The Rebel (book) - Themes


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 apparently meaningless nature of the world. Described by Camus as "absurd", this latter perception must be examined with what Camus terms "lucidity." Camus concludes that the absurd sensibility contradicts itself because when it claims to believe in nothing, it believes in its own protest and the value of the protester's life. Therefore, this sensibility is logically a "point of departure" that irresistibly "exceeds itself." In the inborn impulse to rebel, on the other hand, we can deduce values that enable us to determine that murder and oppression are illegitimate and conclude with "hope for a new creation."

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 most revolution has involved a fundamental denial of both history and transcendental values. Such revolutionaries aimed 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 subsequent rise of Utopian and materialist idealism sought "the end of history." Because this end is unattainable, according to Camus, terror ensued as the revolutionaries attempted to coerce results. This culminated in the "temporary" enslaving of people in the name of their future liberation. Notably, Camus' reliance on non-secular sentiment does not involve a defence of religion; indeed, the replacement 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, including the principle of the intrinsic value of human life. Consequently, some 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.

A third is that of crime, as Camus discusses how rebels who get carried away lose touch with the original basis of their rebellion and offer various defenses of crime through various historical epochs.

At the end of this book Camus exposes the possible moral superiority of the ethics and political plan of syndicalism.

Works by Albert Camus
  • The Stranger
  • The Plague
  • The Fall
  • A Happy Death
  • The First Man
Short stories
  • Exile and the Kingdom
    • "The Adulterous Woman"
    • "The Renegade"
    • "The Silent Men"
    • "The Guest"
    • "The Artist at Work"
    • "The Growing Stone"
  • Caligula
  • The Misunderstanding
  • The State of Siege
  • The Just Assassins
  • The Possessed
  • The Myth of Sisyphus
  • The Rebel
  • "Reflections on the Guillotine"
  • Resistance, Rebellion, and Death
  • Betwixt and Between
  • Neither Victims Nor Executioners
  • Notebooks 1935–1942
  • Notebooks 1943–1951
  • Nuptials

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