Camus’ Neither Victims nor Executioners: A New Social Contract

The Power of Nonviolence Writings by Advocates of PeaceThe eleventh chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace  contains Albert Camus 1946 essay Neither Victims nor Executioners. This week we discuss the seventh part of the essay, A New Social Contract. Camus wrote this 16-page essay as World War II had just ended, and it seemed as if the Soviet Union and the United States were dragging the planet into the horrors of a third world war. Eleven years later, he would win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The social contract that Camus is referring to was most famously discussed by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.  The social contract is thought to be the terms on which the people consent to be governed.  This discussion profoundly influenced the US Declaration of Independence. 

Camus goes about drafting his social contract based upon the following assumptions:

  1. domestic policy is in itself a secondary matter;
  2. the only problem is the creation of a world order which will bring about those lasting reforms which are the distinguishing mark of a revolution;
  3. within any given nation there exist now only administrative problems, to be solved provisionally after a fashion, until a solution is worked out which will be more effective because more general.
Before these abstract — and GWBush sounding terms — cause you to worry about Camus having taken a hard right, let’s look at his discussion of the French Constitution.   His standard for judging support for a world order is whether it world order is “based on justice and the free exchange of ideas”  Camus judges the French constition deficient by this standard and gives the example that it does not focus on “ restoring the food supply“.
Camus finds the right and left wing publications of his day only reinforcing their own utopias while aiding in the “destruction of international democracy.”  Instead he looks to “who, in their secret hearts, detest violence and killing” to support his “rational hope and a guide to action.”  Camus calls upon them to draw up “a new social contract” to replace their murderous governments. He calls upon this peace movement” to organize locally, nationally, and internationally.
Camus sees the goal of the international arm of this movement to draft an
international code of justice whose Article No. 1 would be the abolition of the death penalty
As he has said previously in this essay, Camus finds the people who take up this task to be “such men [who] would be acting not as Utopians but as honest realists.”

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