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Albert Camus’ Concept of Rebellion as an Option in the Face of Oppression

Albert Camus’ Concept of Rebellion as an Option in the Face of Oppression: A Critique

 

ABSTRACT

In a condition of distress, suffering and enslavement, when people are killed, human liberty suppressed and the state is persistently tyrannical, what should be done, a milieu of this nature was what confronted Albert Camus in his time. As an Algerian, he witnessed the massive destruction of the World War II. He was dumbfounded at man’s inhumanity to man. Consequently, against his existentialist watershed, Camus described the situation he found himself as a condition of oppression, which he tacitly called, the absurd.

Furthermore, Camus made a distinction between metaphysical and historical rebellion. It was in his application of this distinction especially that Camus met his logical waterloo and intellectual suicide.

The aim of this work is therefore to investigate critically and analyze, and of course, make a critique of Camus’ notion of rebellion as an option in the face of oppression. Thus, the basic questions that would form the crux of this critical analysis is to find out whether Camus’ understanding of oppressive situation is commendable or acceptable? Can religion constitute a form of oppression? How can one rebel without being violent? Is it more apt to say that far from discussing rebellion, Camus was talking of non-violent resistance? To what extent can one rebel? Or put in another way, what are the limits of rebellion? Lastly, what are the moral principles guiding rebellion? These and some other questions would preoccupy us as we make a critique of this contemporary existentialist philosopher.

This work shall be divided into four chapters. The first chapter dwells on the formative influences that captured Camus to resort to rebellion. Chapter two deals on the general understanding of rebellion. Chapter three shall be our critique on Camus’ notion of rebellion. Finally, chapter four shall be an evaluation and conclusion of the whole work.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0      PROBLEMATIC OF ALBERT CAMUS’ PHILOSOPHY

1.1.     The Problem of Oppression and Injustice

Amidst the ugly situation that led Camus to view human life as meaningless was the problem of oppression and injustice that reigned during his time. There was a massive oppression and injustice from the Algerian government, members of the political parliament used their powers to oppress the citizens who desired to be treated in a manner that is humanly dignified. Injustice was exalted to the detriment of the citizens, and human liberty was greatly suppressed. Thus, Camus believed that the first and only datum that furnished him within an absurdist experience or better still within an oppressive situation is rebellion. Thus, he writes:

Stripped of all knowledge, driven to commit murder or consent to it. I posed this single datum which gains greater strength from the spectacle of the irrational coupled within unjust and encomprehensible condition. But its blind impetus clamors for order in the midst of chaos, and for unity in the very heart of the ephemerals.[1]

Camus considered rebellion from a different point of view. He looks at it not as the option of an organized armed group but as that which starts from the individual and in fact which has noting to do with arms and violence. He looks at it more from the metaphysical or better still, from individualistic point of view.

This condition of oppression and injustice cumulates on the use of political force which suppressed the individual rights to the minimum degree. There was the use of force and intimidation in politics. The experience of great oppression and injustice of Nazis Government, when Hitter suppressed, the right of man with absolute dictatorship. Man was trampled down, greatly oppressed. Camus also described the situation he found himself as a condition of oppression which he tacitly called, the absurd. It was against this scenario that Camus formulated his philosophical themes and as E. Freeman would say Camus has twin philosophical themes that ran through his write-ups. The absurd and revolt.[2]

1.2      The Denial of Individual Rights

Just as Camus experienced a great situation of oppression and injustice, the suppression of human liberty and the use of political force to the masses, also the denial of individual rights led him to view life like the existentialists even though Camus refused to be addressed as an existentialist. He believes that individuals are born with inalienable rights which they received from birth. He was dumbfounded at man’s inhumanity to man, and the fervent suppression of human rights. On this note, the French declaration of the right of man and citizens (1789) observes that these basic rights are “Sacred” and for this reason, the national assembly doth recognize and declare in the presence of the Supreme Being, and with the hope of blessing and favour the following “Sacred” rights of man.

Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in respect of their rights. The end of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptibly rights of man and these rights are liberty, property, security, and Resistance of oppression. The nation is essentially the source fall sovereignty: nor can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it. Political liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another. The exercise of the natural right of every man has no other limits than those which are necessary to secure to every other man the free exercise of the same rights and these limits are determinable only by the law.[3]

In Camus’ opinion, these rights were seriously violated, the inalienable rights of man was trampled upon and the “Lords” became increasingly the custodian of human suppression hence Camus sought the only datum of rebellion not only for the “mightier” but also God whom Camus considered the source of human suffering, Camus expresses, this view through the mouth of a Medical Doctor Rieux. Asked if he believes in God, Dr. Rieux said “if such an all-powerful and infinitely good being were to exist he would not bother himself treating the sick, since the all-powerful and infinitely good being could easily do that. He would leave it to him to do so. I shall refuse until I die to live this creation in which children are tortured. He says since the order of the world is ruled by death may it not be better, perhaps, for God if we don’t believe in him and fight with all our strength against death without lifting our eyes toward the sky where he sits in silence.[4]

Camus’ answer to the question of the absurdity of human life is revolt. The attitude of revolt is a refusal to remain passive in the face of evil, injustice, oppression, denial of rights, the persisted tyranny of the state, etc. with all the means at one’s disposal.

Revolt gives life its value. Spread out over the whole length of a life, it restores its majesty to that life.[5]

Thus Camus maintains that it is by revolting that man gives meaning to his life. In fact one of Camus’ best known novels is entitled L’ Homme Revolte (translated into English as The Rebel). In it, Camus insists that it is by or to revolt that man creates values not only for himself but for all men with whom he is in solidarity. Revolt involves self-commitment to a course in solidity with the suffering humanity.

Thomas Paine in his work entitled The Rights of Man, observed that the purpose for which civil society is found is to protect man’s fundamental human rights, and resistance of oppression (that is, rebellion for revolt against an oppressive regime) is one of these rights.[6] Thus, the view of Thomas Paine is akin to Camus’ view but Camus believed that this denial of rights could only be solved through revolt.

 

1.3         The Death Experienced at the World War II

The Second World War culminates much in the thoughts of Albert Camus. He witnessed the massive destruction of the World War II. He was dumbfounded at man’s inhumanity to man. Consequently against his existentialistic watershed, Camus described the situation he found himself as a condition of oppression, which he also tacitly called the absurd.

            The Second World War turned the life of man in the society as something meaningless. Hence human beings were slaughtered like animals, bloodsheds were commonly found everywhere in the society. It is important to note here that it was the movement of the national socialism led by Adolf Hitler and his camp killed about six million Jews because he (Hitler) believed that the Jews are seen as the chosen people, he intended to wipe away the Jews from history and declared a free sex for the German youths in order to have a particular race in the world.[7]

            The massive death experienced at the second world war, was mainly the problem that gave rise to the philosophy of Albert Camus and this made him also to take the stand of the existentialists, because Camus was trying to know the meaning of human life, why man becoming a threat to his fellow man.

Camus felt that the only philosophy that can save man is the philosophy that searches for the meaning of human life, any other philosophy that is contrary to this is of secondary importance. He therefore writes

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide, judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest –whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories-come afterwards… Whether the earth or the sun revolve around the other is matter of profound in difference. To tell the truth, it is a futile question… I have never seemed anyone die for the ontological argument… on the other hand I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living…. I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of question.[8]

As we have seen, the search for the meaning of human life in the would full of evils (like the evils of Nazi) compounded on Albert Camus thought. Camus was trying to know whether bloodshed found among the movement of the national socialism led by Adolf Hitter could solve any human problem, hence this evil actions of the movement of the national socialism became very problematic for Camus notion of human life, hence the only datum that furnished him in this in humanity to man was rebellion.

1.4         Lack of True Patriotism

This is also a condition that became problematic to Albert Camus. The ‘Lords’ have misused their powers? Camus writes, and have failed to love their country and defend it with their last blood.[9] A condition Camus found himself which influenced his philosophical ideas were nevertheless a personnel affair, hence this situation affected the entire humanity and he (Camus) took an extreme position in order to liberate man from the oppressive situation he finds himself.

The lack of patriotism which was common amongst the ruling class of Camus time made him to also resort to rebellion (violence).This selfishness, unbridled quest for power blatant injustice and marginalization, lack of true patriotism etc. This entire greedy quest caused Camus to violence. Just as Aristotle’s in his politics remarked that lack of true patriotism, greedy, selfishness, unbridled quest for power, blatant in justice and marginalization makes one to preview life as meaningless. And the result is violence. J. Barnes comments.

The universal and chief cause of this revolting feeling have been already mentioned, viz the desire for equality, when men think that they are equal to others who have more then themselves or again the desire for inequality and superiority when conceiving themselves to be superior they think that they have not more but the same or less than their inferior… Inferiors revolt in order that they may be superior such in the state at mind which creates revolutions- other causes are insolence, fear, excessive predominance, contempt, disproportionate increase in some part of the state, election intrigues.[10]

 

            From the forgoing, it is truly evident that Camus quest to liberate man from the dangers which threatens his life in the society was mostly furnished by the dehumanizing situation of man. Camus considered the perpetrators of the evil acts as people who lack the understanding and appreciation of the essential nature of the human person as a rational unique, Unrepeatable and incommunicable being vested with absolute value. Therefore, if one understands and sincerely believes that each and very human being is equally a person as much as another person: as well as understand and believe in the sacredness of each and every human life than, there may be an effort toward the respect of each person in his or her own right.

Camus in his view, believed that when individuals or citizens do not receive the basic care, love and affection that should be coming from the ‘lords’, then the government stands to be rebelled hence they have failed in their primary duties. Commenting on this, Joseph Omoregbe in his social – political philosophy and internal relations, observes that

Plato was so concerned about morality in politics that he took stringent measures in the Republic to encourage and enforce it. He was particularly on his guard against on the part of government officials. He knew very well that if rulers or government officials are corrupt the state is doomed. Plato took corruption so seriously that in the laws he decreed death penalty for any form of corruption.[11]

 

So Camus’ position could also be akin to that of Plato

1.5 A Condition of Distress, Suffering and Enslavement

Camus was not only felt the condition of distress, suffering and enslavement, but almost all the existentialist philosophers was captured   on the problem of distress, suffering and enslavement, just as Kierkegaard and Gabriel Marcel think that the best thing to do in the face of the absurdity of human existence is to take the leap of faith in God, while Karl Jaspers tells of philosophical faith in the transcendence.”[12]

          The Second World War furnished much ugly experiences not only on Albert Camus but also host of other existentialist philosophers. Much human suffering and distress was recorded in the history of mankind during the World War II. Hence Gabriel Marcel like other existentialists philosophers followed the line of Camus to note that philosophy must be brought down in earth, and he frowns on any philosophical system which claims to grasp or to explain the whole of reality in his words.

It has become increasingly evident to me that the Claim to ‘encapsulate the universal in a set of formulas which are more or less rigorously related is absurd.[13]

Camus was greatly disturbed at seeing the suffering and distress man passes through, the slave trade which removed completely the human in man, the eating of ordinary grass for survival, merciless treatment man receives from his fellow man, Camus was forced to ask the meaning of our lives, the purpose of our existence just like other existentialists. Having seen the problem facing man, Camus sought for a means to combat some socials evils that have remind incurable especially, the problem of distress, suffering and enslavement hence he was also furnished with the datum of rebellion.

The situation of distress, suffering and enslavement culminates much on the attitude of injustice which is occasioned by superiority syndrome which the “Lords” think or feels that the masses are less important and fear occasioned by inferiority syndrome which is commonly found among the “less privileged” hence such basis influenced Camus to resort to evolutionary acts. In this manner of resorting to rebellion as against the intolerable situation facing man in the society, one sees Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s master morality of ruthlessness, power and struggle. War, ambition and self-assertion at work all at the expense of his slave-morality of Love, Peace, Humility, Sympathy, Meekness, Accommodation, Appreciation, etc. Thus, Camus took the stand of master morality which would help to fan the amber of human suffering, distress and of “might is power”. Thereby degrading in the value of the human person. That was evident in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Jean. Mercier attested to it when he said that

In dividing humanity into two antagonistic categories, Nietzsche has sown the seed of racialism, Hitler’s national socialism i.e. Nazism, translated the Nietzsche’s fantasy into reality into in substituting the Aryan RACE for Nietzsche’s superman….[14]

However, Camus therefore thinks that there is the need to restore human dignity which has suffered tremendously in the hands of the “Lords”.

1.6   The Persistent Tyranny of the State

At this point of our study on the formative influences or better still, the problematic of Albert Camus notion of rebellion, it is important to note that Camus quest in resorting to rebellion as the only option in the face of oppression was mostly ignited by the abuse of power, Camus was greatly captured on the use of cruelty, unfair means of ruling which was commonly found among the “lords”. Camus was forced to ask the question that in a condition of distress, suffering and enslavement, when people are killed human liberty suppressed, and the state is persistently tyrannical, what should be done? A milieu of this nature confronted Albert Camus so much in his time. Hence the only datum as we said earlier was rebellion.

The persistent tyranny of the state that confronted Camus could be better described as a Machiavellian state. A situation in which Hale aptly described thus.

Machiavelli sees politics as a battle, a constant struggle for power, all politics in his sense are power politics.[15]

However, Camus believed that the state was instituted to look after the basic needs of all the members of the society, hence man was born amidst the community and presupposes the fact that the same community are bound to care for individual need. As such, no man can say that he does not need to live in a society. On this Aristotle observes:

He who is unable to live in society or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.[16]

Thus, it is evident that because of man’s multifarious needs and the search for their satisfactory that led eventually to the formation of the state. Man needs many things for the actualization of his potentialities, self perfection and happiness and to actualize his potentialities he needs to live in a society. He needs so many things that he alone cannot provide them for himself. He needs the help of other.

But in Camus opinion, how can man achieve these inescapable needs hence the tone of the state is in chaos. St Thomas Aquinas argued that rebellion against a tyrant who is more guilt of rebellion himself   culminates in overthrowing the existing or a legitimate government, since it is contrary to the unity of the multitude which is a “manifest good” and a revolution against a tyrant who himself is in fact more guilty of sedition when he spread decontrol the more easily.[17]

Thus, Camus believed that the “Lords” have greatly trampled upon human rights by the abuse of power given to them by the citizens, and in line with St Thomas Aquinas, on the attitude that should be shown to a tyrant “Lord”, Camus resorted to rebellion.

In all the formative influences which we have been able to argued and its great influence to Albert Camus, it is therefore important to observe that this intolerable conditions made Camus to formulate his philosophical themes, hence Camus believe that the first and only datum that finished him within an absurdist experience or better still, within an oppressive situation is rebellion. Therefore, he concludes that,

Stripped of all knowledge, driven to commit murder or consent to it, I posses this single datum   which gains greater strength from the spectacle of the irrational coupled with an unjust and incomprehensible condition. But its blind impetus clamors for order in the midst of chaos, and for unity in the very heart of the ephemeras.[18]

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1 A. Camus, The Rebel, London: Harmish Hamilton Ltd., 1953, p. 16.

[2] E. Freeman, The Theatre of Albert Camus Critical Study, London: Methium and Co. Ltd., 1971, p. 104.

[3] J. Omoregbe, An Introduction to Philosophical Jurisprudence, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 2007, p. 82.

[4] A. Camus, The Plague, Middlesex: Penguin Modern Classic, 1961, p. 204.

[5] A. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1955, p. 54.

[6] T. Paine, The Right of Men, London and New York: Every Men’s Library, 1915, p. 84.

[7] U. T. Igwe, Lecture Notes on Continental Philosophy, Unpublished Lecture, Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, 2009.

[8] A. Camus, Ibid., 1985, pp. 11-12.

[9] A. Camus, Ibid., 1953, p. 20.

[10] J. Barnes, ed., “Politics” in The Complete Works of Aristotle, The Revised Oxford Translation, New York: Princeton University Press, 1991, p. 130.

[11] J. Omoregbe, Social Political Philosophy and International Relations, Vol. I, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 2007, p. 132.

[12] J. Omoregbe, A Simplified History of Western Philosophy, Vol. 3, Lagos: Joja Educational Research and Publishers Ltd., 2003, p. 84.

[13] Ibid., p. 76.

[14] JL. Mercier, From Socrates To Wittgenstein: A Critical History of the Key-Concepts of Western Philosophy, Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1978, p. 94.

[15] J.R, Hale, Niccolo Machiavelli and the Self sufficient States Political Ideas, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1982, p. 29.

[16] Aristotle, Politics, Middlesex- Penguin Classics. 1962, Book 1 Chapter 2 p. 28.

[17] M. A. Gallin “Revolutionin The New Catholic Encyclopedia,Vol. XII, 1967, p. 450.

[18] A. Camus, Ibid., 1953, p. 16

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