Thus the rebel can never find peace…His only virtue will lie in never yielding to the impulse to allow himself to be engulfed in the shadows that surround him and in obstinately dragging the chains of evil, with which he is bound, toward the light of good. pg. 285-286Camus is far from a rigorous logician. The Rebel gives the illusion of structure, but tends to float among ideas. Within each paragraph, Camus writes passionately and methodically though the book as a whole lacks a general cohesiveness.
However, this stylistic flaw matches well with Camus’ ideas. Methodical, plodding, logic is part of what Camus is in rebellion against. Without reaching into religious sentiment, Camus seeks to tap the inherent positive impulse in humanism to counteract the self-destructive, self-glorification, nihilistic thinking of the early 20th century.
How to live without grace-that is the question that dominates the ninteenth century. “By justice,” answered all those who did not want to accept absolute nihilism… But the [Utopian:] kingdom has retreated into the distance, gigantic wars have ravaged the oldest countries of Europe, the blood of rebels has bespattered walls, and total justice has approached not a step nearer. The question of the twentieth century… has gradually been specified: how to live without grace and without justice. Only nihilism, and not rebellion, has answered that question. pg. 225Camus reacts to the horrors that logic will permit. The rationalized murders of revolutionaries and States. Camus seeks something more holistic in humanity other than the one-dimensional attribute of nihilistic based reason. He taps into the impulse which I equate with what Chomsky termed years later as our “instinct for freedom.”
But this instinct for freedom is not the juvenile freedom of nihilist anarchy. “Absolute freedom mocks at justice. Absolute justice denies freedom. To be fruitful, the two ideas must find their limits in each other.” pg. 291. This appreciation for freedom has no logical foundation. It is a belief Camus holds for himself and humanity despite its ultimate absurd consequences.
“What is a rebel?” Camus asks in the opening lines.
“A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion… Thus the movement of rebellion is founded simultaneously on the categorical rejection of an intrusion that is considered intolerable and on the confused conviction of an absolute right which, in the rebel’s mind, is more precisely the impression that he “has the right to…”pg. 13To define this “confused conviction”, the book meanders from the Promethean rebellion of Greek drama, through Christian founding and the rebellion against Christianity by Sade, then the Romantics, proceeding to those rebelling against State royalty and subsequently Rousseau’s civil faith. The nature of Camus’ modern rebel becomes apparent as he strives to overcome the insatiable self-indulgence of Nietzche and the twisted Marxist ideals institutionalizing itself in the eastern Communist states. Rebellion is distinguished from the ambitions of revolution. Camus rejects the historical reasoning employed by revolutions that seek to establish some historically dictated end. Rebellion serves as a creative force whereas revolution seeks total submission to its goals. “Rebellion’s demand is unity; historical revolution’s demand is totality.” pg. 251. The rebel does not seek to establish a new world order. The rebel only seeks to carve out a world in which to maximize his or her individual creative capacity and not infringe on others.
The Rebel’s indictment of nihilism may be easily dismissed as pseudo-intellectualism lacking the force of reasoned conviction. But for those drawn to Camus, the appeal rests in his recognition that our human experience consists in more than mere stale logical connections and rationality without subordinating oneself to religious mystification. The draw of recognizing our own power while recognizing the need for humility. As Camus ends:
“They…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 last love. Our brothers are breathing under the same sky as we; justice is a living thing. pg. 306