Perhaps the most difficult challenge for Camus came from those who saw the anti-colonial struggle as some kind of continuation of la Résistance, the French Resistance movement during the German occupation. Personally active in the Resistance, at the end of the war Camus praised those French people who, with weapons in hand, rose up against the oppressor: “A people that wants to live does not wait to be given its freedom. It takes it.” The Algerian nationalists could have made these words theirs, but Camus consistently refused to equate Algerian nationalism with the patriotism of the French Resistance. For him there was no such thing as an “Algerian people”. He speaks consistently of “Arabs”, not “Algerians”. He therefore sees the nationalists’ demands for independence from France as an expression of political naivety, where they weren’t actually being manipulated by outside forces. In one of his last pieces on the war, Camus warns of the “new Arab imperialism” he feels is emerging and which he claims has its roots in Nasser and the Soviet Union. The FLN, says Camus, thus runs errands for other powers and is consequently associated with a violence that “no revolutionary movement has ever accepted”, not least the French Resistance. Unlike his former friends on the radical Left, Camus has little faith in historical reason, revolutionary violence or the communist revolution: for him, not even Marx can offer people a way out of their eternal exile.My thanks for the link go, as they so often do, to Robin Varghese at 3 Quarks Daily.
Readers of this blog know that Albert Camus is one of my moral and intellectual heroes. That’s why I’m recommending a powerful and illuminating essay by Michael Azar, written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Camus’s death. Azar views Camus and his work through the lens of France’s eight-year war against Algerian nationalists—a war that placed Camus in a difficult but principled position: