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His fate belongs to him. He has lived his existence from one moment to the next and without much awareness, but at his trial and while awaiting execution he becomes like Sisyphus, fully conscious of himself and his terrible fate.
He will die triumphant as the absurd man. The Myth of Sisyphus is far from having a skeptical conclusion. In response to the lure of suicide, Camus counsels an intensely conscious and active non-resolution.
Rejecting any hope of resolving the strain is also to reject despair. Indeed, it is possible, within and against these limits, to speak of happiness.
It is not that discovering the absurd leads necessarily to happiness, but rather that acknowledging the absurd means also accepting human frailty, an awareness of our limitations, and the fact that we cannot help wishing to go beyond what is possible.
These are all tokens of being fully alive. First of all, like Pyrrho, Camus has solved his pressing existential issue, namely, avoiding despair, by a kind of resolution entailed in accepting our mortality and ultimate ignorance.
But there are two critical differences with Pyrrho: This last point was already contained in Nuptials , but here is expanded to link consciousness with happiness.
But how is it possible that, by the end of The Myth of Sisyphus , Camus has moved from skepticism about finding the truth and nihilism about whether life has meaning to advocating an approach to life that is clearly judged to be better than others?
How does he justify embracing a normative stance, affirming specific values? This contradiction reveals a certain sleight of hand, as the philosopher gives way to the artist.
It is as an artist that Camus now makes his case for acceptance of tragedy, the consciousness of absurdity, and a life of sensuous vitality.
He advocates this with the image of Sisyphus straining, fully alive, and happy. And it is often forgotten that this absurdist novelist and philosopher was also a political activist—he had been a member of the Algerian branch of the French Communist Party in the mids and was organizer of an Algiers theater company that performed avant-garde and political plays—as well as a crusading journalist.
In June he wrote a series of reports on famine and poverty in the mountainous coastal region of Kabylie, among the first detailed articles ever written by a European Algerian describing the wretched living conditions of the native population.
The spectacle of Camus and his mentor Pascal Pia running their left-wing daily into the ground because they rejected the urgency of fighting Nazism is one of the most striking but least commented-on periods of his life.
Misunderstanding Nazism at the beginning of the war, he advocated negotiations with Hitler that would in part reverse the humiliations of the Treaty of Versailles.
His pacifism was in keeping with a time-honored French tradition, and Camus reported for military service out of solidarity with those young men, like his brother, who had become soldiers.
Intending to serve loyally and to advocate a negotiated peace in the barracks, he was angered that his tuberculosis disqualified him Lottman, —31; Aronson , 25— However, after the Liberation the question of violence continued to occupy him both politically and philosophically.
His allegory of the war years, The Plague , depicts a nonviolent resistance to an unexplained pestilence, and in his was one of the few voices raised in protest against the American use of nuclear weapons to defeat Japan Aronson , After the Liberation he opposed the death penalty for collaborators, turned against Marxism and Communism for embracing revolution, rejected the looming cold war and its threatening violence, and then in The Rebel began to spell out his deeper understanding of violence.
Writing as a philosopher again, he returns to the terrain of argument by explaining what absurdist reasoning entails. Since to conclude otherwise would negate its very premise, namely the existence of the questioner, absurdism must logically accept life as the one necessary good.
As in his criticism of the existentialists, Camus advocates a single standpoint from which to argue for objective validity, that of consistency.
One might think that a period which, in a space of fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand.
Do such questions represent an entirely new philosophy or are they continuous with The Myth of Sisyphus?. The issue is not resolved by the explanations that Camus gives for his shift in the first pages of The Rebel —by referring to the mass murders of the middle third of the twentieth century.
In so doing Camus applies the philosophy of the absurd in new, social directions, and seeks to answer new, historical questions.
But as we see him setting this up at the beginning of The Rebel the continuity with a philosophical reading of The Stranger is also strikingly clear.
At the beginning of The Rebel Camus explains:. Having ruled out suicide, what is there to say about murder? Starting from the absence of God, the key theme of Nuptials , and the inevitability of absurdity, the key theme of The Myth of Sisyphus , Camus incorporates both of these into The Rebel , but alongside them he now stresses revolt.
The act of rebellion assumes the status of a primary datum of human experience, like the Cartesian cogito taken by Sartre as his point of departure.
Camus first expressed this directly under the inspiration of his encounter with Being and Nothingness. But how can an I lead to a we? Acting against oppression entails having recourse to social values, and at the same time joining with others in struggle.
On both levels solidarity is our common condition. In The Rebel Camus takes the further step, which occupies most of the book, of developing his notion of metaphysical and historical rebellion in opposition to the concept of revolution.
And now, in The Rebel , he describes this as a major trend of modern history, using similar terms to those he had used in The Myth of Sisyphus to describe the religious and philosophical evasions.
What sort of work is this? In a book so charged with political meaning, Camus makes no explicitly political arguments or revelations, and presents little in the way of actual social analysis or concrete historical study.
The Rebel is, rather, a historically framed philosophical essay about underlying ideas and attitudes of civilization.
David Sprintzen suggests these taken-for-granted attitudes operate implicitly and in the background of human projects and very rarely become conscious Sprintzen , Camus felt that it was urgent to critically examine these attitudes in a world in which calculated murder had become common.
The book provides a unique perspective—presenting a coherent and original structure of premise, mood, description, philosophy, history, and even prejudice.
These certainly reached back to his expulsion from the Communist Party in the mids for refusing to adhere to its Popular Front strategy of playing down French colonialism in Algeria in order to win support from the white working class.
Then, making no mention of Marxism, The Myth of Sisyphus is eloquently silent on its claims to present a coherent understanding of human history and a meaningful path to the future.
Validating revolt as a necessary starting point, Camus criticizes politics aimed at building a utopian future, affirming once more that life should be lived in the present and in the sensuous world.
He explores the history of post-religious and nihilistic intellectual and literary movements; he attacks political violence with his views on limits and solidarity; and he ends by articulating the metaphysical role of art as well as a self-limiting radical politics.
In place of argument, he paints a concluding vision of Mediterranean harmony that he hopes will be stirring and lyrical, binding the reader to his insights.
As a political tract The Rebel asserts that Communism leads inexorably to murder, and then explains how revolutions arise from certain ideas and states of spirit.
Furthermore, Camus insists that these attitudes are built into Marxism. Marxists think this, Camus asserted, because they believe that history has a necessary logic leading to human happiness, and thus they accept violence to bring it about.
In The Rebel Camus takes this assertion a further step: As does the rebel who becomes a revolutionary who kills and then justifies murder as legitimate.
According to Camus, the execution of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution was the decisive step demonstrating the pursuit of justice without regard to limits.
It contradicted the original life-affirming, self-affirming, and unifying purpose of revolt. Camus focuses on a variety of major figures, movements, and literary works: Camus describes revolt as increasing its force over time and turning into an ever more desperate nihilism, overthrowing God and putting man in his place, wielding power more and more brutally.
Historical revolt, rooted in metaphysical revolt, leads to revolutions seeking to eliminate absurdity by using murder as their central tool to take total control over the world.
Communism is the contemporary expression of this Western sickness. We might justly expect an analysis of the arguments he speaks of, but The Rebel changes focus.
His shift is revealed by his question: How can murder be committed with premeditation and be justified by philosophy? He does not address the Holocaust, and although his had been a voice of protest against Hiroshima in , he does not now ask how it happened.
As a journalist he had been one of the few to indict French colonialism, but he does not mention it, except in a footnote. How was it possible for Camus to focus solely on the violence of Communism, given the history he had lived, in the very midst of the French colonial war in Vietnam, and when he knew that a bitter struggle over Algeria lay ahead?
It seems he became blinded by ideology, separating Communism from the other evils of the century and directing his animus there. But something else had happened: Absurdity and revolt, his original themes, had been harnessed as an alternative to Communism, which had become the archenemy.
The philosophy of revolt became Cold-War ideology. Because The Rebel claimed to describe the attitude that lay behind the evil features of contemporary revolutionary politics, it became a major political event.
Readers could hardly miss his description of how the impulse for emancipation turned into organized, rational murder as the rebel-become-revolutionary attempted to order an absurd universe.
In presenting this message, Camus sought not so much to critique Stalinism as its apologists. His specific targets were intellectuals attracted to Communism—as he himself had been in the s.
But it also reflects his capacity for interpreting a specific disagreement in the broadest possible terms—as a fundamental conflict of philosophies.
They are studded with carefully composed topic sentences for major ideas—which one expects to be followed by paragraphs, pages, and chapters of development but, instead, merely follow one another and wait until the next equally well-wrought topic sentence.
The going gets even muddier as we near the end and the text verges on incoherence. However the strain stems from the fact that he is doing so much more.
Rebellion, Camus has insisted, will entail murder. He has said that death is the most fundamental of absurdities, and that at root rebellion is a protest against absurdity.
Thus to kill any other human being, even an oppressor, is to disrupt our solidarity, in a sense to contradict our very being. It is impossible, then, to embrace rebellion while rejecting violence.
There are those, however, who ignore the dilemma: For Camus this resembles the paradise beyond this life promised by religions, and he speaks of living for, and sacrificing humans for, a supposedly better future as, very simply, another religion.
Moreover, his sharpest hostility is reserved for intellectuals who theorize and justify such movements. Accepting the dilemma, Camus is unable to spell out how a successful revolution can remain committed to the solidaristic and life-affirming principle of rebellion with which it began.
In addition, as Foley points out, Camus attempts to think through the question of political violence on a small-group and individual level.
Both in The Rebel and in his plays Caligula and The Just Assassins , Camus brings his philosophy to bear directly on the question of the exceptional conditions under which an act of political murder can considered legitimate.
Furthermore, because the killer has violated the moral order on which human society is based, Camus makes the demand that he or she must be prepared to sacrifice his or her own life in return.
But if he accepts killing in certain circumstances, Camus rules out mass killing, indirect murder, killing civilians, and killing without an urgent need to remove murderous and tyrannical individuals.
In The Rebel, a complex and sprawling essay in philosophy, the history of ideas and literary movements, political philosophy, and even aesthetics, Camus extends the ideas he asserted in Nuptials and developed in The Myth of Sisyphus: Our alternatives are to accept the fact that we are living in a Godless universe—or to become a revolutionary, who, like the religious believer committed to the abstract triumph of justice in the future, refuses to live in the present.
Having critiqued religion in Nuptials , Camus is self-consciously exploring the starting points, projects, weaknesses, illusions, and political temptations of a post-religious universe.
He describes how traditional religion has lost its force, and how younger generations have been growing up amid an increasing emptiness and a sense that anything is possible.
He further claims that modern secularism stumbles into a nihilistic state of mind because it does not really free itself from religion.
Our modern need to create kingdoms and our continuing search for salvation is the path of catastrophe. Thus in the twenty-first century Camus remains relevant for having looked askance at Western civilization since classical times, at progress, and at the modern world.
At the heart of his analyses lie his ambivalent exploration of what it is like to live in a Godless universe. But to restrain oneself from this effort is to feel bereft of justice, order, and unity.
Camus recognizes that hope and the revolutionary drive are essential directions of the post-classical Western spirit, stemming from its entire world of culture, thought, and feeling.
The possibility of suicide haunts humans, as does the fact that we seek an impossible order and an unachievable permanence.
Camus never directly attacks existentialist writers, but largely confines himself to describing their inability to remain consistent with their initial insight.
His reflexive anti-Communism notwithstanding, an underlying sympathy unites Camus to those revolutionaries he opposes, because he freely acknowledges that he and they share the same starting points, outlook, stresses, temptations, and pitfalls.
Although in political argument he frequently took refuge in a tone of moral superiority, Camus makes clear through his skepticism that those he disagrees with are no less and no more than fellow creatures who give in to the same fundamental drive to escape the absurdity that we all share.
This sense of moral complexity is most eloquent in his short novel The Fall , whose single character, Clamence, has been variously identified as everyman, a Camus-character, and a Sartre-character.
He was all of these. Clamence is clearly evil, guilty of standing by as a young woman commits suicide. In him Camus seeks to describe and indict his generation, including both his enemies and himself.
His monologue is filled with self-justification as well as the confession of someone torn apart by his guilt but unable to fully acknowledge it.
Sitting at a bar in Amsterdam, he descends into his own personal hell, inviting the reader to follow him. Clamence is a monster, but Clamence is also just another human being Aronson , Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature in , after The Fall was published.
The story, a literary masterpiece, demonstrates a unique capacity at the heart of his philosophical writing. Life is no one single, simple thing, but a series of tensions and dilemmas.
The most seemingly straightforward features of life are in fact ambiguous and even contradictory.
Camus recommends that we avoid trying to resolve them. We need to face the fact that we can never successfully purge ourselves of the impulses that threaten to wreak havoc with our lives.
Suicide, Absurdity and Happiness: The Myth of Sisyphus 3. Camus and the World of Violence: Inevitable and Impossible 5.
In a sense, it is indeed my life that I am staking here, a life that tastes of warm stone, that is full of the signs of the sea and the rising song of the crickets.
The breeze is cool and the sky blue. I love this life with abandon and wish to speak of it boldly: Yet people have often told me: It is to conquer this that I need my strength and my resources.
Everything here leaves me intact, I surrender nothing of myself, and don no mask: N , 69 The intense and glistening present tells us that we can fully experience and appreciate life only on the condition that we no longer try to avoid our ultimate and absolute death.
At the beginning of The Rebel Camus explains: Awareness of the absurd, when we first claim to deduce a rule of behavior from it, makes murder seem a matter of indifference, to say the least, and hence possible.
We are free to stoke the crematory fires or to devote ourselves to the care of lepers. Evil and virtue are mere chance or caprice.
Philosopher of the Present In The Rebel, a complex and sprawling essay in philosophy, the history of ideas and literary movements, political philosophy, and even aesthetics, Camus extends the ideas he asserted in Nuptials and developed in The Myth of Sisyphus: Works in English Reference marks are given for cited English translations.
The Plague , New York: After arguing that an authentic life inevitably involves some form of conscientious moral revolt, Camus winds up concluding that only in rare and very narrowly defined instances is political violence justified.
To re-emphasize a point made earlier, Camus considered himself first and foremost a writer un ecrivain. However, he apparently never felt comfortable identifying himself as a philosopher—a term he seems to have associated with rigorous academic training, systematic thinking, logical consistency, and a coherent, carefully defined doctrine or body of ideas.
This is not to suggest that Camus lacked ideas or to say that his thought cannot be considered a personal philosophy. It is simply to point out that he was not a systematic, or even a notably disciplined thinker and that, unlike Heidegger and Sartre , for example, he showed very little interest in metaphysics and ontology, which seems to be one of the reasons he consistently denied that he was an existentialist.
In short, he was not much given to speculative philosophy or any kind of abstract theorizing. His thought is instead nearly always related to current events e.
Though he was baptized, raised, and educated as a Catholic and invariably respectful towards the Church, Camus seems to have been a natural-born pagan who showed almost no instinct whatsoever for belief in the supernatural.
Even as a youth, he was more of a sun-worshipper and nature lover than a boy notable for his piety or religious faith.
On the other hand, there is no denying that Christian literature and philosophy served as an important influence on his early thought and intellectual development.
As a young high school student, Camus studied the Bible, read and savored the Spanish mystics St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, and was introduced to the thought of St.
Augustine would later serve as the subject of his baccalaureate dissertation and become—as a fellow North African writer, quasi-existentialist, and conscientious observer-critic of his own life—an important lifelong influence.
In college Camus absorbed Kierkegaard, who, after Augustine, was probably the single greatest Christian influence on his thought. He also studied Schopenhauer and Nietzsche—undoubtedly the two writers who did the most to set him on his own path of defiant pessimism and atheism.
Other notable influences include not only the major modern philosophers from the academic curriculum—from Descartes and Spinoza to Bergson—but also, and just as importantly, philosophical writers like Stendhal, Melville, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka.
Here he unfolds what is essentially a hedonistic, indeed almost primitivistic, celebration of nature and the life of the senses.
In the Romantic poetic tradition of writers like Rilke and Wallace Stevens, he offers a forceful rejection of all hereafters and an emphatic embrace of the here and now.
There is no salvation, he argues, no transcendence; there is only the enjoyment of consciousness and natural being.
One life, this life, is enough. Sky and sea, mountain and desert, have their own beauty and magnificence and constitute a sufficient heaven.
In the first place, the Camus of Nuptials is still a young man of twenty-five, aflame with youthful joie de vivre. He favors a life of impulse and daring as it was honored and practiced in both Romantic literature and in the streets of Belcourt.
Recently married and divorced, raised in poverty and in close quarters, beset with health problems, this young man develops an understandable passion for clear air, open space, colorful dreams, panoramic vistas, and the breath-taking prospects and challenges of the larger world.
Consequently, the Camus of the period is a decidedly different writer from the Camus who will ascend the dais at Stockholm nearly twenty years later.
The young Camus is more of a sensualist and pleasure-seeker, more of a dandy and aesthete, than the more hardened and austere figure who will endure the Occupation while serving in the French underground.
He is a writer passionate in his conviction that life ought to be lived vividly and intensely—indeed rebelliously to use the term that will take on increasing importance in his thought.
He is also a writer attracted to causes, though he is not yet the author who will become world-famous for his moral seriousness and passionate commitment to justice and freedom.
All of which is understandable. After all, the Camus of the middle s had not yet witnessed and absorbed the shattering spectacle and disillusioning effects of the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Fascism, Hitlerism, and Stalinism, the coming into being of total war and weapons of mass destruction, and the terrible reign of genocide and terror that would characterize the period It is proudly and inconsolably pessimistic, but not in a polemical or overbearing way.
It is unbending, hardheaded, determinedly skeptical. It is tolerant and respectful of world religious creeds, but at the same time wholly unsympathetic to them.
In the end it is an affirmative philosophy that accepts and approves, and in its own way blesses, our dreadful mortality and our fundamental isolation in the world.
Regardless of whether he is producing drama, fiction, or non-fiction, Camus in his mature writings nearly always takes up and re-explores the same basic philosophical issues.
These recurrent topoi constitute the key components of his thought. They include themes like the Absurd, alienation, suicide, and rebellion that almost automatically come to mind whenever his name is mentioned.
Hence any summary of his place in modern philosophy would be incomplete without at least a brief discussion of these ideas and how they fit together to form a distinctive and original world-view.
Indeed, as even sitcom writers and stand-up comics apparently understand odd fact: What then is meant by the notion of the Absurd? Although that perception is certainly consistent with his formula.
Instead, as he emphasizes and tries to make clear, the Absurd expresses a fundamental disharmony, a tragic incompatibility, in our existence.
So here we are: Sartre, in his essay-review of The Stranger provides an additional gloss on the idea: It arises from the human demand for clarity and transcendence on the one hand and a cosmos that offers nothing of the kind on the other.
Such is our fate: Two of these he condemns as evasions, and the other he puts forward as a proper solution.
The first choice is blunt and simple: If we decide that a life without some essential purpose or meaning is not worth living, we can simply choose to kill ourselves.
Camus rejects this choice as cowardly. In his terms it is a repudiation or renunciation of life, not a true revolt.
The second choice is the religious solution of positing a transcendent world of solace and meaning beyond the Absurd. In effect, instead of removing himself from the absurd confrontation of self and world like the physical suicide, the religious believer simply removes the offending world and replaces it, via a kind of metaphysical abracadabra, with a more agreeable alternative.
Since the Absurd in his view is an unavoidable, indeed defining, characteristic of the human condition, the only proper response to it is full, unflinching, courageous acceptance.
Doomed to eternal labor at his rock, fully conscious of the essential hopelessness of his plight, Sisyphus nevertheless pushes on. In doing so he becomes for Camus a superb icon of the spirit of revolt and of the human condition.
To rise each day to fight a battle you know you cannot win, and to do this with wit, grace, compassion for others, and even a sense of mission, is to face the Absurd in a spirit of true heroism.
Over the course of his career, Camus examines the Absurd from multiple perspectives and through the eyes of many different characters—from the mad Caligula, who is obsessed with the problem, to the strangely aloof and yet simultaneously self-absorbed Meursault, who seems indifferent to it even as he exemplifies and is finally victimized by it.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus traces it in specific characters of legend and literature Don Juan, Ivan Karamazov and also in certain character types the Actor, the Conqueror , all of who may be understood as in some way a version or manifestation of Sisyphus, the archetypal absurd hero.
A rather different, yet possibly related, notion of the Absurd is proposed and analyzed in the work of Kierkegaard, especially in Fear and Trembling and Repetition.
For Kierkegaard, however, the Absurd describes not an essential and universal human condition, but the special condition and nature of religious faith—a paradoxical state in which matters of will and perception that are objectively impossible can nevertheless be ultimately true.
Simply defined, it is the Sisyphean spirit of defiance in the face of the Absurd. More technically and less metaphorically, it is a spirit of opposition against any perceived unfairness, oppression, or indignity in the human condition.
In fact Camus argues at considerable length to show that an act of conscientious revolt is ultimately far more than just an individual gesture or an act of solitary protest.
Indeed for him it was more like a fundamental article of his humanist faith. In any case it represents one of the core principles of his ethics and is one of the tenets that sets his philosophy apart from existentialism.
True revolt, then, is performed not just for the self but also in solidarity with and out of compassion for others. And for this reason, Camus is led to conclude that revolt too has its limits.
If it begins with and necessarily involves a recognition of human community and a common human dignity, it cannot, without betraying its own true character, treat others as if they were lacking in that dignity or not a part of that community.
Meursault, the laconic narrator of The Stranger , is the most obvious example. He seems to observe everything, even his own behavior, from an outside perspective.
Like an anthropologist, he records his observations with clinical detachment at the same time that he is warily observed by the community around him.
Camus came by this perspective naturally. This outside view, the perspective of the exile, became his characteristic stance as a writer. Throughout his writing career, Camus showed a deep interest in questions of guilt and innocence.
Once again Meursault in The Stranger provides a striking example. Is he legally innocent of the murder he is charged with?
Or is he technically guilty? On the one hand, there seems to have been no conscious intention behind his action.
Indeed the killing takes place almost as if by accident, with Meursault in a kind of absent-minded daze, distracted by the sun.
From this point of view, his crime seems surreal and his trial and subsequent conviction a travesty. The significantly named Jean-Baptiste Clamence a voice in the wilderness calling for clemency and forgiveness is tortured by guilt in the wake of a seemingly casual incident.
While strolling home one drizzly November evening, he shows little concern and almost no emotional reaction at all to the suicidal plunge of a young woman into the Seine.
But afterwards the incident begins to gnaw at him, and eventually he comes to view his inaction as typical of a long pattern of personal vanity and as a colossal failure of human sympathy on his part.
Wracked by remorse and self-loathing, he gradually descends into a figurative hell. In the final sections of the novel, amid distinctly Christian imagery and symbolism, he declares his crucial insight that, despite our pretensions to righteousness, we are all guilty.
Hence no human being has the right to pass final moral judgment on another. In a final twist, Clamence asserts that his acid self-portrait is also a mirror for his contemporaries.
Hence his confession is also an accusation—not only of his nameless companion who serves as the mute auditor for his monologue but ultimately of the hypocrite lecteur as well.
At heart a nature-worshipper, and by instinct a skeptic and non-believer, Camus nevertheless retained a lifelong interest and respect for Christian philosophy and literature.
In particular, he seems to have recognized St. Augustine and Kierkegaard as intellectual kinsmen and writers with whom he shared a common passion for controversy, literary flourish, self-scrutiny, and self-dramatization.
Christian images, symbols, and allusions abound in all his work probably more so than in the writing of any other avowed atheist in modern literature , and Christian themes—judgment, forgiveness, despair, sacrifice, passion, and so forth—permeate the novels.
Meursault and Clamence, it is worth noting, are presented not just as sinners, devils, and outcasts, but in several instances explicitly, and not entirely ironically, as Christ figures.
Meanwhile alongside and against this leitmotif of Christian images and themes, Camus sets the main components of his essentially pagan worldview.
Like Nietzsche, he maintains a special admiration for Greek heroic values and pessimism and for classical virtues like courage and honor. What might be termed Romantic values also merit particular esteem within his philosophy: Can an absurd world have intrinsic value?
Is authentic pessimism compatible with the view that there is an essential dignity to human life? They are almost a hallmark of his philosophical style.
Oracular and high-flown, they clearly have more rhetorical force than logical potency. Surprisingly, the sentiment here, a commonplace of the Enlightenment and of traditional liberalism, is much closer in spirit to the exuberant secular humanism of the Italian Renaissance than to the agnostic skepticism of contemporary post-modernism.
A primary theme of early twentieth-century European literature and critical thought is the rise of modern mass civilization and its suffocating effects of alienation and dehumanization.
This became a pervasive theme by the time Camus was establishing his literary reputation. Anxiety over the fate of Western culture, already intense, escalated to apocalyptic levels with the sudden emergence of fascism, totalitarianism, and new technologies of coercion and death.
He responded to the occasion with typical force and eloquence. Even his concept of the Absurd becomes multiplied by a social and economic world in which meaningless routines and mind-numbing repetitions predominate.
The drudgery of Sisyphus is mirrored and amplified in the assembly line, the business office, the government bureau, and especially in the penal colony and concentration camp.
In line with this theme, the ever-ambiguous Meursault in The Stranger can be understood as both a depressing manifestation of the newly emerging mass personality that is, as a figure devoid of basic human feelings and passions and, conversely, as a lone hold-out, a last remaining specimen of the old Romanticism—and hence a figure who is viewed as both dangerous and alien by the robotic majority.
Similarly, The Plague can be interpreted, on at least one level, as an allegory in which humanity must be preserved from the fatal pestilence of mass culture, which converts formerly free, autonomous, independent-minded human beings into a soulless new species.
It was, above all, a shrewd, unflagging adversary; a skilled organizer, doing his work thoroughly and well. Clad in a gaudy military uniform bedecked with ribbons and decorations, the character Plague a satirical portrait of Generalissimo Francisco Franco—or El Caudillo as he liked to style himself is closely attended by his personal Secretary and loyal assistant Death, depicted as a prim, officious female bureaucrat who also favors military garb and who carries an ever-present clipboard and notebook.
So Plague is a fascist dictator, and Death a solicitous commissar. Together these figures represent a system of pervasive control and micro-management that threatens the future of mass society.
In his reflections on this theme of post-industrial dehumanization, Camus differs from most other European writers and especially from those on the Left in viewing mass reform and revolutionary movements, including Marxism, as representing at least as great a threat to individual freedom as late-stage capitalism.
Throughout his career he continued to cherish and defend old-fashioned virtues like personal courage and honor that other Left-wing intellectuals tended to view as reactionary or bourgeois.
In Caligula the mad title character, in a fit of horror and revulsion at the meaninglessness of life, would rather die—and bring the world down with him—than accept a cosmos that is indifferent to human fate or that will not submit to his individual will.
Like Wittgenstein who had a family history of suicide and suffered from bouts of depression , Camus considered suicide the fundamental issue for moral philosophy.
However, unlike other philosophers who have written on the subject from Cicero and Seneca to Montaigne and Schopenhauer , Camus seems uninterested in assessing the traditional motives and justifications for suicide for instance, to avoid a long, painful, and debilitating illness or as a response to personal tragedy or scandal.
Indeed, he seems interested in the problem only to the extent that it represents one possible response to the Absurd. His verdict on the matter is unqualified and clear: Executions by guillotine were a common public spectacle in Algeria during his lifetime, but he refused to attend them and recoiled bitterly at their very mention.
Condemnation of capital punishment is both explicit and implicit in his writings. The grim rationality of this process of legalized murder contrasts markedly with the sudden, irrational, almost accidental nature of his actual crime.
Similarly, in The Myth of Sisyphus , the would-be suicide is contrasted with his fatal opposite, the man condemned to death, and we are continually reminded that a sentence of death is our common fate in an absurd universe.
Like Victor Hugo, his great predecessor on this issue, he views the death penalty as an egregious barbarism—an act of blood riot and vengeance covered over with a thin veneer of law and civility to make it acceptable to modern sensibilities.
That it is also an act of vengeance aimed primarily at the poor and oppressed, and that it is given religious sanction, makes it even more hideous and indefensible in his view.
To all who argue that murder must be punished in kind, Camus replies:. For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months.
Such a monster is not to be encountered in private life. Camus concludes his essay by arguing that, at the very least, France should abolish the savage spectacle of the guillotine and replace it with a more humane procedure such as lethal injection.
But he still retains a scant hope that capital punishment will be completely abolished at some point in the time to come: Camus is often classified as an existentialist writer, and it is easy to see why.
Affinities with Kierkegaard and Sartre are patent. He shares with these philosophers and with the other major writers in the existentialist tradition, from Augustine and Pascal to Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche an habitual and intense interest in the active human psyche, in the life of conscience or spirit as it is actually experienced and lived.
Like these writers, he aims at nothing less than a thorough, candid exegesis of the human condition, and like them he exhibits not just a philosophical attraction but also a personal commitment to such values as individualism, free choice, inner strength, authenticity, personal responsibility, and self-determination.
However, one troublesome fact remains: Was this an accurate and honest self-assessment? In their view, Camus qualifies as, at minimum, a closet existentialist, and in certain respects e.
On the other hand, besides his personal rejection of the label, there appear to be solid reasons for challenging the claim that Camus is an existentialist.
Of course there is no rule that says an existentialist must be a metaphysician. Another point of divergence is that Camus seems to have regarded existentialism as a complete and systematic world-view, that is, a fully articulated doctrine.
In his view, to be a true existentialist one had to commit to the entire doctrine and not merely to bits and pieces of it , and this was apparently something he was unwilling to do.
A further point of separation, and possibly a decisive one, is that Camus actively challenged and set himself apart from the existentialist motto that being precedes essence.