The Wisdom of Albert Camus, Libertarian

ALBERT Camus was the 1957 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for work that “illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Those times were ones where the specter of tyranny loomed large during World War II and its aftermath, until his accidental death in 1960. While best known as an existentialist and absurdist, his Nobel lecture highlighted why his insights are valuable to those devoted to liberty. Camus said the writer “cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.” On their behalf, “the two tasks that constitute the greatness of [the writer’s] craft [are] the service of truth and the service of liberty … rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.”

His defense of liberty against tyranny merits remembering. The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.

The welfare of the people … has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.

The tyrannies of today … no longer admit of silence or neutrality. One has to take a stand, be either for or against. Well, in that case, I am against.

The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the state. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action.

Freedom is not a gift received from the State or leader, but a possession to be won every day.

Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne.… It’s a long distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting.

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to get better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse. Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty.

Liberty ultimately seems to me, for societies and for individuals … the supreme good that governs all others.

Is it possible eternally to reject injustice without ceasing to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes.

In the twentieth century power wears the mask of tragedy.

Political utopias justified in advance any enterprises whatever. Instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are.

The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily.

The current motto for all of us can only be this: without giving up anything on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.

I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. More and more, when faced with the world of men, the only reaction is one of individualism.

Man alone is an end unto himself.

Albert Camus wrote when “the barricades of freedom have once more been thrown up. Once more justice must be bought with the blood of men.” The crucial importance of defending liberty against tyranny was clear then. But unfortunately, many have forgotten that essential recognition, despite the web of softer tyrannies that increasingly surround us. That keeps Camus’s insights, particularly that liberty is “the supreme good that governs all others,” both valuable and powerful today, a half century after he wrote.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s