August 18, 2023


Camus and the Crisis of the West: The Rebel considers what happens when human beings are unwilling to live within the limits placed on them by the cosmos.  (Graham Mcaleer, 8/18/23, Law & Liberty)

Camus declares "1789 is the starting-point of modern times" because it is the French Revolution that put into practical shape a torrent of ideas that, finding fault with God's management of the cosmos, demanded "a limitless metaphysical crusade." God had to be replaced and the hunt was on for unity. Practically, this crusade hits high gear in the schemes and crimes of twentieth-century totalitarianism but theoretically all the main goals and failings of rebellion were already sketched in the fantasies of de Sade: "These consequences [of rebellion] are a complete totalitarianism, universal crime, an aristocracy of cynicism, and the desire for an apocalypse." 

To tell his story of modernity, Camus sets the scene with the 6,000 crucifixions of slaves that crushed the rebellion of Spartacus against Rome. A few years after this suppression, he speculates that God chose crucifixion for the execution of Jesus as an act of solidarity, to show that the world was not ultimately divided into slaves and masters, the humiliated and the powerful. God's humiliation on the Cross affirmed the unity of all, the unity of heaven and earth. Little wonder then, Camus contends, that when revolutionaries set out on their angry crusade to separate man from a hapless heaven, they chopped off the head of a divinely installed king. Mordantly, Camus observes that crucifixion demonstrated power in ancient times, in our revolutionary age it will be the scaffold.

Seventeenth-century political theorist and court preacher, Jacques-BĂ©nigne Bossuet had told the French kings: "You are Gods." Grace is discretionary--some receive the grace to be saints, others don't--but Enlightenment thinkers hearkened to the original Christian proposal of equal justice for all. Premised on grace, the French monarchy could only be arbitrary, no matter that it often stepped in to restrain the abuse of the poor by the aristocracy and urban bourgeoisie. The dispute was philosophical, Saint-Just, the "youthful prosecutor" at Louis XVI's trial, declared: "To determine the principle in virtue of which the accused is perhaps to die, is to determine the principle by which the society that judges him lives." 

Rousseau had supplied the principle. "The will of the people is primarily the expression of universal reason, which is categorical. The new God is born." [...]

To complete the revolution, the task was now to truly bring God back down to earth, to make history king. Hegel thus makes reason "an irresistible urge to movement" and in the person of Napoleon, he thought he saw reason become energy. God no longer bestowed sovereignty, natural law was supplanted by the Code Napoleon, and the complete self-made man had arrived. Hegel famously declared the real is rational and the rational is real, but the upshot, Camus points out, is "the conqueror is always right." Reason identified with the propulsive, action "must be performed in darkness while awaiting the final illumination." Till then, there are no rules. Living for the future means we are now rudderless, "precipitated into a world without innocence and without principles." This comes with the consequence that every exercise of power is an experiment, and so Hegel "justifies every ideological encroachment upon reality." The stage is set for the transformative technological totalitarianism of the twentieth century. 

Hegel, argues Camus, is the most ambiguous of all philosophers because his catchy phrase "the real is rational and the rational is real" offers two possible emphases. Politically, you can focus on brute reality (the irrationalism of the Nazis) or unrestrained reason (the Five Year Plans dear to the Soviets). Communism, Camus sardonically says, "aims at liberating all men by provisionally enslaving them all. It must be granted the grandeur of its intentions." Lenin put no faith in populism. Revolution was a strategic, rational affair. "He denies the spontaneity of the masses. Socialist doctrine supposes a scientific basis that only the intellectuals can give it." Here, Enlightenment reason bent on liberating all from God becomes the secret maneuverings of state officers corralling all. Revolution above all must be efficacious, and so Lenin recommends "to use if necessary every stratagem, ruse, illegal method, to be determined to conceal the truth." Political cynicism is the twin of moral nihilism. Truth is a casualty of revolution, and so is freedom. Stalin will make ample use of political trials: "Marxism in one of its aspects is a doctrine of culpability on man's part and innocence on history's." 

The Anglospheric difference was our rejection of Reason, in favor of faith. The rest followed these choices.

Posted by at August 18, 2023 8:34 AM