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Albert Camus’ urge to rebel against an unfree world

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Revolutions, however differently interpreted, have been playing an important role in human history. Karl Marx, as well as his predecessor G.W.F. Hegel, whose ideas along with other factors inspired the socialist revolution in Russia, believed revolutions to be a driving force of progress, which gives rise to utopian societies. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a muse of the French Revolution, wanted to force a man to be free through the general will, the will of people as a whole. Both grand philosophies resulted in bloodshed and the violation of inalienable human freedoms.

In his 1951 book, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Albert Camus, a French writer and political activist, born in Algeria, made a rather elegant effort to explain the essence of rebellions. Being highly preoccupied with the fate of Europe during WWII and later on with the Algerian issue and an opponent of the atrocities brought about by selfish idealist acts of rebellions, Camus proclaims, 'It is better to be wrong by killing no one than to be right with mass graves. . . . The world is in misery and already inquisitors are seated in ministerial armchairs.'

Camus sees two major types of rebellion: a historical and a metaphysical one. He elaborates on historical action using the French revolution and states that what lies at the core of such rebellions is the belief that somewhere, someone knows what is right. He says, 'In every act of rebellion, the rebel simultaneously experiences a feeling of revulsion at the infringement of his rights and a complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself.' So once someone comes to believe he found all the answers and developed a solution to every problem by applying a Hegelian approach, through the use of reason, the world is in danger. Consequently, something that can never be achieved is being created and the outcomes are absolutely detrimental to the humankind.

For Camus, a genuine rebellion, aims to transcend the individual and his egoistic motives. Camus’ rebel doesn’t believe in absolute truths, since they are bound to become a goal—the main tool for achieving which is a destruction. Since the latter is the exact reason of rebellion, murder cannot be justified. While a rebel slave revolts against his master due to bad or unjust treatment, a metaphysical rebel says his 'no' to the conditions in which he finds himself—to the universe, otherwise to the absurdity of life. Since all men are united in it, 'when he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical'.Hence, Camus’ rebel is not closed up in his selfish nature. Rebellion presupposes a unique form of humanism, as it calls for a joint stand against the world we were thrown into. As the cry of Ivan Karamazov from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov goes, 'If all are not saved, what good is the salvation of one only?'

To back up his claims, Camus appeals to the heroic actions of Simone Weil, a French philosopher, who being sick from tuberculosis, rejected to eat more than victims of the Nazi regime. She wanted to show her solidarity with the conditions in which her fellow human beings, living and struggling in the same absurd word of violence and bloodshed as she did, found themselves. As Camus would have said, 'She rebelled, therefore we existed.'

Albert Camus, who himself lived through the age of terror and acknowledged liberty as man’s natural condition, deserves far more credit than libertarians give him. Witnessing outrageous freedom infringements all over the globe and with wars still remaining on the agenda, it is nihilism which we should denounce as the most dangerous weapon of all. Camus urges us, 'The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.'

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