This really isn’t a book review per se, but since this is a challenging book, this review is more for myself. It’s a restatement of Camus’ arguments and my own two cents. So this will be a combination of a summary of Camus’ book and my response to it. I also understand this is a long post. You’ll have to bear with me. It’s a very complex essay and so I want to write down as much as I can on Camus’ thoughts as well as my own thoughts on this as well. At the same time, I was thinking of doing the whole book but that would be too big of a post. Thus, I’m just going to post it part by part and see if that makes things simpler.
Part I: The Rebel
What does it mean to rebel? To live means that our existence takes on a positive value. Rebellion means that we value something in human society. Thus, the rebel is always ethical. But the downside is that these values are “given.” This book is about politics and ethics. One must be familiar with Camus philosophy to understand this book. It’s a metaphysical revolt. This isn’t a revolution. Revolutions are planned out. The rebel has no plan. He just acts.
The essay feels like it’s a sequel to his The Myth of Sisyphus. In there, he talks briefly about rebellion. Since the rebel acts, what is he acting toward? Imagine if there was no meaning or purpose. What then? Suicide? Murder? Nihilism? Camus advocates rebellion. Why is that? It’s because the universe and life itself is absurd. Can we prove it? No. But I can still act on it and show why that’s the “right” belief. How do I do that? By rebellion. All beliefs are like that. All beliefs and ideas start of as rebellions and they strive and push to become known. But there’s no reason behind it. There’s no calculated rationale. It’s a blind push. Thus, the rebel can only find reasons within himself, not from without. It’s the feeling that “I’m right” and establishes a borderline where crossing this borderline is a “no.” To remain silent is amounting to wanting it. Notice it’s not tolerating it, but literally wanting it. Camus states: “With rebellion, awareness is born” (p. 15). And with this rebellion, he’ll take on this value (even though it’s from within) and live for it. Perhaps even die for it. With rebellion, it’s a shift from descriptive to normative; before there’s ethics, there’s rebellion. Before there’s politics, there’s rebellion. Before there’s value, there’s rebellion. The rebel finds something to value in order for that thing to be valuable. From this, before there’s metaphysics, there’s rebellion. Is it possible to find values in a meaningless world? That’s what the rebel wants to find out. That’s why in The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus starts with the essay that there’s only one true philosophical problem, and that is suicide. With these values, the rebel takes on these values so deep and ingrained that he believes that these values are now more important than his own individuality. Thus, he’ll fight for these values because he considers these values more important than himself. Ahh, but there’s one thing you must accept: there’s no human nature. If there was a human nature, you couldn’t rebel. As Camus puts it: “Analysis of rebellion leads at least to the suspicion that, contrary to the postulates of contemporary thought, a human nature does exist, as the Greeks believed. Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in oneself worth preserving?” (p. 16)
We come together through rebellion. Camus states: “In order to exist, man must rebel” and “I rebel–therefore we exist” (p. 22). This isn’t resentment. Resentment is slow. Rebellions are quick and surprising. The resenter resents himself. The rebel imposes his ideas onto others. With this, rebellions far surpass resentments. The rebel makes people aware of their freedom. Sartre was wrong. Being aware of your freedom doesn’t make you free; the rebel makes you aware that you’re free.