Albert Camus’ Neither Victims nor Executioners: Century of Fear

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.  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.  There is so much to discuss in this essay I will being reviewing it in parts.

Camus begins the essay by naming the 20th century in relation to recent centuries.  He labels the 20th century: the century of fear. Though he does not blame science directly for the atmosphere of fear, he sees the technology it invented as a tool of fear.  The more recent film Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore echoes this same diagnosis in that the United States in particular has adopted a a culture of fear.

Français : Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel...
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Camus extends that culture of fear into an explanation of silence. He finds that the the post-WWII silence against those who “lie, degrade, kill, deport, torture” came into being because the “mankind’s long dialogue has just come to an end.”  The same could be said for the last few decades in the United States.  The voice of dissent was dissipated by the fear-and terror-mongering of the corporate media and the corporate left.   The Occupy movement was able to find its voice by focusing on the dialogue, rather than particular issues.  It has concentrated on building democracy, instead of promoting leaders.

Camus prescribes a nonpartisan analysis of the political situation in his time that reflects the call of the Occupy movement in ours:

And yet such is the alternative that at present confronts so many of us in Europe who are not of any party – or ill at ease in the party we have chosen – who doubt socialism has been realised in Russia or liberalism in America, who grant to each side the right to affirm its truth but refuse it the right to impose it by murder, individual or collective. Among the powerful of today, these are the men without a kingdom. Their viewpoint will not be recognised (and I say ‘recognised’, not ‘triumph’), nor will they recover their kingdom until they come to know precisely what they want and proclaim it directly and boldly enough to make their words a stimulus to action. And if an atmosphere of fear does not encourage accurate thinking, then they must first of all come to terms with fear.

Camus finds antidote to this fear by stepping away from “a world where murder is legitimate, and where human life is considered trifling.”  His first step is at the heart of this essay.  You must be willing to say that clearly that you do not “directly or indirectly, want to be killed or assaulted” nor “directly or indirectly, want to kill or assault“.

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