When Camus chose reality
Updated: Feb 25
In 1957, Albert Camus replied to a question about the guerrilla war in Algeria as follows, “At this moment bombs are being planted in the trams in Algiers. My mother could be on one of those trams. If that is justice, I prefer my mother.” This was the moment when Camus turned to the right. Now, Camus always characterised himself as an anarchist or an anarcho-syndicalist (itself significant, as we shall see) but like many people, like Orwell, he moved to the right while he subjectively claimed to be “on the left” (i.e. a “good person”). Yet the left had renounced him.
The above statement puts Camus on the right because in it he rejects every abstract theory—“national liberation”, “Marxism”, “Christian brotherhood”—and instead asserts that he is for what is natal. In the end, Camus is for the woman who gave birth to him—he is for the nation, for what is natal; he is for the blood tie, he is for heredity—he is for hierarchy. All the above is contained in the simple statement “I choose my mother over justice”. This is what it means to choose reality—everything else is an abstraction; and the left hated him for it—denounced him as an “imperialist” and sent him manipulative open letters. To disdain indiscriminate violence, teenagers eviscerated in neon-studded milk bars by bombs hidden behind jukeboxes, was to renounce the struggle for social justice.
The case is comparable to Orwell because Orwell said that Britain was like a family where the wrong members were in charge—now that contained a quasi-socialist element but it still brought it back to blood. Orwell thought that there was a national family and things needed to be settled within the family; and once you make that assertion you have, like Camus and his mother, exited the left—you have said that it’s about blood, equality is impossible.
Camus was from a pied noir family, a French colonial family—so in the context, the Algerian war for independence, his family were “occupiers”. The family was half-Spanish originally and, as with many pied noirs, were by no means wealthy colonialists—this was not Kenya or Rhodesia; and, indeed, Camus’s mother was an illiterate cleaning woman (still an “imperialist” though, still needed her throat slit by the mujahideen).
Camus is the “populist” counterpart to Sartre—while Camus came from a modest family beleaguered by the decadent metropolitan elites and, ultimately, forced from Algeria, Sartre was from a storied upper-middle-class family with connections to the Nobel-prize-winning Albert Schweitzer (Sartre would later be offered the Nobel but turned it down). Camus was “MAGA” from “flyover” Algeria—stiffed by the fashionable socialist intellectuals in Paris who preferred the Arab terrorists to dirty Franco-Spanish cleaning ladies who tried to make the sweet life in Algiers.
Camus is a philosopher and Sartre is not. Sartre was apt at writing statements that sound philosophical while not being so. He was liable to write a paragraph like “But still, I am, first, assuming that difference is not different from itself; and second, ignoring how everything that is not difference must be different from difference and thus itself a difference. Perhaps to the question: what is different from difference, one could then answer—difference. Is difference different from difference?” No, Sartre didn’t write that paragraph—though someone with French blood did—but it exemplifies how Sartre thought (i.e. a load of wank).
The paragraph could be rephrased, “But still, I am, first, assuming that X is not X from itself; and second, ignoring how everything that is not X must be X from X and thus itself an X. Perhaps to the question: what is X from X, one could then answer—X. Is X X from X?” You could do that because the paragraph is meaningless—you’d get more philosophical insight if you stared at a white wall and chanted “CHEESE”, “CHEESE”, “CHEESE” until the word didn’t mean anything. Alternatively, we could rephrase the paragraph as, “But still, I am, first, assuming that giraffe is not giraffe from itself; and second, ignoring how everything that is not giraffe must be giraffe from giraffe and thus itself a giraffe. Perhaps to the question: what is giraffe from giraffe, one could then answer—giraffe. Is giraffe giraffe from giraffe?”
The paragraph was, in fact, quoted to defend transgenderism. Yet Sartre would write just the same, very philosophically, and then come up with torturous non-reasons why gulags were “objectively” liberatory and how Mao was just the thing the average Parisian worker wanted (the average Parisian worker, like Camus’s mum, wanted not to be blown up by Arab terrorists supported by intellectuals in metropolitan France—quelle surprise). It’s painful to read Sartre, but he certainly looks like he’s thinking—coo. Camus writes real things; he says that life is like a struggle to roll a boulder up a hill—when you finish, it rolls down again; and the challenge is whether or not we can imagine Sisyphus happy. He expressed that very neatly without any “the difference differences the difference differing” because he had a substantial point to make about the human condition—Sartre did not.
Similarly, Camus said that there was only one real philosophical question: whether or not we should commit suicide. Clean and concise—and another accurate contribution to the debate about the human condition. Where do we find such clarity in Sartre? We don’t—we just find nauseous fogginess, a muddled treatise about how “the Jews don’t exist except in the imagination of the anti-Semite” (which rehearses every fallacious argument against the existence of race in circulation today). I don’t think Camus would have a problem identifying that the Jews existed—whatever he thought about them (I suspect his mother would have some choice illiterate wisdom on the matter).
The difference is summed up in the newspapers the men worked on: Sartre supported Liberation and The Cause of the People—Camus wrote for Combat (almost fascistic, isn’t it?). Sartre wrote for entirely abstract periodicals—after all, what is “liberation” and what is “the cause of the people”? (I suspect that “the people” did not include illiterate cleaners like Mrs. Camus—she was clearly an imperialist bourgeois who needed to be blown up by a smelly Arab terrorist with a post-graduate degree from the Sorbonne). Camus wrote for a paper that was active—combat is an action, not an abstract idea (just like when Meursault shoots the Arab in The Outsider—action!). Camus was a concrete and real man; his theatrical works and novels follow a Greek mythic cycle—Nemesis and Sisyphus are among his subjects. It’s another factor that puts him on the right—action, marble statues, classicism.
It helped that Camus was reasonably handsome for a Frenchman, whereas Sartre was some throwback whose eyes operated independently from each other and sought to escape their respective sockets. Camus was the rude frontier. He was an anarchist and anarchy is ambiguous—it’s the black in the black-and-red flag that troubles people, you see. It’s the colour of wisdom—and the colour of the SS. Anarcho-syndicalism is doubly suspicious because it shades into synarchy—the holistic system, government by synchronicity. Well, sacré bleu, it sounds mystical—it’s not dialectical materialism, it’s about blood and mysticism…yes, M. Sartre, that’s right, it’s reality…it’s about my mother.