Revolt for Self Realization
THE REBEL by Albert Camus. Translated from the French (L'Homme Revoite) by Anthony Bower (Alfred Knopf 273 pages. $4.00)
In The Plague, Albert Camus sought expression through the novel of ideas. In 1."Homme Revoite he has scraped away the covering and laid bare the substance. Translated from the French, as The Rebel, Camus' philosophical essay may well provoke the same kind of intellectual sensation here that it has caused in France.
There is a certain amount of duplicity in the little of the essay. For in the largest sense of the word, the "rebellion" is not a rebellion at all. It is made of milder stuff; it breathes an air of moderation and limit. Affirming restraint, the rebel denies his own name.
As Camus makes us redefine our terms, he gives to the rebel a positive significance that is novel. "I will not obey," says Camus' rebel, but he does not stop there. "I will not obey," he says, "because I cannot do so and still be myself. Either you grant me the right to realize myself, or I shall destroy you."
For Camus, rebellion is based on the realization of one's own identity and the refusal to accept degradation. And with this revolt, values and collective experience are born. In the communion of sufferers, rebellion is the unifying force. "Rebellion is the common ground on which every man bases his first values," says Camus. "I rebel--therefore we exist."
Camus' rebel asserts as he destroys. Like Ivan Karaxazov, he challenges God in the name of a greater good. "If the suffering of children," says the rebel through Ivan's words, "serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onwards that truth is not worth such a price." He denies God, because God is unjust.
In its moderation, there is much that Camus' rebellion fears. Nihilism and terrorism, its wayward daughters, it hates and fears as the true believer hates and fears the heretic. Camus senses in these systems the tragic consequences of a rebellion gone awry. Nihilism and the terror4 are wrong because they have overstepped the limits. For them the search for order has brought murder and destruction. But with the great force Camus asserts that it need not be so.
No less culpable than the Sons of Cain, The Revolutionaries, French and Russian, turn against the source of their inspiration in botrayal. revolution "contrives, by the promise of absolute justice, the acceptance of perpetual injustice, of unlimited compromise and of indignity," It kills rebellion with the rational terror of the sate. There can be no justice where the power to question justice is gone.
But Camus' is not the voice of despair. There is good reason for Herbert Read, in a forward to the essay, to speak of an age of hope and confidence in the future. The Revolution has, in a manner of speaking, "grown up." Older and wiser, it can reflect upon its principles and rediscover its beginnings. 'The revolutionary mind . . . must therefore return again to the source of rebellion and draw its inspiration from the only system of thought which is faithful to its origins; thought which recognizes limits."
Camus has seen much and has seen well; but his vision is not entirely new Rebellion itself it age old, and the concept of its limits is not without precedent. Writing in the 19th Century, Walter Bagehot described a controlled dynamism much like that for which Camus seems to yearn. It is essential that man be able to question society; it is no less essential that his questioning recognize limits so as not to destroy it. In Camus' lucid style the problem is restated, examined, and clarfied. But the literary excellence of the essay is incidental. As the serious intellectual effort of a deeply thinking man, The Rebel is a powerful and important book.