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The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (1951)

by Albert Camus

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,133262,838 (3.98)52
By one of the most profoundly influential thinkers of our century, The Rebel is a classic essay on revolution. For Albert Camus, the urge to revolt is one of the "essential dimensions" of human nature, manifested in man's timeless Promethean struggle against the conditions of his existence, as well as the popular uprisings against established orders throughout history. And yet, with an eye toward the French Revolution and its regicides and deicides, he shows how inevitably the course of revolution leads to tyranny. As old regimes throughout the world collapse, The Rebel resonates as an ardent, eloquent, and supremely rational voice of conscience for our tumultuous times. Translated from the French by Anthony Bower.… (more)
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English (19)  French (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Extraordinary book, as one might imagine from this Nobel Prize winner. It also seems quite appropriate for the present time in Amurrica. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
Not an easy read for one used to novels and histories. But very informative and compelling. ( )
  charlie68 | May 11, 2022 |
This “essay” (307 pages in English translation) is an extended analysis of the contradictory positive and negative elements of rebellion and how the negative elements can lead to the excesses of revolution. Rising up against slavery, oppression, injustice and other forms of domination is a positive. However, rebellion also has a potential negative side — the rejection of all restraints on liberty, the nihilist conclusion that everything is permitted and the political principle that the ends justify the means, including killing people to achieve a future ideal society. The book is relatively long because Albert Camus looks at these questions in a broad range of contexts: “metaphysical rebellion” against the human condition including the revolt against God who permits suffering (Prometheus, Cain and Abel, Epicurus and Lucretius, DeSade, Rimbaud, Lautreamont, Nietzsche, the Surrealists), “historical rebellion” consisting of political and social revolution against oppression (the French Revolution in particular Robespierre and Saint Just, the Russian terrorists of the 19th century, Hegel and Marx, and Russian communism), and art (Dostoyevsky). It is fascinating the way Camus tracks his theme among these various thinkers and movements and draws out the differences and similarities among them.

The fundamental question Camus poses in the essay is whether premeditated murder to achieve a political goal can be justified. The analysis starts with the concept of the absurd which Camus developed in the Myth of Sisyphus. Just as he concluded in the earlier work that suicide was not justified, in this work he rejects a logic of murder. However, he is not willing to deny the positive aspects of revolt because that would amount to acceptance of the status quo with all its injustices. At the same time, he cannot accept the historical logic that leads to revolution ending in a police state. His solution is to assert that there are values outside of history that counter nihilism or a historical logic that worships only the efficacy of results. These values are reflected and arise in the individual’s act of rebellion and include solidarity, equality, freedom of speech, and civil and natural rights. They provide a basis for rules of political action that limit excesses in the exercise of liberty and the establishment of justice. The rebel calls for moderation, not extremism. Violence may be required to respond to violence but should not be employed in an ultimately vain effort to establish a future ideal society. Camus argues that both the end must justify the means and the means must justify the end. The present must not be sacrificed to the future.

Camus contrasts a Mediterranean mentality, going back to the Greeks, based on a love of life and nature against the German ideology exemplified by Hegel and Marx who subject nature and life to history. The German ideology inherits the traditional Christian opposition to nature but has deified history to replace the absent God.

Camus’s views were controversial in his day when many in France still supported communism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere and revolts against colonialism (such as in Algeria) called into question the adequacy of a rebellion of moderation. Today little is left of the tradition to use violence to bring about a future ideal society. However, in the face of authoritarianism, inequality, racism and other ills, Camus’s rebel still has many reasons to rise up against injustice. ( )
1 vote drsabs | Apr 10, 2021 |
Albert Camus is known mostly for his novels which investigate human existence – that is, existentialism as a philosophy. His characters question whether there is meaning in human life or not at all (nihilism). This work, however, is not a work of fiction but of non-fiction. In it, Camus expounds on the nature of human rebellion against the present state of affairs – that is, against the meaninglessness of life. He examines this rebellious act historically and spiritually, from Christianity and the French Revolution all the way up to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Writing after Europe twice almost killed itself in horrific wars, Camus tries to explain how such an “enlightened” continent could almost implode in what was supposed to be a glorious twentieth century. He writes how rebellion, however well-intentioned, can often go awry and turn into nihilism. He writes about how too often, rebels are misguided in their attempts to find the “end” of history (a la Hegel). In its place, he suggests work and human unity ought to occur. This last point, he does vaguely and without specifics – a weakness of his viewpoint.

Camus’ examination is very European. (In fact, a deep understanding of European history and literature is almost prerequisite for reading this work.) It is likewise very philosophical. I could only digest in it 20-30 page segments without being too inundated with too many thoughts to process. Unlike his novels (of which I am a huge fan), this pure philosophy lacks the ploys of plot and intrigue to push the reader forward. I doubt that the general reader can access this work.

Camus’ views helped shape the post-World-War-II consensus in Western Europe of socialist democracies. For that reason, he deserves to be reckoned with. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and his writings are still standard fare in university coursework. I find his worldview very relevant to twenty-first century life. Fans of philosophy and existentialism will appreciate this work as well as fans of European history. Students of political history might also benefit from this work. Those turned off by the “otherness” of such pursuits (which incorporates much of the American reading public) might choose to read his novels instead. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 16, 2021 |
I enjoyed this translation of Camus's The Rebel and recommend it without reservation.

I find the basic premise fascinating, that the act of rebellion when a person says “this far and no further” is an act of creation. That is, in rejecting tyranny a person asserts and makes real a value that was previously only a concept.

This seems greatly relevant to our times, when so many people who have suffered in silence for so many years are finally finding the courage and means to rebel – to say “enough!” to the Weinstein’s of the world, and “no further!” to the merchants of hate.

And Camus is so quotable on this subject that it is a shame his works do not have a larger voice in society. “To create, today, is to create dangerously.” Magnificent!

This is not to say that I agree with all of his text; but it was fascinating to explore his ideas.
( )
  G-Morrison | Nov 18, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Camusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bower, AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meijers, J.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Read, HerbertForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Todd, OlivierAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woudt, MartineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.
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By one of the most profoundly influential thinkers of our century, The Rebel is a classic essay on revolution. For Albert Camus, the urge to revolt is one of the "essential dimensions" of human nature, manifested in man's timeless Promethean struggle against the conditions of his existence, as well as the popular uprisings against established orders throughout history. And yet, with an eye toward the French Revolution and its regicides and deicides, he shows how inevitably the course of revolution leads to tyranny. As old regimes throughout the world collapse, The Rebel resonates as an ardent, eloquent, and supremely rational voice of conscience for our tumultuous times. Translated from the French by Anthony Bower.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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