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The Rebel (V-30) by Albert Camus

The Rebel (V-30) (original 1951; edition 1956)

by Albert Camus (Author)

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3,229192,647 (3.99)47
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)
Title:The Rebel (V-30)
Authors:Albert Camus (Author)
Info:Vintage (1956), Edition: 20th EDITIION, 306 pages
Collections:Your library, Books
Tags:Books, Nonfiction, French Writer, French literature, Albert Camus, Philosophy, Existentialism

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



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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, Marquis de Sade, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Stirner, André Breton, and others 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. The work has received ongoing interest decades on after its writing, influencing modern philosophers and authors such as Paul Berman and others.
1 vote PhantomStreetArtist | Sep 30, 2018 |
The Rebel is one of Camus' longer and less accessible works. It deals with the idea of the "Rebel" – the man who says "no", who starts to think for himself and refuses to be complicit in the current (political) system and state of things to which he is subject. This can lead to Rebellion, which is the movement of men, of Rebels, to free themselves from their chains – whether physical, metaphorical, or metaphysical.
What we have here is an historical and philosophical treatment of the concept of the Rebel and of Rebellion. The history focuses primarily on the Russian and French rebellions and revolutionary movements, and assumes some knowlege of these. We learn that man has rebelled against different things – against God (Nietzsche, Voltaire), against the King (in France and Russia), and against bourgeois conventions. Camus discusses the philosophical motivations and problems of rebellion, including Nihilism (to which he was strongly opposed) and the challenge of creating something new out of the disorder and destruction that can be left behind. We also see the moral challenges that come with the violence implicit in rebellion, and the different ethical systems through which Rebels justify their actions. This is the main theme of Camus' play Les Justes, and though he does not discuss the play here, it provides a useful illustration to some of the themes here.
While there is much of worth here in this volume in terms of insight and scholarship, it is much wordier and carries less immediate impact than many of Camus' shorter essays and stories. That this is more of a comprehensive and in-depth work than we would normally expect from this author is not a criticism than can be levelled against this book fairly in its own terms though, but it explains why it is one of his less popular works.
However this is still a worthwhile read for the fan of Camus's Existentialism, or those who are particularly interested in topic of Rebellion, or in understanding Camus' life of which the idea of Revolt played a major part. There is a lot of stimulating thought here, but it would probably be off-putting to a lot of readers as an introduction to Camus. ( )
1 vote P_S_Patrick | Mar 5, 2018 |
I hated the Stranger, but found the Rebel rather easier to engage with. Perhaps it was the lack of faux-narrative. Perhaps I'm just older and wiser. There are sections here that read more like Wilde than philosophy--more focused on writing cute witticisms than exposing the truth of the world--but it's nevertheless an interesting collection of thoughts. I've found it useful in explaining how non-theists can have a sense of morality, a concept that is strangely difficult for many people of my acquaintance to accept. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
This is not a book for the casual reader. It is a collection of essays that Camus worked up for publication in 1951. He arranged them into five sections and his aim was to make them into a definitive statements on his thinking on Europe as it emerged from yet another catastrophic world war. At times I found them difficult to follow, but then a purple passage would emerge which, made earlier struggles with the text absolutely worthwhile.

The oft quoted first couple of sentences plunges the reader straight in to Camus' world:

"What is a rebel? A man who says no: but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he begins to think for himself.

The short first section defines what Camus means by an act of rebellion and goes on to examine what value judgements need to be present. It leads into a longer second section titled "Metaphysical Rebellion" and it is here that Camus talks about "a man protesting about his condition and against the whole of creation" He says it is metaphysical because it disputes the ends of man and of creation. Remembering how Camus had defined his idea of an absurd world in the [Myth of Sisyphus] and his thoughts on Nihilism then this series of essays examines in what sort of state Nihilism has left modern European man. (circa 1950's). He looks at the world through the eyes and thoughts of the Marquis de Sade and Nietzsche attempting to show how they as intellectual rebels have challenged the prevailing thoughts, but have ended up in the trough of Nihilism. There are some difficult ideas to grasp here and Philip Thody in his book [Albert Camus: A study of his work] sums it up well:

It's real appeal is to the intellectual already acquainted with the thinkers it discusses and aware of the problems involved. Too frequently, the ordinary English reader feels like a stranger in the midst of a complicated family quarrel.

When reading The Rebel Camus position on the intellectual left should always be born in mind. He had experienced the German occupation in Paris, he had been an active member of The Resistance and an editor of the semi-clandestine paper Combat. His first novel [L'etranger] had garnered excellent reviews especially from left wing critics, however after the war Camus was moving closer to the political centre. He had already fallen out with Sartre and the French communists and so while he was extremely critical of German thinkers he also chose to be less than complimentary to some of the idols of the left wing. The long third section titled Historical Rebellion takes up over half of the book and examines the French and Russian revolutions as well as the rise of the Nazis. I was on surer ground here and found it easier to follow Camus, as in places he writes an almost revisionist history; this is especially true of the French Revolution where the left wing hero Saint-Just is cut down to size. Camus does at times appear like a schoolmaster lecturing the misguided left on the causes and outcomes of the Russian Revolution and it is no wonder he upset Sartre. I found some of his writing here particularly inspiring.

Camus point in rewriting the history of the revolutions of the past is to demonstrate that any revolt that does not recognise that it should transcend nihilism and establish limits of some kind is doomed to justify murder, terror and dictatorship. Revolutions are usually unsuccessful because they do not allow further rebellion. One repressive regime is followed by another equally repressive; or worse. Camus was passionate about the sanctity of human life and was horrified that Karl Marx political theories had been taken up by the left, whose slogan seemed to run along the lines of "the end justified the means" in a direct challenge to the Stalin regime he says:

What does it matter that this (the ideal of the Eternal City) should be accomplished by dictatorship and violence? in the New Jerusalem, echoing with the roar of miraculous machinery, who will still remember the cries of the victims?

In a short fourth section Camus looks at Rebellion and Art and writes about the novel's function of taking the reader into reality and beyond and leading him to a destiny of sorts. The novel can allow us to see the bigger picture. He digresses a little into themes of love and death and his writing on these again hits a purple patch.

The final section is titled "Thought at the Meridian" and is an attempt to provide a summary of his position, There is an essay on moderation and excess, where Camus again tries to come to terms with issues thrown up by rebellion. Revolutions must take cognizance of individuals, they must have limits they must have values, they have no right to commit murder. His final essay "Beyond Nihilism" takes him on a flight of fancy which is at times difficult to follow.

So apart from Philip Thody's more obvious reasons for finding this book a difficult read, I think there are other issues here. Camus challenges past philosophers ideas, but he does so on his own terms. He always claimed not to be a philosopher and he was right to say this because he rarely pauses to define his terms, he leaps from one thought to another and it is not always clear how he makes the jumps. I also get the feeling that he loved a well turned sentence more than the thought within it and he cannot resist an aphorism especially where it includes a play on words. His penchant for short punchy sentences is also not conducive when explaining complicated ideas.

So lets have some of these aphorisms, which alone are a good reason to read Camus:

"The blasphemy is reverent, since every blasphemy is, ultimately, a participation in holiness"

"Nihilism is not only despair and negation, but above all the desire to despair and to negate

"It can be said of Marx that the greater part of his predictions came into conflict withy facts as soon as his prophecies began to become an object of increasing faith"

"The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves"

Some great things in this book (I loved his critique of Capitalism) but overall a mixed bag. If you are willing to cruise through some fairly opaque passages there are rewards enough. I would rate this as 3.5 stars. ( )
7 vote baswood | Sep 9, 2013 |
The Rebel by Albert Camus is not only a work which addresses The Rebel as universal idea but also details historical "rebels" which in some cases, the reigning version of history has forgotten. Individuals like Ivan Kalyayev, who Camus brings up in his essay, and later uses as a character in his play The Just Assassins, I had never heard of. While I was taking world history and even a Russian history class in high school, the important parts of Russian history were generally thought of as the reign of the Tsars clashing with the advent of the Soviet Union, with Lenin being portrayed as "idealistic" and "outdated" and Stalin being portrayed a murderer. What mainstream history always focuses on is The Revolution, whether it be the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution(s), or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as much of a sham as the latter was. Mainstream history, especially in middle and high school never focuses on the idea of The Rebel, the section of mankind who says "We rebel therefore we exist," and adds "And we are alone." Perhaps this seems nihilistic to the timid reader, but what Camus is essentially fighting in this essay is nihilism itself. It is only through a stark encounter with the death of the human spirit (whether it be through totalitarian, capitalist, or bureaucratic means) that mankind realizes that he must fight to retain that very spirit even in the face of his own physical death. Though adults often have trouble reading what is arguably Camus' most difficult work, I, personally, would love to distribute sections of this rather lengthy essay to high school Seniors in an AP English class in order to inspire them to "live through their work," not necessarily to preserve their legacy after death but to prove to themselves that they are currently using the full potential of their human spirit. The Rebel as an inspirational tool could be used in exercises such as writing short plays, poems, and essays, as well as drafts for novellas. I believe that the narcissism of today's youth can be utilized as an energy source for creativity; to transfer the ego of petty crime to the ego of art crime is a constructive way of saving kids and building the libraries of the future. ( )
1 vote dhut0042 | Apr 25, 2013 |
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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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141182016, 0141036621

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