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The Rebel (book)

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The Rebel (French title: L'Homme révolté) is a 1951 book-length essay by Albert Camus, which treats both the metaphysical and the historical development of rebellion and revolution in societies, especially Western Europe. Camus relates writers and artists as diverse as Epicurus and Lucretius, the Marquis de Sade, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, and André Breton in an integrated, historical portrait of man in revolt. Examining both rebellion and revolt, which may be seen as the same phenomenon in personal and social frames, Camus examines several 'countercultural' figures and movements from the history of western thought and art, noting the importance of each in the overall development of revolutionary thought and philosophy.


One of Camus' primary arguments in The Rebel concerns the motivation for rebellion and revolution. While the two acts - which can be interpreted from Camus' writing as states of being - are radically different in most respects, they both stem from a basic human rejection of normative justice. If human beings become disenchanted with contemporary applications of justice, Camus suggests that they rebel. This rebellion, then, is the product of a basic contradiction between the human mind's unceasing quest for clarification and the fundamentally meaningless nature of the world. Qualified by Camus as absurd, this contradiction must be undertaken with what Camus terms "lucidity." Only a person conscious of the world's patent absurdity can successfully rebel, Camus suggests, for any attempt at rebellion without consciousness presumes that success is possible. This lack of hope, a sense of futility, represents a common thread in Camus' work. The true rebel, he posits, understands the incalculable strength of the contradiction but nevertheless elects to rebel. Because this rebellion is entered into without hope or any realistic belief of success, the rebel serves as a substantive example of basic human goodness and kindness. Rebellion against the absurd is arguably Camus' idea of the loftiest human trajectory.

Another prominent theme in The Rebel, which is tied to the notion of incipient rebellion, is the inevitable failure of attempts at human perfection. Through an examination of various titular revolutions, and in particular the French Revolution, Camus argues that Revolution is a fundamental denial of both history and transcendental values. Unlike rebels, revolutionaries tend to kill God - in the French Revolution, for instance, this was achieved through the execution of Louis XVI and subsequent eradication of the Divine Right of Kings. The result, Camus suggests, of the denial of divinity is the rise of Utopian and materialist idealism which, to Camus, is synonymous with the end of history. Because he believes this end to be unattainable, terror ensues as the revolutionaries attempt to coerce results. This culminates in the absurd notion of temporarily enslaving a people in the name of their future liberation - a contradiction in terms considering that revolution, to Camus, denies the future and is grounded solely in history. Notably, Camus' reliance on non-secular sentiment does not involve a defence of religion; indeed, the replacement through revolution of divinely-justified morality with pragmatism simply represents Camus' apotheosis of transcendental, moral values.

Faced with the manifest injustices of human existence on one hand, and the poor substitute of revolution on the other, Camus' rebel seeks to fight for justice without abandoning transcendental values. This theme parallels that of the Absurd in that certain values or ideas cannot be legitimately denied: in the case of the rebel, the principle of the intrinsic value of human life must be maintained. Consequently, rebels attempt to justify their actions through a crude form of payment. As Camus argues, the Russian terrorists active in the early 20th Century were prepared to offer their own lives as payment for the lives they took. By this action, the rebels affirmed the fundamental principle present in, arguably all of Camus' works: the inherent value of life. Simply put, the rebel dies for the future, while his titular contemporaries kill for the past. This argument is perhaps the best practical illustration of the Absurd in Camus' writing.

A third is that of crime, as Camus discusses its role in the rebellious nature, as well as defenses of crime that have been presented by such natures through various historical epochs. At the end of this book Camus exposes the possible moral superiority of the ethics and political plan of trade unionism.


The original title of the work in French is "L'Homme révolté." While English translations typically use the title The Rebel, it is possible that the title, once translated, forms an elaborate pun. Quite simply, the title can also be translated as "The Revolted Man." In this sense, the title is itself a means of justifying the rebellion against the Absurd which forms the essay's central theme.

Partial list of persons, ideologies, and movements discussed in The Rebel

See also

Template:Camusceb:L’Homme révoltépt:L'homme révolté ru:Бунтующий человек

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