Saturday, May 11, 2013

Just Think

Susan Suleiman:

Some of the most memorable pages here restate an argument Camus had already developed at length in “The Rebel”: not all means are acceptable, even when employed for noble ends; terrorism and torture destroy the very goals they are supposed to serve. This position was criticized as “idealist” (it was the reason for the famous break with Sartre), but Camus sticks to it — admirably, in my opinion: “Although it is historically true that values such as the nation and humanity cannot survive unless one fights for them, fighting alone cannot justify them (nor can force). The fight must itself be justified, and explained, in terms of values.”

Even more eloquent, perhaps, are his remarks on the responsibility of intellectuals in times of hatred: “It is to explain the meaning of words in such a way as to sober minds and calm fanaticisms.” Great writer that he was, Camus placed hope in the calming power of language carefully used, and of reason; in the preface, he asks his readers to “set their ideological reflexes aside for a moment and just think.”

"Times of hatred" strikes me as an odd designation. Are there ever times when people aren't hating each other? Anyway, yes, The Rebel is probably my favorite of his books; I remember being puzzled after reading it and learning that intellectual opinion of the time had it that Sartre got the better of their argument with his criticism of the book. Hindsight, I presume, has rectified this and elevated Camus above the overrated, wall-eyed, Stalinist toad-man.

Funny enough, even though I loved philosophy class, the subjects who most impressed me, like Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard (whose recent bicentennial has inspired a few good posts), were idiosyncratic philosophers at best, if not better described more generally as writers.