus movement strike us human beings as natural outcomes within our competitive, hierarchical social structures. Ever-changing environments and cognitive capabilities aside, humans deceiving and killing one another to get ahead, while simultaneously speaking of the lofty, noble mores of liberty, freedom, justice and truth, has been occurring from the dawn. Looking from a wider lense however, the most absurd contradiction regards our origins and our ends — or our collective sense of life-meaning, purpose, how exactly we fit into the grand play of the Universe…

Man is trapped from the beginning within vicious circles. We must kill to live; we look forward to tomorrow but dread death. The very first step for any conscious mind is to determine what is true and what is false. An impossible task, for everything we experience is subjectively introduced to our set of flawed sensory apparatus in the form of approximating perceptions. {“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.“} When ‘Truth’-seeking is presented in self-reflection and in language, a circle of insoluble logic spirals infinitely. Before ardent action, the human being demands absolute unity, while he is met only with ambiguity. In his practically infinite capacity to learn, he passionately seeks out progress while entropy devours him and his finite future. Life, as we wish it to be, is impossible. And yet, we must go on. “The rock is still rolling”…

“The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feeling in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity… That nostalgia for unity, that appetite for the absolute, illustrates the essential impulse of the human drama.”

A longing for things like meaning, purpose, and God are natural outgrowths of Man’s absurd condition within the world and his society. The yearning for something beyond this mortal life, whether in children, ideas, institutions, or inside a paradiso afterlife, is part and parcel of the absurd. While this hope reaches the apex of human concern, played and replayed within the hearts of Men from every generation, we are constantly confronted only with *silence* from the world we look to eventually harvest those auspicious seeds from. Neither humanity with his hopes and dreams nor the ‘world‘ itself are absurd by themselves — it is their inevitable confrontation that creates this condition that Camus stresses.

“At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This must not be forgotten. This must be clung to because the whole consequence of a life can depend on it. The irrational, the human nostalgia, and the absurd that is born of their encounter — these are the three characters in the drama that must necessarily end with all the logic of which an existence is capable.”

And so, Camus’ answer to the absurd condition resounds in two parts, one cutting to the core of human culture and its instinctive capacity for innovation, and the other drawing upon a lesser known myth and its tragic specimen as an indestructible symbol to us.

A powerful antidote to the absurd, though transient and imperfect in of itself, is simply creation. In the making of art/a person/a future, Man revolts against his reality of disunity with an act of discipline, individuality, connection. Connecting people and ideas and emotions, the artist diligently builds out his oldest and most crucial evolutionary trait: the ability to learn, to change minds, to craft peace within the chaos. Saliently, he creates not just for himself, but for his companions, too.

“If the world were clear, art would not exist.”

For Camus, the paragon of the absurd comes in the form of an unlikely ‘hero’, the mortal Sisyphus. In the final passage of Camus’ 1942 essay, he waxes about the past and present for one Sisyphus, a hopelessly trapped prisoner within the underworld of Greek mythology. At the denouement of the myth, mortal genius & jester Sisyphus, who hates death and aspires to life and love above all else, is damned by Zeus to an eternity in chains alone, where he is forced to push a rock to the peak of a hill, watch it roll back down, and then push it up again and again, ad infinitum. Condemned to a forever meaningless task, Camus classifies Sisyphus as the absurd hero who nevertheless lives life to the fullest. Not in spite of his condition — but because of it — Sisyphus creates his own meaning upon the endless hill, in his world of struggle, fully aware of the absurdity of his condition and most importantly, its hopelessness. To the eyes of Camus, hope (just like suicide) abolishes the absurd condition and turns it into something else. Hope, insofar that it involves the sincere longing for the perfection of a personal eternity (such as in religious faith), breaks the absurd awareness. The absurd condition remains hopeless and continuous, and therein lies its power.

Sisyphus, the symbol of the absurdity of existence, painting by Franz Stuck (1920)

There will never be final unity for Sisyphus — or for us! —and that powerful self-awareness creates freedom. This individual freedom to choose where one finds meaning and how they may work to affect it into their mortal world, though a challenging responsibility to manage, is the only answer there can be. (It is for this reason that Camus is considered to be an existentialist.) Absurdly enough, this limited condition effortlessly motivates one to focus upon the present moment, the local community, the loved companion. There comes within that eternal ‘now’ an inherent appreciation for one’s obstacle. For it is only in his action against such things as rocks, hills, condemnation, and pain that Man can experience life’s “silent joys”, become the “master of his days,” and make fast for a fate that “belongs to him.”

At the crux of his hill, there is no more meaningful a symbol for Man’s crucial task in life than Sisyphus holding his rock for a moment right before it falls back down again.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Revolt > Rebellion >> Revolution

Where ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ was individualistic, ‘The Rebel’ is collective. First, the problem of suicide must be resolved: it is not to be done, for life-meaning is generative for the creative Man, even in an absurd world (The Myth of Sisyphus). Second, third, fourth and so on, the problem of murder arrives before the group, the subjects vs. the tyrant, slaves vs. master, oppressed vs. oppressor. ~ “Our purpose is to find out whether innocence, the moment it becomes involved in action, can avoid committing murder.” (The Rebel)

One of Camus’ primary purposes within his essay is to distinguish between the triad of revolt, rebellion, and revolution, in a progressing structure of escalation, both in metaphysical and historical terms. Principally, the further one goes down this path, the more important the questions of murder, morality, and power become. Is revolution possible without accomplishing it through murderous means? Can revolution begin without the unconscious aspiration to become God? What is the endgame of rebellion, what does it hope to accomplish, and what happens when there is no protean regime to replace the one they strive to overthrow? Is revolt anything more than a pathological will to power, part of the perpetual struggle to gain control over fate, to attain a utopian ‘unity’ for yourself — or is there something metaphysically transcendent within this human instinct? These are the questions Camus explores in ‘The Rebel.’

Sisyphus can be said to be in revolt. His absurd individual struggle, constrained, rock in hand up and over his hill, is both a triumph over his terrible condition and an absolute consummation to the limits of his power. There is no unity, for he is involved with no other. There is no totality, for he is utterly powerless to change his position. For Sisyphus, as for any lone Man within the world, the only reward for their final, spiritually sublime conquest is continuity.

In a bastardly summation, rebellion at its core, is the refusal to be treated as an object, a metaphysical defiance to being treated as a means to some other end outside of yourself. Rebellion is an absolute assertion of one’s humanity. It is a forceful clarion call unto every human being conscientiously acknowledged as Kant’s end in and of itself and never as a mere means again; ex: the slaves rebel against their masters for their freedom.

Revolution is more demiurgic, and deigns to become godlike in its setting about of a new, better order of things. Revolution is the introduction of an alternative ideal, a ready replacement of the rulers being toppled; ex: the exploited proletariat underclass unite against their oppressors in the noble bourgeoisie, and afterward try to build an alternative to monarchy / capitalism in the form of republic / communism, to better create more just outcomes for the whole of society.

Unlike the lone revolter, both the rebel’s and the revolutionary’s worlds can be changed through collective action.

“Rebellion’s demand is unity; historical revolution’s demand is totality.” In striving for unity, rebellion is creative — in that it is trying to create a universal reconciliation within Mankind, across the lines of power. In its imposition of an absolute will — i.e. totality — revolution, generally an outgrowth of a rebellion, becomes nihilistic when it focuses upon the continuous destruction of its predecessors, and all of the values meant to justify the ‘why’ behind that destruction become lost in the hunt for power, control, Godhood.

“[Marx’s] interpretation of history is that when it is deprived of power, it expresses itself in revolutionary violence; at the height of its power it risked becoming legal violence — in other words, terror and trial.

Rebellion and revolution, to Camus’ conclusions, both necessarily kill. As resistance to the status quo, they are dependent upon actions that displace current power structures; they murder because radical change coming from within the system they resist against is both antithetical to their ultimate purpose and usually implausible. The difference comes in rebellion’s murder being spontaneous, compulsatory — a defensive act — in order to secure itself step by step. Revolution, on the other hand, systematizes its murder into law. Historically, revolutionary murder often becomes offensive, or proactive, and ends up turning its targets into inhuman means to its perforce end. Terror and trial upon ‘the others’ or the forebears becomes legalized. In the process of willing its new world order into being through any means necessary, whether in a cycle of vengeance against their prior oppressors or strictly from the inherent will to power within Man, the soul of that initial act of rebellion is sacrificed — i.e. the want for a better, more unified world.

“Every revolutionary ends by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. In the purely historical universe that they have chosen, rebellion and revolution end in the same dilemma: either police rule or insanity.”

To my eye, in sum:

  • Revolt is individual and internal unrest — the wilful minimization of pain and maximization of pleasure, the restless struggle towards individuation & spiritual equilibrium, the effort to become self-actualized, not unlike the Allfather, i.e. God.
  • Rebellion is collective and external resistance — the metaphysical opposition, in cooperative solidarity with a similarly affected class of comrades, to pathological objectification by others. The rebel wants to be treated as a human being; he wants to be treated the same way that he treats his fellow rebels, or how he believes that a benevolent God might treat his creation.
  • Revolution is collective and external destruction & creation — more than the imaginative reciprocation that rebellion deals in, the revolutionary seeks to permanently instill its values and ideology into a regime to father future generations. In so doing, the old dynasties and laws must be eliminated to make way for the new… often borne through blood. Paradise awaits the revolutionary collective in their successful execution of their ideal.

As one can see, ultimately all three forms of worldly defiance spawn from the painstaking drive to climb the proverbial Tower of Babel, laboring to replace God.

Ancient of Days, William Blake’s depiction of the Demiurge

To kill God and to build a church

‘The Rebel’, as much as anything else, presents an exploration of — and strong arguments against — Man’s incessant compulsion towards godhood. Humanity’s ‘god complex’ though perhaps inherent to our nature, can certainly be more or less exacerbated by the worldly conditions and societal structures he finds himself residing within.

“Even if God existed, Ivan would never surrender to Him in the face of the injustice done to man. But a longer contemplation of this injustice, a more bitter approach, transformed the ‘even if you exist’ into ‘you do not deserve to exist,’ therefore ‘you do not exist.’”

History’s most significant revolutions occurred in the period during and after the so-called ‘death of God’, as famously declared by Nietzsche. Post-Enlightenment awakenings turned populations away from — or at the very least introduced doubt unto — the conception of a divine ruler, of an afterlife, of a supernaturally spiritual force to the universe and our place in it… As a result, Man sought his God — i.e. a spiritual and secure foundation to his existence — elsewhere. No longer could the crown be unjustly handed down from gods in an eternal procession of tyrannical kin named as the “chosen ones.” Now the people understood their collective power; paramount questions came in the form of how to use it, what kind of social contract to write up, which values to champion and why.

Camus proclaims the predicament as thus:
“To kill God and to build a Church are the constant and contradictory purpose of rebellion.”

In attacking and dethroning God, Kings, and Masters via rebellion and revolution, the people were tasked with making something novel to rule themselves with and order their society by. New ‘gods’, in the form of ideologies of justice and freedom, were born. Right and wrong were now being overtly determined by the mass of Men, and not by Gods and their Kingly, corruptible agents speaking out of both sides of their mouths. French revolutionary Saint-Just nobly declared that “The spirit in which the King is judged will be the same as the spirit in which the Republic is established.” As King Louis XVI and the previous rulers are decapitated under the guillotines, he proclaims that “morality is stronger than tyrants.” In this systemic transformation, not only the rulers and laws are revolutionized, but the forms ‘justice’ and ‘virtue’ will take are as well.

A paradox concerning the truth of morality introduces itself as humanist democracies take the place of “divine” monarchies: 1) ‘morality’ is an abstract, subjective force that does not exist outside of collective human action, and 2) therefore, the popular will of a people can never be immoral, for what is considered to be moral or not is dictated by them all together in the same stroke. With enough support, overt or tacit, any murder is justified. Tyrannicide, before the gathering rebels weighing the moral force of their oppressed past and their potentially free future, becomes morally imperative. For the sake of realizing their stolen freedom, their revolution becomes justice.

“There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined. But the Penal Code makes the convenient distinction of premeditation. We are living in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime. Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and they have a perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be used for any purpose — even for transforming murderers into judges.”

As time marches on, history presents a chronology of revolutions — from unthinkable (divine-right Kings), to romantic (French), to socioeconomic & political (U.S. & slavery), to nihilistic & utopian (German fascism & Russian communism). In each era, primary questions of virtue and limitation arise before the active revolutionary and the observer of history. In every institution of a new ideology, there are inspiring spiritualistic hopes borne (unity) and unsustainable dogmas habitually incited (totality). Rebellion and revolution become a religious experience, shorn of supernaturalism but yet full of metaphysics. In every battle a post-God humanity wages, there is still a Luciferian ‘enemy’, still a side of light and dark, good and evil.

“The protest against evil which is at the very core of metaphysical revolt is significant in this regard. It is not the suffering of a child, which is repugnant in itself, but the fact that the suffering is not justified. After all, pain, exile, or confinement are sometimes accepted when dictated by good sense or by the doctor. In the eyes of the rebel, what is missing from the misery of the world, as well as from its moments of happiness, is some principle by which they can be explained. The insurrection against evil is, above all, a demand for unity. The rebel obstinately confronts a world condemned to death and the impenetrable obscurity of the human condition with his demand for life and absolute clarity. He is seeking, without knowing it, a moral philosophy or a religion. Rebellion, even though it is blind, is a form of asceticism. Therefore, if the rebel blasphemes, it is in the hope of finding a new god. He staggers under the shock of the first and most profound of all religious experiences, but it is a disenchanted religious experience. It is not rebellion itself that is noble, but its aims, even though its achievements are at times ignoble.”

Rebellion, Revolution, and Balance

In ‘The Rebel’, Camus stages history as a progression of failed attempts at unity through rebellion. In an evolution of revolution over this course, and in the often bloody outcomes they create, societies have persistently moved from hope to despair. As history, philosophy, and technology compound upon one another, the people lose their faith, not just in God, but in themselves to steward any kind of long-term peace over their domain. Dreams of utopia fade as the gazer upon the past cannot see anything viable save for the instinct toward All-vs-All battles, every Man fighting for as much as he can take before he falls…

“Lucifer also has died with God, and from his ashes has arisen a spiteful demon who does not even understand the object of his venture.”

Lucifer, Fallen Angel by Alexandre Cabanel

Camus, ever the philosopher, introspects and examines these historical throughlines from the French to the German and Russian revolutions more than he judges them, or posits hard and fast solutions to their errs in retrospect. However, to him, the breaking point — the threshold from which there is no return — is a commonality among them all: when virtue is destroyed for the sake of the revolution.

The modern 19th and 20th century revolution, tooled with violence, murder, and deception, necessarily becomes obsessed solely with the seizure of power, and the spiritualistic transcendence of conflict, generally arbitrary and tyrannical in the yesteryears before the Enlightenment, is all but eradicated. As a result, not only God is dead but everything in principle that he stood for is dead too. In revolution, formal virtue is detestable and counterrevolutionary (how does one tolerate the intolerant? how do we suffer to live the oppressors that did not suffer so many of us to live??); the orthodoxy of traditional morality, unfit to identify injustice and guide its remedy, shapeshifts into an ambivalent and biased judge. The only justice for the ardent revolutionary ends up being the kind that he can create with his own two hands. Revolution, much like love, suddenly goes far beyond ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

“Nothing is pure: that is the cry which convulses our period. Impurity, the equivalent of history, is going to become the rule, and the abandoned earth will be delivered to naked force, which will decide whether or not man is divine. Thus lies and violence are adopted in the same spirit in which a religion is adopted and on the same heartrending impulse.”

More than readied for the possession, Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ then takes Man over. In the 20th century, the results are bloody devastating — in the hopes to return to a past that never was, and only for a select few, the German Nazis fully embrace naked violence and the death drive / In the hopes of creating a future that may never be, the Russian Communists aim at “liberating all men by provisionally enslaving them all.” Most affected by these contemporary revolutions, of the irrational (Nazism) and rational (Communism), Camus spends a good amount of time enumerating the cause of their failures. Both ending in the institution of state terrorism, the German and Russian revolutions were borne of nihilism and eventually became subsumed within its petrifying tenets unto stacking their terrifying body counts. In their dueling ideological endeavoring to deal with nihilism in the first place, they each become stalled and therefore corrupted by the power necessary to affect change on the way to that promised change. Their calls for an all-consuming and ‘righteous’ justice overruled popular freedom, eventually choking it out entirely within the people, never to return.

In Camus’ mind (as to mine and to rational people), it is not legitimate to identify the ends of fascism with the ends of Russian Communism. The hoped for ‘changes’ of the reactionary, fascistic Nazis within their society are not be lauded, even in the best possible light; there is no good faith justification for their nationalistic and genocidal political path. The Communists and Marx, on the other hand, were trying for something quite novel and undoubtedly virtuous in their ideology — the creation of a world where work is properly seen as “profoundly dignified and unjustly despised”, where exploitation of the least fortunate among us is minimized, if not eliminated, and the masses of Men may materially control their own destiny, no longer treated as means to the ends of inhuman capital. Where the rise of Nazism was destructive and repressive, playing to the people’s fears, the mission of Communism featured legitimate creative and liberating force, feeding populist dreams of economic justice for the masses. Fascism relies utterly upon dictatorial power and denies liberal freedoms. Marxism, as a theory, posits the usage of dialectical materialism to clarify ‘class struggle‘ as the core of history’s sociopolitical progressions; as a potential systemic phenomenon, it merely urges that the ‘means of production‘ be in the hands of its everyday laborers whose collective action returns capital’s inner value.

At the same time, theory and its historical animus within nations of people are two separate realities. Camus appropriately claims it is “legitimate to identify the means employed by both [the German Nazis and the aspiring Russian Communists] with the political cynicism that they have drawn from the same source, moral nihilism.” Vastly different in their theoretical aims, the pair of movements as they manifested in the 20th century nevertheless ended up utilizing similarly bloody and oppressive means. Even the Russian Communists, in their nascent political idealism, were unable to escape from the clutches of the terrifying totality called upon to gain their throne.

“Nihilism, intimately involved with a frustrated religious movement, thus culminates in terrorism. In the universe of total negation, these young disciples try, with bombs, and revolvers and also with the courage with which they walk to the gallows, to escape from contradiction and to create the values they lack.”

“The nihilists today are seated on thrones. Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion. That is why our period is the period of private and public techniques of annihilation.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, the father of modern nihilism

On the whole, it can be said that no revolution is born nihilistic, they become that way as ambitious individuals suffused with ideology first and everything else second take its reigns to their own corrupt ends. The absence of god and the existence of oppression and tyranny inevitably manifest a world where “everything is permitted,” where Man has to strive to make his own paradise in the only world promised to him. This impulse is as admirable as it is inevitable. Material conditions coalesce to spawn revolt, urge rebellion, and finally compose revolution. The revolution is always ironically endgamed with the profoundly immaterial purpose of unity in mind. Though by unseating God the successful revolutionary falls inexorably toward totality, where it becomes a singularly neo-Sisyphean effort to shun the abuse of such power without limitation.

With history at our back, revolution can now be seen as insane. Unable to avert our eyes from the past, the modern revolutionary knows they are trying to make something that has never been — a successful revolution that does not descend into nihilism, division, oppression, fascism, systemic murder, continuously immiserating exploitation, and so on. Though this is never the revolutionary’s goal, those are the mephitic, historical outcomes the neo-revolutionary must grapple with as they go forth and begin to build their own.

In rational or irrational revolution, material or metaphysical rebellion, this is the dilemma of the modern man. The modern world of the 1950s, and on to the 2020s, promises the inevitable existence of further revolution in the future, whole series of metaphysical rebellions, and the constant revolt against nihilism and immiseration. Camus’ 1951 examination in ‘The Rebel’ finally resolves that 1) freedom is ultimately more important than justice, and 2) the unifying spirit of rebellion must guide any revolution, naturally limiting its urging toward totality.

“If there is a single and universal truth, freedom has no reason for existing.”

“Freedom, ‘that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm,’ is the motivating principle of all revolutions. Without it, justice seems inconceivable to the rebel’s mind.”

Midway through his essay, Camus makes the impassioned declaration “I rebel, therefore we exist.” In this, a collectivist remix of the solo Cartesian proposition, he makes way for the motto of his manifesto, and the humanist x existentialist cornerstone of the magnificent writer’s own life philosophy. “We” being all of humanity, “I” being you, the individual moral agent, the Sisyphean in mortal revolt against suffering and ambiguity for the sake of meaning-making unity. In a vain attempt to concisely capture its essence, let me end my thoughts with these words:

~ “I rebel, therefore we exist.” ~

Rebellion and revolution, if they are not to tip into tyranny and the fearfully pathological bloodletting that history’s course warns us of, must always remain as such a metaphysical assertion of humanity. In a cooperative joining against oppression, rebellion necessarily gives us life; we ought not to use its ends to make for means that deign to take life in equivalent measure. The inevitable revolution against those oppressors of our reality — whether they be in God, the slavemaster, the tyrant, the capitalist, the nihilist — must always harness creation afore destruction, moderation in place of excess, and life instead of death. If our revolution is to be called true and free and just in the end — free from totality and fascism — the rebel absolutely must “refuse the unlimited power to inflict death” and “thus reject divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of all men” in an earthly unity.

Paradoxical to the very end, the human rebel-turning-revolutionary must wield his sword for change with a radical sense of balance, ever learning “to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, to refuse to be a god.” ~

~

The final, powerful passages of ‘The Rebel’, for your consideration:

“Already, in fact, rebellion, without claiming to solve everything, can at least confront its problems. From this moment high noon is borne away on the fast-moving stream of history. Around the devouring flames, shadows writhe in mortal combat for an instant of time and then as suddenly disappear, and the blind, fingering their eyelids, cry out that this is history. The men of Europe, abandoned to the shadows, have turned their backs upon the fixed and radiant point of the present. They forget the present for the future, the fate of humanity for the delusion of power, the misery of the slums for the mirage of the eternal city, ordinary justice for an empty promised land. They despair of personal freedom and dream of a strange freedom of the species; reject solitary death and give the name of immortality to a vast collective agony. They no longer believe in the things that exist in the world and in living man; the secret of Europe is that it no longer loves life. Its blind men entertain the puerile belief that to love one single day of life amounts to justifying whole centuries of oppression. That is why they wanted to efface joy from the world and to postpone it until a much later date. Impatience with limits, the rejection of their double life, despair at being a man, have finally driven them to inhuman excesses. Denying the real grandeur of life, they have had to stake all on their own excellence. For want of something better to do, they deified themselves and their misfortunes began; these gods have had their eyes put out. Kaliayev, and his brothers throughout the entire world, refuse, on the contrary, to be deified in that they refuse the unlimited power to inflict death. They choose, and give us as an example the only original rule of life today: to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, to refuse to be a god.”

“At this meridian of thought, the rebel thus rejects divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of all men. We shall choose Ithaca, the faithful land, frugal and audacious thought, lucid action, and the generosity of the man who understands. In the light, the earth remains our first and our last love. Our brothers are breathing under the same sky as we; justice is a living thing. Now is born that strange joy which helps one live and die, and which we shall never again postpone to a later time. On the sorrowing earth it is the unresting thorn, the bitter brew, the harsh wind off the sea, the old and the new dawn. With this joy, through long struggle, we shall remake the soul of our time, and a Europe which will exclude nothing. Not even that phantom Nietzsche, who for twelve years after his downfall was continually invoked by the West as the blasted image of its loftiest knowledge and its nihilism; nor the prophet of justice without mercy who lies, by mistake, in the unbelievers’ plot at Highgate Cemetery; nor the deified mummy of the man of action in his glass coffin; nor any part of what the intelligence and energy of Europe have ceaselessly furnished to the pride of a contemptible period. All may indeed live again, side by side with the martyrs of 1905, but on condition that it is understood that they correct one another, and that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them all. Each tells the other that he is not God; this is the end of romanticism. At this moment, when each of us must fit an arrow to his bow and enter the lists anew, to reconquer, within history and in spite of it, that which he owns already, the thin yield of his fields, the brief love of this earth, at this moment when at last a man is born, it is time to forsake our age and its adolescent furies. The bow bends; the wood complains. At the moment of supreme tension, there will leap into flight an unswerving arrow, a shaft that is inflexible and free.”

~ Albert Camus, 1951

If it is not clear already, I urge you to please read ‘The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt‘ in its entirety.

Citations:

Camus, A.; O’Brien, J. (2018). The Myth of Sisyphus. New York, NY: Vintage International.

Camus, A. (1956). The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. Knopf: Vintage International.