It is not often that a book brings me education, dismay, relief and hope for the future. Camus does. Hope because his reflections direct mankind to observe itself and the world, and to progress a self awareness of frailty and fallibility, so that humanity can discard ancient proscriptive beliefs in an afterlife, living with the understanding that man is part of a world complete in itself, sufficient to itself, providing meaning enough in experiencing the senses in their fullness. He argues with sensibility against the religious belief in deities without resorting to making man himself into a god. For years, even decades I have struggled to discard the baggage that attached itself to a Christian upbringing. I could discard the system of belief, but the values attached to it are knit into my psyche , and some of them I want to retain for their intrinsic value. I prefer a value system based on the tenets of tolerance and respect which I learnt by looking at the life of Christ as opposed to the teachings of the established Church in the tradition of The Church of England. It is easy to criticise the many injustices and hypocrisies of any church, but simultaneously it can be argued that civilized behaviour has referred to its tenets over hundreds of years. I recognised in my youth that the role model I was influenced by could equally have been Buddha or any one of many prophets. Then I turned to politics for answers to difficult questions revolving around justice and distribution of wealth. I turned away almost as quickly as I had arrived, being repelled by the dogma and the abuse of power however it appeared to be arrived at. No system attracted me. I allowed no alliances. As a result I had no satisfaction in believing that the direction I was going in was progressive. I bumble. I am a human bee. Now I am beginning to allow myself some sense of satisfaction that bumbling can be impressively adequate, if that can ever be the case. I sense a shift in modern perspective, and the current state of our global interconnectedness and inter reliance demands that old ideologies are abandoned, and new, vibrant perspectives sought to progress into the future. Different ways of distributing the means of production, different ways of valuing our human lives, not simply by adding it up in numbers on a production line. How we spend time, and how we spend the earth’s resources will be as valuable to us as the production of ever increasing share values for the minority shareholders. Camus shares with us his perspectives in order that we can learn from his insights and move forward.
Albert Camus wrote ‘The Rebel’ over half a century ago, first published 1951. There has been some activity in our histories since that time, but reading his analysis of revolution , and the context of history to man’s activities is as prescient now as ever. It is a read that requires concentration and possibly further reading to follow his argument satisfactorily, it is not a skim read. Nevertheless, it is a well considered treatise that has interesting points to make, and provokes a real curiosity in this reader, recognising whole trenches of ignorance in myself that need to be explored. I have simply marked out a few of the phrases that interest me, in the hope they may interest you too. The consideration at the end of the reading for me is that it is a mature reflection on the sum of activity that is currently threatening European stability that is required, and the danger is that a revolution of the working and non-working masses too oppressed by austerity will overthrow a corrupt regime and replace it with nothing other than another corrupt regime. For me, the notion that the ordinary man should occupy himself with the harvest, is a good one. We should dream of a future unshackled from ever increasing productivity, and return to the observances of everyday living to improve our quality of all our lives. That utopian dream has to include providing the opportunity for all mankind to have water and food and shelter. Above those requirements, life will contain the opportunity for creativity by giving back the philosophy of dignity in work, by returning production to means which provide satisfaction for the worker, and not simply pecuniary reward to the owners of the means of production.
To put economic determination at the root of all human action is to sum up man in terms of his social relations. There is no such thing as a solitary man, that is the indisputable discovery of the nineteenth century.
Man is born into a world of production and social relations. The unequal opportunities of different lands, the more or less rapid improvements in the means of production and the struggle for life have rapidly created social inequalities which have crystallized into antagonisms between production and distribution; and, consequently, into class struggles. These struggles are the motive power of history. ….thus bourgeois capitalism is defined by the separation of the producer from the means of production…..Capital is now concentrated in the hands of only a very few masters whose growing power is based on robbery. Moreover these masters are shaken to their foundations by successive crises, overwhelmed by the contradictions of the system, and can no longer even assure mere subsistence to their slaves who then come to depend on private or public charity. A day comes, inevitably, when a huge army of oppressed slaves find themselves face to face with a handful of despicable masters. That is the day of revolution.’The ruin of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.’ (Marx)
‘obsession with the harvest and indifference to history are the two extremities of my bow’ writes Rene char. If the duration of history is not synonymous with the duration of the harvest, then history, in effect, is no more than a fleeting and cruel shadow in which man has no more part. He who dedicates himself to this history dedicates himself to nothing, and ,in his turn is nothing. But he who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest which sows its seed and sustains the world again and again. To rebel against it supposes an interminable tension and the agonized serenity of which Rene Char speaks. But the true life is present in the heart of this dichotomy. Life is this dichotomy itself, the mind soaring over volcanoes of light, the madness of justice, the extenuating intransigence of moderation. The words which reverberate for us.. are of courage and intelligence which , on the shores of the eternal seas have the qualities of virtue.
No possible form of wisdom today can claim to give more. Rebellion indefatigably confronts evil, form which it can only derive a new impetus. Man can master, in himself, everything that should be mastered. He should rectify in creation everything that can be rectified. And after he has done so, children will die unjustly even in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort, man can only propose to diminish, arithmetically, the sufferings of the world. But the injustice ad the suffering of the world will remain, and no matter how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage….
For twenty centuries the sum total of evil has not diminished in the world. No paradise, whether divine or revolutionary, has been realised. ..then we understand that rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love…. All of us, among the ruins, are preparing a renaissance beyond the limits nihilism. But few of us know it.
An excellent resource for those interested in reading more about Camus is here, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/