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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10978/man-alone-is-an-end-unto-himself/

“Man alone is an end unto himself.”

November 5, 2009 by

Albert Camus

Albert Camus (1913–1960)

November 7 marks the 1913 birth of Albert Camus, 1957 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for work that “illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Those times were ones where the specter of tyranny loomed large during World War II and its aftermath, until his accidental death in 1960.

While best known as an existentialist and absurdist, his Nobel lecture highlighted why his insights are valuable to those devoted to liberty. Camus said the writer “cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it.” On their behalf, “the two tasks that constitute the greatness of [the writer's] craft [are]the service of truth and the service of liberty…rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.” To commemorate his birthday this Saturday, his defense of liberty against tyranny merits remembering.


“In the twentieth century power wears the mask of tragedy.”

“The tyrannies of today…no longer admit of silence or neutrality. One has to take a stand, be either for or against…I am against.”

“The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.”

“By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”

“Totalitarian tyranny is no based on the virtues of the totalitarians. It is based on the mistakes of the liberals.”

The principles which men give to themselves end by overwhelming their noblest intentions.”

“The welfare of the people…has always been the alibi of tyrants…giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.”

“[P]olitical utopias justified in advance any enterprises whatever.”

“All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State.”

“Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty.”

“The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the state. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action.”

“I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

“Freedom is not a gift received from the State or leader, but a possession to be won every day…”

“Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne…It’s a long distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting.”

“Freedom is nothing else but a chance to get better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse.”

“Liberty ultimately seems to me, for societies and for individuals… the supreme good that governs all others.”

“Instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are.”

“The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom … “

“The current motto for all of us can only be this: without giving up anything on the plane of justice, yield nothing on the plane of freedom.”

“More and more, when faced with the world of men, the only reaction is one of individualism. Man alone is an end unto himself. Everything one tries to do for the common good ends in failure.”

Albert Camus wrote when “the barricades of freedom have once more been thrown up. Once more justice must be bought with the blood of men.” The crucial importance of defending liberty against tyranny was clear then. But unfortunately, many have forgotten that essential recognition, despite the web of softer tyrannies that increasingly surround us. That keeps Camus’ insights, particularly that liberty is “the supreme good that governs all others,” both valuable and powerful today, a half century after he wrote.

{ 32 comments }

Tobbog November 5, 2009 at 7:14 am

Camus was a member of the French Communist Party, by the way.

Luis Ramirez November 5, 2009 at 7:52 am

I remember reading Camus´ Myth of Sisyphus, while taking a humanities course at my University. He was certainly a man of his times and thought like one. Even though he was hardly a liberal thinker (a pole opposite to Ayn Rand, for example), he did reach a similiar conclusion that many liberal thinkers reached, which is the need for each individual to live his own life and to abide by rules that arise through his own experience. He was obviously not a rationalist or did he believe in an objective reality, nontheless he did believe in life and man´s constant struggle in it.

fundamentalist November 5, 2009 at 7:52 am

That’s what I thought. Maybe he defined freedom as socialists do.

Jesper Brodersen November 5, 2009 at 8:16 am

I know that it can be hard for some to understand, but there is a difference between socialism and communism, especially how these act(ed) in Europe. Socialists are believes of big government and essential anti-human (all what is happening these days around the world). Communists on the other hand where idealists who believed in a world without government (though they haven’t found a way without capitalism, which they hated them self for).

I know it sounds like Karl Marx textbook examples, but from the people I have met, this was how I perceived them (not many communists in Denmark any longer, the last one I met was a economy teacher at high school/university, and he was the one that got me interested in economics in the first place).

Art Thomas November 5, 2009 at 8:49 am

He was also expelled from the Communist Party in 1937 and associated with the French anarchist movement supporting various workers uprisings in Europe during the ’50′s including the Hungarian Revolution. This according to Albert Camus entry at Wikipedia.

On the surface communism, socialism and variants are attractive to many young people who are still naive about the world of politics and are hopeful that freedom and brotherhood can flourish and that “The Man” who impedes this can be overthrown. (Just a thought gleaned from my own experiences.)

Mill Town November 5, 2009 at 8:56 am

Albert Camus liberated me from the claws of christianity and opened me to the world of Atheism.

Albert Camus’s writings enabled me to kill Jesus, to kill God and to kill the Holy Ghost, those three tyrants that were destroying my life.

After reading “La Peste” in my french litterature class, I felt like I was born again and ready to live my life to the fullest and send God back to hell where he belongs.

I am now a free thinking atheist and I am fully in charge of my life and I no longer fear God.

Life is much more fun and fulfulling when you are allowed to believe in yourself instead of being forced to believe in God.

Mill Town November 5, 2009 at 9:01 am

“”Totalitarian tyranny is no based on the virtues of the totalitarians. It is based on the mistakes of the liberals.”"

Those are not “mistakes” they are CRIMES !

Liberals willfully and knowingly extort wealth and obedience from the masses, those are not mistakes, those are CRIMES !

Liberals are CRIMINALS !

A mistake is when you don’t know what you are doing and when you don’t intend to harm.

Liberals know what they are doing and they intend to harm. Liberals are not innocent, they are guilty criminals !

When you plan, premeditate and enact a crime, this cannot be qualified as a mere “mistake”, it’s a CRIME !

Mill Town November 5, 2009 at 9:11 am

Tobbog

“Camus was a member of the French Communist Party, by the way.”

That’s a paradox, how can you be for freedom all the while being a member of a communist party.

It would be like being an Atheist pope or a peaceful feminist Muslim.

So I guess that Albert Camus is full of it like the rest. At least he deserves my grattitude for helping me getting rid of Jesus.

Jesper,

“Communists on the other hand where idealists who believed in a world without government”

Go tell that to Stalin or Mao or Kim Jong Il. Communism has produced the biggest and most murderous governments in the world.

Communism is statism on steroids, it’s even worse than nazism.

Mill Town November 5, 2009 at 9:14 am

Jesper,

“Communists on the other hand where idealists who believed in a world without government”

Given that communists killed 100 MILLION people in the 20th century and that they are still killing tens of thousands of people every year in China and North Korea, I suppose they also believe in a world without humans, just like the eco-terrorists who would want to kill everybody except themselves and their relatives to save the world.

Nick E November 5, 2009 at 11:19 am

As I recall, Camus broke from the Communists and wrote a very long series of essays (“The Rebel”) criticizing Marxism.

Cosmin November 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

Let’s grow up and move on from the “communist as boogeyman” caricatures, shall we?
I’m sure that communists killed many people, but not all those who died under communism were killed by it. Otherwise, they can reverse your argument and say all those who died or were maimed in factories were killed by capitalism.
Also, not all those who believed in communism were murderers. Communism is a flawed ideology because of its internal contradictions. Wanting a good life for everyone isn’t a detestable goal. Looking to government to make that happen is wrong because it is anti-productive, in addition to being immoral.
Furthermore, when railing against communism in places like Tibet, for example, and accusing it of killing people, make sure that it didn’t replace something that was killing more people, with a more oppressive government structure. A net gain in lives is a step forward, is it not?

Michael A. Clem November 5, 2009 at 11:47 am

Speaking of existential absurdism, I’m reminded of an Ayn Rand quote that’s been very helpful to me:
In real life, only a process of choosing a goal, then taking the steps to achieve it can give logical continuity, coherence and meaning to a man’s actions
And another similar quote:
Only men striving to achieve a purpose can move through a meaningful series of events.
To me, this says that meaning in life is a choice of the individual. Existentalists/absurdists are people who have chosen to not choose meaningful purpose in their lives. The way to escape the existentialist/absurdist view is simply to choose a goal and attempt to achieve it.

Tobbog November 5, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Cosmin,
“I’m sure that communists killed many people, but not all those who died under communism were killed by it. Otherwise, they can reverse your argument and say all those who died or were maimed in factories were killed by capitalism.”
I wouldn’t say that an American citizen who died while working was killed by Capitalism. But, yes, a Chinese or a Cambodian who got killed by Mao’s or Pol’s insane agenday indeed is a victim of Communism.

“Also, not all those who believed in communism were murderers.”
No, most of them stood only at the sidewalks and cheered when evil land owners got dragged into Gulags.

Colin Patrick Barth November 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm

There seems to be a great deal of confusion between idealized anarcho-communism and applied state-communism. Semantically-detached arguments are pointless. There was never one “communism” or one “socialism” or one “liberalism.” The sooner we look into the history of the words with a more open mind, and try to understand what they mean to people instead of making assumptions, the sooner we will actually forge meaningful alliances among people with much in common but different ways of expressing it. Intended or experienced meaning is one thing, choice of words quite another, and only the stubborn literalist is unable to make a distinction.

Colin Patrick Barth November 5, 2009 at 3:02 pm

“Existentalists/absurdists are people who have chosen to not choose meaningful purpose in their lives. The way to escape the existentialist/absurdist view is simply to choose a goal and attempt to achieve it.”

Existentialism is not nihilism. This is a common misunderstanding. Assertion of purpose for oneself is essential to the signature existentialists (though the originals did not use the term). In fact, Nietzsche’s ultimate line of attack was against nihilism even more than anything else, for he believed it was THE most terrible threat to life.

Cosmin November 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I agree with Colin. To reject Camus or Bakunin because they identified themselves as communists while completely rejecting the fact that they were anarchists is absurd.
To them, communism didn’t mean Stalin creating famine artificially. Read this to enlarge your understanding:
http://www.panarchy.org/bakunin/authority.1871.html

On a different note, why wouldn’t you cheer when evil land owners get dragged to the Gulags? Just because they’re land owners, does that give them a licence to be evil and immunity from prosecution?

Tobbog November 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm

First of all, anarcho-communism seeks the abolition of markets, entrepreneurs, corporations, etc. Here we are again at miscalculation, poverty, and finally mass starvation.
Second, how do you think would these communists try to obtain their anarchist utopia? By emigrating to an uninhabitated island? By buying land? Hardly. They would have used just the same death camps, secret police forces and the like as their statist counterparts. I bet there is no anarcho-communist equivalent to the NAP.
Third, when I said “evil landowners” I didn’t mean that they were really evil but they were perceived as evil by communists because they were landowners. Besides, I wouldn’t ever cheer if someone got dragged into a Gulag…

And no, Anarcho-Communists are in no way comparable to Anarcho-Capitalists or Libertarians. Imagine that a bunch of Communists in a Libertarian society decided to open a peaceful communist utopia on their private ground. Nothing would happen to them.
And now imagine what would happen if anyone tried to engage in peaceful business negotiations or worshipped to his or her God, while living in an Anarcho-Communist utopia. I think it would just be the same as what those people did to clergymen and entrepreneurs in Spain, during civil war.

Bala November 5, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Mill Town,

” That’s a paradox, how can you be for freedom all the while being a member of a communist party. ”

IMO, all paradoxes are a contradiction between a conclusion obtained from a theory whose validity you are certain about and the objective, undeniable reality that exists and which you perceive. Thus, in all cases, it is the theory that turns out to be wrong and the reality remains what it is. People call it a paradox as long as the fail or refuse to dismiss the theory and evolve a new one consistent with observed reality.

In this case, it is probably because at the age when he was a member of the Communist Party, Camus’ understanding of Marxism may not have been the same as it was later in his life. Remember that those were the best years for Communism as a political ideology. His experience out there may have helped him realise the true nature of the beast.

newson November 5, 2009 at 9:26 pm

all politics aside, “the stranger” is a great work.

Colin Barth November 5, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Being as fair to Rothbard, we also can judge his entire life by opinions held and/or political alliances made at 19 or so (depending on the biography of Camus). This one on the other hand has no dates, but I think it’s illuminating:

“Uncle Acault had already introduced Camus to anarchist ideas and Jean Grenier would introduce revolutionary syndicalism and the idea of joining the Communist Party. Grenier believed that the most effective thing Camus could do with his socialist sympathies was to join with other intellectuals already working for the Party. Camus was never a Marxist and was against the ideas of Lenin and Stalin. However, it was true that to work with other socialist intellectuals it would have to be through the Algerian Communist Party. He would later be expelled from the Party for his postion of support for native Algerian nationalism. Native Algerians had little or no rights in Algeria at the time and were treated at best like second class citizens. At first, the communists were commited to the Algerian Nationalist cause but then back-peddled when Stalin realised he would need an ally in France if the Germans were to attack.”

Gil November 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm

How can Communists set up shop in an anarcho-Capitalist society? They buy the land but then who owns it? If they’re really true Communists (i.e. anarchists) no one can claim ownership of the land thus the land has been disowned or legally abandoned – ‘unhomesteaded’ thus there’s nothing to stop an anarcho-Capitalist posing as a Communist coming in and settling a piece of land thus homesteading it and then defending himself against the Communists who cry unfair.

Besides ‘anarchism’ is impossible because there hierarchies of some sort and ‘anarcho-Capitalists’ merely prefer private rule over public rule.

Core November 6, 2009 at 11:19 am

Interesting quotes.

Michael A. Clem November 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm

How can Communists set up shop in an anarcho-Capitalist society? They buy the land but then who owns it?
Um, why is it against communist beliefs for the whole group to own it? And how can it be considered abandoned if they’re busy using it?
Besides ‘anarchism’ is impossible because there hierarchies of some sort and ‘anarcho-Capitalists’ merely prefer private rule over public rule
You’re mixing your “ad-hominems”, Gil.

Luis Ramirez November 6, 2009 at 3:44 pm

@Bala

“IMO, all paradoxes are a contradiction between a conclusion obtained from a theory whose validity you are certain about and the objective, undeniable reality that exists and which you perceive. Thus, in all cases, it is the theory that turns out to be wrong and the reality remains what it is. People call it a paradox as long as the fail or refuse to dismiss the theory and evolve a new one consistent with observed reality.”

For discussions sake, the´re are actually two ways you can define “paradox”. One is the general, more utilized use of paradox as an arrived at result counterintuitive to the expected conclusions within the given premises. The more classical way of defining the term, is when you have more than one, rational alternative as solution to a given problem (the classic paradox under these terms would be Newcomb´s Paradox)

Luis Ramirez November 6, 2009 at 7:06 pm

@Gil

“Besides ‘anarchism’ is impossible because there hierarchies of some sort and ‘anarcho-Capitalists’ merely prefer private rule over public rule.”

Well, yes, if by “private” you mean voluntary arangements and if by “rule” you mean the adherence to and application of your natural rights through non-monopolistic means. You speak of hierarchies and your right that even in voluntary associations some sort of organization is necessary. This is true (look at business and non-profit organizations, for example). The difference is that they are voluntary, so if you don´t like the arrangements you can leave or opt for some other provider or arrangement. I´m not so convinced in the “opt-out” or emmigrate argument, though, since it´s not always so simple, therefore, not as convincing as it should be. But, at least you´re not forced to comply with things you don´t agree with. In theory. Like most anarcho-capitalist hypotheticals, it´s seems pretty difficult to objectively view how things could be in such an arrangement. I think that one of the main difficulties with this sort of hypothesizing is precisely what you define as anarchism. Is it simply lack of State rule? Is it confused with total chaos, a community without any semblance of order? Is the role of law simply to guarantee non-agression and private property (thinness) versus a more ample set of moral premises (thickness)?

Gil November 6, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Why not the “love it or leave it” argument, L. Ramirez? Everyone’s not going to be in a place of pleasant choices. Sometimes people are going to find themselves between a rock and a hard place where both choices are bad. Sometimes some people who are giving the two bad choices know they have leverage over the other person because they will the less bad choice over the worse choice. After all, exile has long been considered a punishment and not just a suggestion.

Luis Ramirez November 6, 2009 at 11:20 pm

@Gil

“Why not the “love it or leave it” argument, L. Ramirez? Everyone’s not going to be in a place of pleasant choices. Sometimes people are going to find themselves between a rock and a hard place where both choices are bad. Sometimes some people who are giving the two bad choices know they have leverage over the other person because they will the less bad choice over the worse choice. After all, exile has long been considered a punishment and not just a suggestion.”

Allow me, if I may, utilize the homesteading principal. Let´s I´ve near a river which I have used for my personal needs for all my life. Suddenly, a new neighbor moves upstream from where I have my property and starts polluting it…don´t I have a right to complain and try to change things back to a previous situation, more beneficial to me? Do I have a legitimate complaint? Of course. But, what if the situation were inverted and I´m the late arrival to an already polluted river. Would I have a right to complain…yes. Would I have a right to change things..possibly, if I reached an agreement with my polluting neighbor. Would I have a legitimate right to seek compensation…no. Why not? Because I moved into a preexisting situation, that I had a personal responsibility to have researched before I bought the property. Now, let´s apply the same format to the situation at hand. Let´s say I have a beautiful piece of property near some rolling, green hills. I cherish this property so much, I´m willing to be burried there. Let´s say I live in a fully anarcho-capitalist society, and some weird cult moves in and buys all the surrounding properties and tells me that unless I join their cult I would have to leave. Of course, depending on just how crazy or forceful they are, I might have to wave my right to live on my property and the pleasure that it brings to me. But, is this a legitimate end to my story? After all, my actions aren´t exactly voluntary. Again, if it were the other way around, I´d have no basis for my complaint since I´m voluntarily moving into a situation that I dislike where I should have analyzed things beforehand. I totally agree with what you´re saying about being stuck between a rock and a hard place, I think we´ve all been there at one time or another, but, my line of reason has more to do with the legal ethical aspect that arises from this sort of situations than the actual matters of choice.

Russ November 7, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Cosmin wrote:

“To reject Camus or Bakunin because they identified themselves as communists while completely rejecting the fact that they were anarchists is absurd.”

No, it’s not. Even though I am not an anarchist of any sort, I at least consider anarcho-libertarians to be “fellow travelers” who have the right general idea. They just let the hot-air balloon of theory carry them too far away from terra firma, IMHO. Anarcho-socialists, on the other hand, don’t even start out with the right idea. As far as I am concerned, any form of “freedom” that is against property is not freedom at all.

mpolzkill November 7, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Great posts from Colin Patrick Barth. Of course Camus should not be wholly dismissed for any reason as he was a major, major thinker (and as Newson said, a great artist too). Another point is that at the time Camus was a young man in Europe, there were virtually or practically only two positions: fascist and anti-fascist, and to most that meant communist. The horrors the Commie haters here are describing are actually fascist horrors. That’s what communism will always become when it meets the real political world. The professors down at your local University are actually correct, for instance, when they convince your son or daugther that there was never any communism in Russia in the 20th Century. No real communist ever gets anywhere; in this world today there are fascists and different classes of nearly powerless dreamers.

Just curious: how many anarcho-capitalists here feel they are “fellow-travellers” with someone who wants to have their money eternally confiscated because he has been convinced that very real American fascists (who already have us almost completely at their mercy and he want to add to that) will protect him from “Islamo-Fascists.”

Russ November 8, 2009 at 12:13 am

Whatever, Polzkill. It’s as if we were both on a bus going down I-75 from Detroit, and I want to get off at Toledo, whereas you want to keep going to Dayton. Until we get to Toledo, we’re on the same road, and hence are fellow travelers, like it or not. After we reach Toledo, that’s different. But we’re a long way from Toledo, brother.

Oh, and that line about there being no real communists in Russia, that was a hoot. Yeah, if they had real communists there, it would have worked, I suppose.

mpolzkill November 8, 2009 at 3:35 am

That’s a fact, Russ (the bus and the road).

It really is a hoot, that line. I didn’t make it up though. And yeah, it would work if, as Dostoevsky suggested, men sprouted wings and took to being angels.

mpolzkill November 8, 2009 at 9:29 am

*correction on it working: I was drinking, God himself couldn’t tell the weather in two weeks and angels still couldn’t calculate in March how much fuel they needed to refine (and how to distribute it) for their combines in August. (I still can’t believe how Americans have completely fallen into the hands of these Marxoids!?! Like a nightmare and I can’t wake up)

Wanted to amend your bus analogy too, Russ. We’re stuck together in hell (Detroit, well played, sir) to be sure but we aren’t ever getting anywhere near to even Toledo because you are down with the renegade and insane driver first swinging over to the Silverdome to take out some Muslims he used to run guns and drugs with. I’ve been crammed in the back screaming in horror about it since September 12, 2001.

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