Literature, Philosophy, recent

Albert Camus: Unfashionable Anti-Totalitarian

Today, it is not unusual to see Albert Camus celebrated as the debonair existentialist—the handsome hero of the French Resistance, a great novelist, and a fine philosopher. But this reputation was only recently acquired. For much of his life, and in the years since his untimely death in 1960 aged just 46, Camus was deeply unfashionable among France’s leading intellectuals. In many quarters, he remains so.

Camus came to widespread attention in 1942 with his publication of his novella The Stranger and a philosophical essay entitled “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The Stranger portrays a solitary passionless man wandering through a world without pattern or purpose. “The Myth of Sisyphus” grapples with the question, “Why not commit suicide?” Camus argued that we should not, but he finds little evidence of a justified purpose for human beings. If we cannot prove that some choices are better than others, he concludes, we can at least dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of experience. The austerity and boldness of these two works struck Camus’s contemporaries as remarkable and, within a short time, he became known as “the philosopher of the absurd,” and befriended France’s leading intellectual, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Camus did not take up arms in the struggle against the Nazi occupation, but during the war he was the editor of the underground newspaper of the Resistance, Combat. This job involved great personal risk and he would almost certainly have been imprisoned and shot, either by the Nazis or their French collaborators, had his role been uncovered. When the war ended, Camus gazed at the devastation of Europe and reflected. Over the subsequent years, his writing would change significantly as humanism and anti-totalitarianism became increasingly central to his thinking. His 1947 allegorical novel The Plague depicts not a solitary, alienated man, but a group of people struggling together against a plague in a small Algerian city. Here, human beings are willing to confront the absurdity of the universe, but they remain compassionate nonetheless, and strive to be kind and to care for each other. Then, in 1951, Camus published The Man in Revolt (later published in translation as The Rebel). Horrified by the crimes of Stalin and by the apologetics for his regime published by some of the Western Left’s most influential intellectuals, Camus sought to understand the justification of mass murder. It is a rich book, and not easily summarized, but two of Camus’s arguments proved particularly antagonizing to his peers.

First, Camus argued that commitment to a single, distant purpose endangers us all. The struggle for a perfect society in the future leads to as ruthless consequentialism that allows us to sacrifice countless people in the present. This fear is what led him to describe Marx as “the prophet of justice without mercy who lies, by mistake, in the unbeliever’s plot at Highgate Cemetery.” The faith of the Marxist in the promise of utopia, he observed, is every bit as powerful and irrational as that of the religious fanatic.

Second, Camus defended the proposition, explicitly denied by Marxists and Existentialists, that there exists a universal “human nature”—traits shared by all people, from which we can infer what is better or worse for all people and common ground upon which to form social bonds. Sartre, on the other hand, argued that we are the product of our choices and nothing more. Simone de Beauvoir summarized the Marxist view as her peers understood it: “There is no authentic human essence to be realized, no harmonious unity to be returned to, no unalienated humanity obscured by false mediations, no organized wholeness to be achieved. What we are and what we can become are open-ended projects to be constructed in the course of time.”

From his universalist humanism and skepticism about utopian ideologies, Camus developed an ethics in Man in Revolt that rejected revolution. Instead, Camus argued that moral progress arises from a rejection of injustice by people united in their recognition of that injustice. This kind of “revolt” is more restrained than the revolutionary impulse and shows mesure—it recognizes and respects human nature, attempts to improve things now, and accepts no limits on free speech and expression. When revolt is combined with the misguided belief that history has some unifying purpose and that human beings can be reshaped in the manner of wet clay, it declines into revolution. Revolution is unrestrained, it is démesure, and it leads inevitably to violence and cruelty.

Sartre and Beauvoir edited the leading French intellectual journal of their day, Les Temps Moderne, and they invited the activist and philosopher Francis Jeanson to review The Man in Revolt. The result was scathing. Jeanson’s article was mostly a series of ad hominem attacks which made no attempt to interpret Camus’s text charitably. Camus’s sins were clear: he had attacked Marxism, he had attacked revolution, and he had attacked the idea that human beings were infinitely malleable. For this, he was denounced as a counter-revolutionary.

Sartre then published an open letter addressed to Camus, that began, “Our friendship was not easy, but I will miss it.” Most of Sartre’s letter ignores the arguments in The Man in Revolt, and concentrates instead on itemizing Camus’s alleged personal failings, including the accusation that he was bourgeois. Camus did not respond to this criticism, because he did not see it as important. After all, it was the Marxists, not him, who believed that class determines what one may say. But it was a petty and laughable accusation even so: Sartre grew up in privilege, and he let other people manage his domestic matters all his life. Camus grew up in Algeria in poverty, where as a child he lived in a two-room apartment with his brother, uncle, grandmother, and deaf widowed mother who worked as a cleaning woman to support all of them.

Beauvoir’s attack on Camus was perhaps the most vicious of all. Her 1954 Goncourt Prize-winning novel The Mandarins is a fictionalized account of her life in post-war Paris, populated by characters closely based upon the intellectuals in her political and literary circles. A long section describing her alter-ego’s travels with an American lover is simply lifted by Beauvoir from her diary of her travels with the novelist Nelson Algren. But the novel contains one very important deviation from real life: the character based on Camus has an affair with a young and insipid Nazi sympathizer. To prevent this lover from being prosecuted for her treasonous beliefs and activities, he lies under oath in a court of law in order to have her released from prison.

It is hard to imagine a more craven and defamatory insult, directed at a man who had been active in the Resistance and by someone who was politically inactive during the Nazi occupation. It is an example of what we now call “swiftboating”: a political attack on a person’s strengths and virtues, combined with an assertion that those strengths and virtues are illusory or fraudulent. That Beauvoir’s shameful treatment of her former friend elicited no outrage is evidence of how unfashionable Camus has become. I have been unable to find a single critical mention of his mistreatment in the academic literature about Beauvoir’s novel.

The criticisms of Camus grew more heated as the insurgent war in Algeria intensified. Camus’s position on the war seemed impossibly naïve to Sartre and his followers. Camus hoped that some kind of peaceful solution would be possible, and that both the descendants of colonists and the various indigenous people of Algeria could continue to live together. He put his life at risk by visiting Algeria and attempting to foster talks between the two sides. When he organized a public discussion, he had to flee because extremists among the colons nearly rioted. The situation in Algeria soon grew too violent and divisive for Camus’s hopes for a peace to remain realistic. However, history would prove Sartre’s revolutionary romanticism to be even more reckless. Sartre publicly endorsed the work of Frantz Fanon, a psychologist from Martinique who also identified as an Existentialist, and he wrote a lengthy preface to Fanon’s most famous book, The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon lived in Algeria and promoted the necessity of violent revolution, which he believed would unite the people in an anti-colonial struggle. “Violence,” he wrote in The Wretched of the Earth, “is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.” To realize their own freedom and create a new identity, the colonized must first kill the colonists. Afterwards, he predicted, the people would work together in peace to forge their new nation, because “nation building is facilitated by the existence of this mortar kneaded with blood and rage.” This is what Camus called “crimes of logic,” or the use of philosophy and sophistical theory to justify widespread killing.

But such arguments from Sartre and Fanon, it turned out, were considerably more titillating to the intelligentsia than Camus’s earnest pleas for moderation, peace, and solidarity. As a thinker, he now seemed to be out of step with the age. Many years later, Susan Sontag would describe Camus as a “literary husband,” boring but dependable, unlike “literary lovers,” who are exciting even if selfish and brutal. But, exciting as Sartre and Fanon may have been, history proved them wrong: killing Frenchmen and colons did not transform the Algerian people, nor did it unite them into a peaceful nation. Once the French withdrew, the violence just continued, only now it was turned inward.

The vitriolic attacks on Camus reached their crescendo after an angry Algerian student denounced him at a public talk, and Camus was misquoted—perhaps intentionally—by Le Monde as saying, “I will choose my mother over justice.” Sartre and Beauvoir and the intellectuals of their circle gloated that this confirmed Camus as a sentimental reactionary.  But what Camus actually said was something like, “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.” Camus recognized that indifference to individual human suffering is essential to all forms of political extremism, and his statement was nothing more scandalous than a rejection of the idea that terrorism is justice.

Some of the animosity Camus inspired—and the eagerness to misinterpret, misrepresent, and denounce him—was personal. But French intellectuals who sided with Sartre and Beauvoir often did so for theoretical reasons, and many continue to do so. France’s contemporary leftist group, the Invisible Committee, singled Camus out for denunciation as “that idiot” (ce con) in their widely read 2014 call for revolution, To Our Friends. Camus’s rejection of Marxism, and his doubts about the likely outcome of post-colonial revolutionary movements, were unpopular, principled, and lonely positions. The Left demanded allegiance to their belief that human nature could be reshaped through revolution, and that even the Stalinist enemies of their enemy remain their friends.

After Camus’s death in a car accident in 1960, French intellectual thought continued to follow the path laid by Sartre, Beauvoir, and the Marxists. Michel Foucault proved to be the most influential post-war French philosopher, and his dubious claim that knowledge is identical to power has calcified into dogma among many academics worldwide. Even some of the academics and activists who have not read Foucault have nevertheless internalized this belief through a kind of intellectual osmosis. Foucault was, of course, utterly dismissive of Camus, whom he derided as a “humanist.” Humanism, he believed, was contemptible because he held it somehow responsible for Stalinism. This may be a powerfully counterintuitive view, but postmodernists today continue to argue that science, humanism, and other claims to knowledge are the real causes of totalitarian crimes. Critical theorists like Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno would go on to argue that there is a direct path leading from the Enlightenment to Auschwitz. For Foucault and the postmodernists, all great abuses of power are identical to great abuses of “knowledge.” And so it must be our greatest claims to knowledge that are to blame for our greatest historical catastrophes.

This belief that knowledge is merely power is more general and profound than social constructionism. It means that all talk, all theory, all human interaction is a battle. And if speech is just an assertion of power, if all social interaction is a struggle between oppressors and the oppressed, then who should we allow to speak? Extreme skepticism about the existence of objective knowledge creates a void, which the postmodernists and the partisans of a politics of identity have since filled with a non-negotiable solidarity owed to those they identify as oppressed. Let us give voice to the weak, and affirm their “knowledge,” and silence the powerful, and deny that their “knowledge” is objective, and prioritize, at any cost, the maximization of diversity of participants and diversity of “knowledges.”

We still have much to learn from Camus. This may seem a surprising claim because the movements Camus opposed offered a universal and unifying project in Marxism, while much of our contemporary politics is committed to endless division. Postmodernism and the political philosophies derived from social constructionism, tell us that our increasingly narrowly defined groups determine our interests and our knowledge. But Camus’s appeal to our shared humanity—something that remains as unfashionable on the Left today as it was in his lifetime—is antithetical to these ideologies also. If Camus is correct, then a politics based on these ideologies must fail, since moral progress depends upon revolt, and just revolt begins with the recognition, and the assertion, of our shared human nature. As Camus put it, a just act of revolt “grounds its first value on the whole human race.” And so the rebel cries out, “I revolt—therefore we exist.”  This is a cry not only against inequality, but also against division.

 

Craig DeLancey is a writer and philosopher.  He is on Twitter @CraigDeLancey

88 Comments

  1. A thoughtful and timely essay – by writing of the integrity of Albert Camus, the author has helped remind us that France has not been totally dominated by intellectual charlatans and second raters since WWII.

    Camus wrote an excellent little essay on art called “Create Dangerously” which I think is emblematic of his relevance and his humanism. Camus was writing against the intellectual grain of his time and his depiction of what artists of his day had become reads like a description of a contemporary self absorbed progressive:

    “As a result of rejecting everything, even the tradition of his art, the contemporary artist gets the illusion that he is creating his own rule and eventually takes himself for God. At the same time he thinks he can create his reality himself.”

    For Camus the purpose of art was not to celebrate differences or display wounds, but to generate a vision of unity.

    “[The artist] has only to translate the sufferings and happiness of all into the language of all and he will be universally understood. As a reward for being absolutely faithful to reality, he will achieve complete communication among men.”

    Camus was not afraid to confront and embrace the ambiguities of existence (unlike his contemporaries who would make a fetish of ambiguity – as in Sartre’s deification of Nothingness).

    “That’s just it and yet that’s not it; the world is nothing and the world is everything — this is the contradictory and tireless cry of every true artist, the cry that keeps him on his feet with eyes ever open and that, every once in a while, awakens for all in this world asleep the fleeting and insistent image of a reality we recognize without ever having known it.”

    “Art, by virtue of that free essence I have tried to define, unites whereas tyranny separates.”

    Our new tyrants preach division and they would have us celebrate it as “diversity”.

    Vive Camus!

    • E. Olson says

      Good comment CA on a very interesting article.

  2. Pingback: Camus was uncool. He still is. – Craig DeLancey

  3. Peter from Oz says

    Camus has always reminded me of Orwell, another great intellectual who turned against Marxism and was almost crucified for it. Fortunately for Orwell, marxist thinkers are rare and not much respected in Britain which has a far more epistemological philosophical tradition and a very strong strain of political Toryism.

    • jakesbrain says

      Britain has enough Marxist demagogues and politicians; any more Marxist thinkers would be superfluous.

    • Craig DeLancey says

      I too think that there are interesting similarities between Camus and Orwell. As far as I can tell, they did not communicate directly, but they did have some mutual friends. They once had a lunch date at Deux Magots, but both of them had TB, and Camus had a flare-up of symptoms and did not make the event. It would have been wonderful if they had met and we knew what they talked about.

      • Damian O'Connor says

        Excellent article. Thank you. I always thought Sartre was a fraud. The Plague was far better than anything Sartre scribbled.

  4. doug deeper says

    Thank you Mr.DeLancey! I now know Camus is a man I must learn a great deal more about. I could never understand why I liked “The Stranger” when it was generally so depressing. But there was a certain love of life and warmth in it. Now I think I know why, Camus understood our nature and that it holds a great potential for joy even for very lost souls.
    He also understood that revolution equals “destruction” by people who reject our very human nature in favor of their own concoction of utopian fantasies. It appears humans will forever build their Towers of Babel and forever destroy everything worth living for. Witness the screeching of today’s atheistic tyrants of every variant of Marxism. They will likely destroy the West oblivious to what a world run by the Chinese totalitarians will be like.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Look at how the west/USA destroys entire cities to save them. Kills poor people by claiming it’s in our national interests.

  5. Fickle Pickle says

    I am not in any sense a Marxist.
    What could be more absurd than Donald Trump? And the obviously absurd drama that he orchestrates.
    He is also the leading edge vector of a potentially catastrophic EMOTIONAL plague that has now overtaken all human beings too? Especially as he is and always has been a pathological liar.
    Maybe his call to make America great again is an attempt to re-create a “perfect” society.

    There IS a very direct path from the so called Enlightenment to Auschwitz, and Donald Trump too.

    All forms of conventional knowledge are about power and control.
    This is especially true of all forms of Western knowledge.
    How else did the West become world dominant?

    There is no such thing as independently existing objective knowledge.

    All of our conventional arguments are, in every fundamental, essential, and effective sense, primitive power-efforts. All of the competitive arguments and exchange of ideas are not fully considered or consciously inspected. But all such arguments and struggles are, fundamentally, only primitive confrontations between underlying unconscious pre-verbally brain and nervous system adaptations.

    What if there is a form of knowledge that is prior to our brain and nervous system, and the presumed knowledge by it.

    Is anyone familiar with the amazing book The Master & His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist? It took him 14 years to write.
    Most and perhaps all of our conventional philosophy and the presumed knowledge that extends from it has been created by the Emissary.- a secondary principal which is very much about power and control, and the usurpation of the superior or intrinsic non-verbal way of knowing characteristic of The Master.

    • Fickle Pickle says

      P S – The origins of the Emotional Plague and its cultural and political manifestations were described by Wilhelm Reich, especially in his books The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Listen Little Man, and The Murder of Christ.
      Christ being the Radiant Life Principle.or the prior disposition of The Master as (perhaps) pointed to by Iain McGilchrist.

      The nature of The Plague was also comprehensively described by Jules Henry in his 1963 book Culture Against Man.

      Jules Henry and Wilhelm Reich were both Marxists. Reich was of course imprisoned, and effectively killed by the US government.

      I am not a Marxist – never have been.

      • Etiamsi omnes says

        Time magazine, November 18th, 1957:

        « Died. Wilhelm Reich, 60, once-famed psychoanalyst, associate and follower of Sigmund Freud, founder of the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, lately better known for unorthodox sex and energy theories; of a heart attack; in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, Pa; where he was serving a two-year term for distributing his invention, the “orgone energy accumulator” (in violation of the Food and Drug Act), a telephone-booth-size device that supposedly gathered energy from the atmosphere, and could cure, while the patient sat inside, common colds, cancer, and impotence. »

    • DanV says

      I’ve read The Master and His Emissary, and agree that it’s a brilliant book. From memory though, aren’t absolutist, reductive statements such as ‘But all such arguments and struggles are, fundamentally, only primitive confrontations between underlying unconscious pre-verbally brain and nervous system adaptations’ very much the kind of thing that the Emissary would say ? In which case isn’t that a somewhat self-defeating assertion ? And in fact, doesn’t the whole assertion that there’s no such thing as objective knowledge fail on the simple grounds that it implies objective knowledge in the very act of making the assertion ? I’ve always thought the more reasonable and accurate view is something like: ‘There definitely is such a thing as objective knowledge, but no one individual or culture owns it’.

    • Craig DeLancey says

      Is this trolling? I can’t tell. But if not: how does this work? Stalin was a powerful person, does that mean that if he declared “2+2=5” then it would be the case that 2+2=5? Would the Soviets then be able to meet their five year plan by working for 2 and then 2 years? Would they be able to make 5 bridges by producing enough steel for 2 and 2 bridges? Would a dozen eggs now be 10 eggs? Or, if you think math is special, suppose Stalin had declared that whales are fish. Would they now have no mammal ancestors? Would they be cold blooded? Would they lay eggs? Would they stop lactating?

      Foucault got away with equating power and knowledge by picking his examples; he picked empirically false claims that no one will object to being identified as empirically false. Thus in the madness book, Foucault picks as an example the claim that madness is hot and dry. But that is an anecdote; it does not establish that knowledge is just power. It establishes that some empirical claims are false. (Not to mention that it was not a change of regimes of power that led to the decline of the humors theory; it was the progress of science. This is why Stalin could not make Lysenkoism true; Stalin had all the power you could give to one man, but Lysenko was still wrong.)

      • Kovalszki Peter says

        And another thing- Camus publicly denounced the 1956 Soviet occupation of Hungary and the crushing of Hungarian reform movement and crushing the fight for freedom , while Sartre and Beauvoir endorsed this!

    • Craig Willms says

      @Fickle
      Honestly, Trump, you have to bring Trump into this? There is no corollary between this subject and Trump. None. Then you have Trump and Auschwitz in the same sentence??? WTF. In what way are the two remotely connected? If it’s a ‘this leads to that’ extrapolation it’s really weak.

      If anything Trump is a crude course corrective action that places a wall in front of the philosophical road to socialist marxism, saving us from the insanity of the mid-century French-like intellectuals.

      • Right on. Trump may be crude, etc., but he is necessary at this juncture in order to clean out the Augean stables produced by so-called progressives for so many years. He is testing the Republic, but he may be an instrument to save it in the long run. One can only hope.
        But you’re right: why bring Trump in? Answer, because Pickle person has a case of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) and really can’t help him/herself.

    • Ghatanathoah says

      @Fickle Pickle

      “All forms of conventional knowledge are about power and control.”

      A carbon atom has six protons. Crocodiles lay eggs. Igneous rock is formed by volcanoes. How are any of those bits of knowledge about power and control?

      “This is especially true of all forms of Western knowledge.
      How else did the West become world dominant?”

      Because there is such a thing as independently existing objective knowledge. And the more objective knowledge you have, the more things you will know how to do. In particular you will know how to build really good weapons.

      The reason that possessors of Western knowledge have so much power isn’t that Western knowledge is somehow “more about power” than knowledge from other parts of the world. It’s because Western knowledge is more accurately reflects independently existing objectives truths.

      The reason non-Western countries didn’t conquer larger parts of the world wasn’t because their ways of knowledge were somehow “less about power” than the West. It was because they had less knowledge than the West! If they did have knowledge they could have conquered more. There were many times in history where non-Western powers had access to more knowledge than the West, and during those times they often conquered large amounts of territory.

      Knowledge is neutral. It isn’t about power, or about anything else, it just is. There are all sorts of uses you can put knowledge to. The reason it is often put to obtaining power isn’t because knowledge is somehow about power, it’s because the desire for power is a fairly common human motivation. Knowledge does not corrupt humans, humans corrupt knowledge.

      • neoteny says

        Knowledge does not corrupt humans, humans corrupt knowledge.

        Very well said.

      • Andrew Mcguiness says

        Well said – only … “In particular you will know how to build really good weapons.” Not just really good weapons, but better systems of farming and food production, transport, shelter, medicine, diet, communications, organisations and logistics, etc, etc

    • Charlie says

      There is no direct link between the Enlightenment and Auschwitz. Late 17th and 18th century Britain was greatly influenced by Quakers and Non Conformists( Dalton for example ) who largely created the Industrial Revolution, the physical manifestation of the Enlightenment. William Blake depicted Newton as trying to understand God’s Creation. The Enlightenment followed on from the Renaissance and aimed remove superstition from life. Weber said the Industrial Revolution was due to the protestant Work Ethic. It was devout protestants who used technology to improve the quality of peoples lives.

      Wagner and many Germans after him became keen on Pagan Pre Christian Life. Nietzsche called Christianity a slave religion. It was the removal of Christian charity and compassion and worship of power which made mass slaughter of the 20th century possible.

      When it comes to French intellectuals I think one needs to appreciate that France was invaded and defeated three timed by Germany from 1870 to 1945. If one reads history people say France’s spirit was broken at Verdun : 400,000 soldiers were killed. France came out of WW1 with the mentality of the vanquished . P Bruckner in ” Tears of the White Man ” explain how defeat has impacted on her psyche.

      Wilde said ” The only people who think about money more than the rich are the poor. “. Sartre and company were puny timid powerless people who lusted after power. If one examines those who were physically tough athletic and had extensive combat experience they have exercised power such as a pilot of a fighter or bomber or a soldier who has undertaken close quarter combat . In war, a country trains people to kill which gives them power of life and death over humans.
      As one special forces sergeant said ” I spent the rest of my life trying to forget what I did in the war “. Often those who had experienced extensive combat in WW2 left the armed forces and did not seek power; they had been vaccinated against any lust for it. What I think is a mark of a civilised person is that they are keen to relinquish the power of life and death over humans when the war is over.

      Perhaps the lust for power is as corrupting as possessing it. Those who have killed in war time never appear to believe in the virtue of revolutionary violence ; in fact they often become averse to it. A good example would be L Cheshire VC.

      Moral does not depend upon revolt; it depends upon the decline in blood lust and cruelty and an increase in compassion and charity.

      Camus, who one of the few left wing intellectuals who risked his life in WW2 did not glorify violence and therefore showed up the cruelty and weakness of the Left.

    • James Huddleston says

      @Fickle Pickle
      NPC74829018310 reporting for duty. Orange Man Bad. Holocaust, Orange Man Bad.

    • Peter Robson says

      Why do I despair. This is precisely the sort of derivative quasi-Nietzschean sloganeering that has got us into this pretty pickle in the first place! But perhaps I am being unfair; perhaps Fickle Pickle intends this as playful irony! Perhaps not! My Year 11 high school philosophy students would make mince meat of this twaddle. And, sad to say, dear Fickle, they are deeply Nietzschean in outlook, which is only to be expected from unformed intellects.

      Come now!

    • Do you know that to be true?
      If you do–then its just another power move
      If you dont, then why should we listen?
      I wish some of you POMOs would do a couse in basic logic. Very very basic logic. Like not “sawing off the branch I’m sitting on” logic

  6. And, the moral of the story is, don’t accept lifts from your publisher when you’ve already bought a train ticket. Even if your publisher’s car is a Facel Vega.
    But seriously, thanks for this article.

  7. Dominic Allaway says

    What a great article. I have now reassessed my view of postwar French intellectual life as a logical and moral desert, albeit one where the loudest voices are still the worst voices.

    There are comments above about the Enlightenment leading to Auschwitz.

    What. Utter. Rubbish.

    The Enlightenment was about promoting reason, science and humanism: see its willingness to challenge religious dogma, its championing of free thought and its campaigns against cruel criminal punishments.

    Unless you have a very warped definition of these things Auschwitz is the very antithesis of such things: it was not rational, it was the result of a 2,000 year old prejudice and it was cruelty at its most sadistic.

    And as for Auschwitz having something in common with Donald Trump – that’s hilarious! Please – tell us another one!

    D.

    • y81 says

      The link between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust is stronger than one might think. Enlightenment principles include nationalism and uniformity, in place of the hodge-podge of disparate privileges and polyglot peoples that characterized the empires of the ancien regime. The Jews have always been an obstacle to the fulfillment of these Enlightenment goals. And mass killing has definitely been a consequence of the Enlightenment: certainly the Enlightenment led directly to the Great Terror.

    • Shawn T says

      Dominic. I agree with your assessment of the enlightenment, but also think that science can, in fact, lead to totalitarianism. The problem is that science is not pure…it is subject to manipulation. The product of science CAN be Knowledge. But science can also produce “knowledge” and that can be a “fickle pickle.” Hitler used scientists who conducted studies and experiments to generate “knowledge” to support his insanity. This became dangerous when combined with faith – blind belief in that very insanity. As a contemporary example, climate change is teetering on the verge of religious fanaticism. While there is valid, underlying science it stopped being about the pursuit of Knowledge once it was declared settled – then everyone is either a believer or a heretic. Thus it is now a moral exercise couched in knowledge backed to some degree by science. The knowledge itself is not power, but lends justification for faith in the powerful. This holds true in matters of diversity, which has become an absurdly extreme exercise in separate but equal. Trump was an emergency brake. An extreme disruption . Obama was fond of telling us he was guided by science and chided constantly about the “right side of history.” That only worked because he set the terms of the science and the scales of history to his own benefit. So much of our current science is subjective and interpretive: a climate scientist doesn’t actually work in a lab proving theories. They pluck conclusions from physicists, volcanologists, botanists, geologists and dozens of other hard sciences and interpret them to spit out distilled conclusions of their own. Is this Knowledge or sold as “knowledge?” I agree comparing Auschwitz to Trump is hilarious, but this is because Trump is the brake on that train thrown by those screaming to get off.

    • northernobserver says

      The link between The Enlightenment and Auschwitz is atheism and its replacement by scientific racism or scientific socialism. Although this only really applies to Christian Atheism which historically led to fascism and Nazism and Jewish Atheism which historically provided the personnel for the first Communist Revolutionaries.
      This is why the Anglo American Enlightenment had a historically more benign outcome, by keeping God in the picture the worst aspects of human self worship were avoided. Unfortunately we are nearly all ruled by continental philosophy now

  8. JE Stubbings says

    Sartre’s book ‘The Age of Reason’ is a wonderful novel – but I’ve increasingly come to see him as an absolute charlatan and a hypocrite when it comes to politics. Camus seems hugely preferable – as this article argues convincingly. For other sensible post-war French thinkers see Raymond Aron – whose description of Marxism – ‘The Opium of the Intellectuals’ – could equally be applied to today’s fanatical identitarians/identity politics activists/’intersectional feminists’ .

    • Heike says

      “Accounts of the Soviet labor system should be suppressed even if true, since otherwise the French working class might become anti-Soviet.”

      — Jean-Paul Sartre, 1933

  9. whcasey says

    ‘There is no fate… …that cannot be surmounted by scorn.’

    Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

  10. Wells Marvel says

    “Either this regime has realized the classless socialist society, and the maintenance of a formidable apparatus of repression is not justified in Marxist terms, or it has not realized the classless society and has therefore proved that Marxist doctrine is erroneous and, in particular, that the socialization of the means of production does not mean the disappearance of classes. Confronted with its official doctrine, the regime is forced to choose: the doctrine is false, or the regime has betrayed it.” (The Rebel pg. 230)

    Funny, true story: I was in undergraduate philosophy when I expressed to one of my professors a desire to pursue Camus more directly in graduate studies. I am to him for a recommendation. He was utterly dismissive of me and of Camus who he called, “too clear” to be studied in an academic setting. He pretty much singlehandedly knocked me off the track to academia.

    • neoteny says

      He pretty much singlehandedly knocked me off the track to academia.

      With which he might have done to you a favour — considering the state of academia nowadays.

      • Wells Marvel says

        That’s more or less the conclusion I’ve come to since.

  11. Benjamin says

    This article feels striikistr familiar in both tone and content to Judt’s chapter on Camus in ‘The Burden of Responsibility’.

    • Craig DeLancey says

      Sorry to say I never read it, but I’ll do so if you recommend it.

    • Alex D. says

      I agree. Judt’s writing on Camus is excellent, much as this article!

  12. Bob Johnson says

    @Dominic Allaway

    The Enlightenment idea that human nature could be molded to create perfect beings and rejection of Christian morality lead to the French Revolution, which was the intllectual influence of Nazism

    The idea that materialism, science, and reason, which can be used to justify anything, establish a universal truth are wrong, but the solution is not to deny truth. Rather, it is to assert that morality is found in the Christian tradition, not its secular offshoots like utilitarianism or liberalism or marxism

    • DanV says

      Is it as simple as that though Bob ? I think there’s a fairly strong case to be made that the Enlightenment didn’t reject Christianity, but was very much dependent on it for it’s philosophical basis – after all, the idea that humans can use reason and rationality to transcend their limitations and achieve God-like creative abilities and knowledge kind of falls apart if you haven’t unconsciously accepted the idea of God in the first place….

    • Jean Levant says

      I see much more Nietszche than “Les Lumières” influencing the doctrin of Nazism. Check out with Ecce Homo for instance.

  13. Johan says

    I wonder why leftists/marxists, like Sartre and Beauvoir, usually turn out to be complete arseholes on a personal level…Some narcissistiv personality disorder, I guess. Unfortunately they keep coming…

  14. Ray Andrews says

    An excellent essay.

    “This belief that knowledge is merely power”

    It goes to showya that a half truth can be worse than a lie. Of course knowledge grants power, but that doesn’t mean it is power.

  15. Ivan says

    A sngle sentence will suffice for modern man. He fornicated and read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted.
    Albert Camus, The Fall

  16. Tamas Meszerics says

    I enjoyed the piece tremendously, being an inveterate admirer of Camus. Reading the short passage on de Beauvoir’s slanderous attack in The Mandarins, I was wondering whether beyond the personal innuendo it had something to do with the fact that Camus signed the petition to seek clemency for Robert Brasillach, who was the only writer of note executed for collaboration in the purges of 1945. This I mention not to exonerate Beauvoir, who had attempted an “existentialist” defense of the same verdict, but as a potential reason for the particular type of slander.

    Anyway, this is also discussed at some length in Tony Judt’s chapter on Camus in Past Imperfect, which indeed worth reading.

  17. C Young says

    Great piece. And far better written than most here.

    I draw a tangential conclusion – how unimportant philosophy (and possibly even reason) is to national life.

    In France, both have been poisoned for over 70 years. Nonetheless, daily life persists. Per capita GDP isn’t too bad. Morale is notoriously low, and this is arguably a result of a collective refusal to face facts, but this is quite a small price to pay for entirely subverting your intellectual culture.

  18. TJR says

    Echoing the above, a nice article which has definitely encouraged me to finally get round to reading The Stranger (and watching The Battle of Algiers).

    It also explains why Camus seems more popular among anglophones than francophones.

  19. Jean Levant says

    Good article. One recognizes a tree by its fruits. Camus wrote a couple of books or more which are always read and liked by many readers or movie-goers (movies inspired by Camus’s books are still frequent, more from foreign lands than France indeed). But what is left of Sartres’s fruits by now, not to mention Beauvoir’s?
    Without kidding me, which one of you did read Simone de Beauvoir?

  20. Andy Patton says

    Lovely essay, for which, thanks. I’m a bit dubious, though, of the apparent bundling of Adorno with postmodernism. Adorno wrote many things in his Aesthetic Theory that are of value to me. I imagine that Camus might have agreed with him at many points. What would he have thought of this, from Adorno?

    ““Rational cognition has one critical limit, which is its inability to cope with suffering.”

    • Craig DeLancey says

      That’s a tricky one. I think Camus sometimes (especially in his earliest work) uses “rational” to mean teleological. So he would agree that you and I are not going to find a purpose (telos) to the universe that then justifies (all) suffering. A child dying from a disease has no purpose, it is absurd. We cannot explain it as having some purpose, and Camus will (for example in The Myth of Sisyphus) sometimes call this kind of thing “irrational.”

      But if “irrational” instead means we cannot explain the causes of some instance of suffering, then Camus is silent on that kind of claim. I think he can consistently deny such a claim: nothing in his philosophy would be inconsistent with the claim that we can give a good scientific explanation of the causes of a child’s disease, for example.

      I can’t speak for Adorno in the quote you offer. What’s your sense of what he meant by “rational” in that context?

  21. Michael Youngblood says

    Why is rational cognition unable to cope with suffering?

  22. Jonathan Levy says

    Interesting piece up to the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs from the last. To me they read as overly reductionist polemics. Would have been more interested in a take on why Camus’ image has improved; If it has. (We read the stranger in high school in 1987.)

    • Alex D. says

      I was a bit thrown off by the last couple paragraphs as well. Not sure how beneficial or logical it is to use Camus against post-modern writers. Seems to be playing into the extreme left’s trap of easy reductions and us vs them mentality.

  23. ultra-sandwich says

    In many senses the post-modern project is about questioning the grand narratives, including the grand narratives of Marx. It’s fairly easy to lump Camus in with post-modernity. His affection for the complex, the undefined and undefinable, his questioning of ideology and allegiance to simple and simplistic narratives. While you started with an interesting premise the facts on the ground don’t support your conclusion. Few, if any, associate Beauvoir and Sartre with post-modernism. Mostly they are figures that modern canons place in high modernism and subsequently ignore.

    • Craig DeLancey says

      I think a dividing line in the genealogy is the commitment to the idea that human beings lack any significant shared nature. Sartre & Beauvoir are on board with that, Camus opposes it. I grant that Foucault et al are not going claim Sartre and Beauvoir as a source or predecessor, but then they’ll deny almost anyone is a source or predecessor, other than Nietzsche and maybe Heidegger.

  24. C Young says

    His affection for the complex, the undefined and undefinable, his questioning of ideology

    A rather better description of Burke than the rats of the pomo sewer.

  25. Charles G says

    Exquisite article. Certainly one of my Quillette favorites, and I’m an avid Quillette reader. Plus I now have a new favorite philosopher.

  26. Farris says

    Marxism and its progeny is predicated on the notion that the “right” people can design the perfect society. This is folly and leads to the inevitable solution of eliminating the “wrong” type of people. It begins with labels deplorables, bourgeoisie, peasants, one percenters, ect… The inherent paternalistic, elitist and nihilistic nature of Marxism does not lend itself to humanism.

  27. Kim says

    Very interesting article, Camus was one of my favourite writers, I first read the stranger at age 17 and it made a big difference in my thinking, and presented me with a character I could identify with…. The Plague also changed my way of thinking, a truly great book about the power of humanity.

  28. “Second, Camus defended the proposition, explicitly denied by Marxists and Existentialists, that there exists a universal “human nature”—traits shared by all people, from which we can infer what is better or worse for all people and common ground upon which to form social bonds.”

    I’m raising an eyebrow at this. Existentialism does argue for a shared human nature upon which social bonds can be formed – the experience of anxiety and suffering. That is the foundation that Kierkegaard started from. No matter what choices are made or direction is taken, this is our common bond.

    That is not to say I disagree in general with the argument being laid out here. Maybe saying “Sartre and Beauvoir” here rather than Existentialists as a whole would be more accurate?

    • Craig DeLancey says

      I disagree. I grant that, for the existentialists, there are ontological features of human being, but these are so very general that they are nothing like what philosophers typically meant (and still mean) by a human nature. To say Dasein is Being-in-the-World, or that the for-itself is nothingness, cannot help you settle a question like, what should a political system ensure is provided to all its citizens?

      • HarbingerZero, Craig DeLancy

        I think the the term “existentialism” has been confusingly applied to authors who actually are elementally different. Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hiedegger and Camus have been referred to as existentialists as have the likes of Andre Gide and John Paul Satre. The former group have more in common with great poetical thinkers like Blake, Goethe, Emerson, Whitman etc while the latter existentialists have more in common with nihilists like Foucault, Fanon, Rorty etc. And, by the way, Heidegger specifically addresses how he elementally disagrees with Sartre.

        • dirk says

          Same thing, of course with, e.g., the impressionists. Is he now impressionist??, or more even expressionist? (like van Gogh, certainly not a vague Turner, but also not a Kokoshka).

          • Craig DeLancy – I’m not sure I understand. Are you suggesting that unless a philosophy reaches a level of engagement that includes questions like “what should a political system ensure is provided to all its citizens?” it doesn’t speak to human nature? That seems a high standard to hold the title of philosopher to (and would preclude Kierkegaard at the very least).

            CA, dirk – Yes, precisely. This is why I would be hesitant to use the term in the way I outlined above.

  29. Jujucat says

    @Craig DeLancey
    Thank you for the enlightening article. I had been prejudiced against him somewhere along the line.

  30. Colin says

    Hi @Craig DeLancey

    Nice article, but I have a nitpick. Foucault did not say that power is the same as knowledge nor equate them. Equality is not the same as logical equivalence! Foucault said that they are equivalent, that they ‘mutually imply each other’. This is really not the same as equality, and I think it is actually less hostile to your aims than you think. Foucault is abandoning the ‘class interests / ideology’ assumption held by Marx and intensified by French marxists like Althusser. For them, ideology is very important. Their story is one about how the powerful construct knowledge that only serves their own interest (which implicitly means we should reject it). This is not the case with Foucault. Instead, he is basically encouraging us to admit that power really is associated with knowledge.

    From Discipline and Punish:

    “Perhaps, too, we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside its injunctions, its demands and its interests. Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge. We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another[.]”

    See also Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews p.51:

    “What has been studied
    even less is the relation between power and knowledge, the
    articulation of each on the other. It has been a tradition for
    humanism to assume that once someone gains power he
    ceases to know. Power makes men mad, and those who
    govern are blind; only those who keep their distance from
    power, who are in no way implicated in tyranny, shut up in
    their Cartesian poe/e, their room, their meditations, only
    they can discover the truth.

    Now I have been trying to make visible the constant
    articulation I think there is of power on knowledge and of
    knowledge on power. We should not be content to say that
    power has a need for such-and-such a discovery, such-and-
    such a form of knowledge, but we should add that the
    exercise of power itself creates and causes to emerge new
    objects of knowledge and accumulates new bodies of
    information.”

    Sure it’s pushing against humanism, but it is pushing against what Foucault sees as a humanist assumption about how gaining power means the loss of knowledge. In fact, any sort of attempt to insist that one has epistemic priority because they are not a member of the ‘dominant’ class is EXACTLY the sort of thing Foucault is challenging here. Both the relation between knowledge and power, and also seeing power as something held by a ‘class’ of people.

    • Craig DeLancey says

      Colin,

      Thanks so much for the very thoughtful comment. I was quick with Foucault because of space limitations. But in brief here are my thoughts, which I’d appreciate your view on:

      Foucault accused Derrida of the “terrorism of obscurantism,” by which he meant you point out to Derrida some view of his is not credible for some very basic philosophical reasons, and Derrida replies that you have not understood the profundity of his view. I think an analogous thing can be said of Foucault.

      Foucault says things like you quote above (and others, like denying that he denies that there is objective truth), but all his concrete analyses support social constructivist views of whatever the phenomenon at hand is. I believe he does not want to admit that he is committed to global social constructivism because that’s so obviously a problematic view, so he skirts around the issue.

      If his whole point was just that scientists and other scholars can be biased, and some of that bias is unreflective or unconscious, and we ought to be aware of that, then he would not be a darling of academe. (Everybody already knew that; and it’s built into the scientific method to try to struggle against that.) So I’m inclined to say the most charitable interpretation of Foucault would be that he doesn’t believe that all knowledge is just power, but then he writes as if it were because that makes him more intriguing. But if that’s so, isn’t it moot, because his influence was to convince a lot of people that knowledge is just power?

      But to your logical point: I would have all the same concerns expressed in the article if we replaced identity with equivalence. Equivalence goes both ways, as you know, so it will mean that having power entails that you have knowledge; and so any standards you and I might have about how we secure knowledge can be replaced with ways of getting or expressing power. That seems to me to lead to the same worrisome outcomes, doesn’t it?

      (Footnote: if the equivalence is necessary, then since it is being applied here to predicates or kinds, it would imply identity, at least under some theories of meaning.)

      Thanks!

      • Colin Vibert says

        Hi Craig, thanks for the reply and I just want to stress again that my mark is more of a nitpick than anything. So I understand that you didn’t have the space to talk much about Foucault, and in fact it would probably have taken too much away from your main focus of Camus, which again I really like. I’ll try to reply to you line by line if that is ok.

        In terms of the ‘obscurantism’ charge I think you are absolutely correct that trying to reply to an objection with ‘you just don’t understand him properly’ isn’t a very good reply, and frankly is kind of rude. I hope I didn’t come across that way. What I am trying to do instead is to look for some competing things Foucault has said that would put the view one has in tension with the beliefs a person has about those views. I mean this more in a way to suggest an alternative, and also push a bit, but not crush or dominate or coerce. Everyone is free to read Foucault, analyses of Foucault, and articles on Foucault, and then form their own opinions.

        Historical sidenote you probably are familiar with: Derrida and Foucault did not get along too well after Derrida wrote a piece on Foucault’s ‘History of Madness’. If I am remembering correctly, Derrida’s main point was to challenge Foucault’s reading of a certain quote Foucault was taking from Descartes… The article is in Derrida’s ‘Writing and Difference’. Basically my point here is that there was some bad blood between the two. A short summary to any interested reader: https://partiallyexaminedlife.com/2015/08/11/foucaults-madman-and-his-reply-to-derrida-2/

        Now, to get back on track, you say: “Foucault […] doesn’t believe that all knowledge is just power, but then he writes as if it were because that makes him more intriguing.” I’m not so sure about this. I think there are two important aspects here that I would push against. I disagree that Foucault believes knowledge is power. Also, just to add: he has nice things to say about most of science as it was happening. He didn’t think all of science is constructed or something like that. Second, I think it might be worthwhile to evaluate what power is and what Foucault is responding to. I will just cover the first aspect here.

        Take the following quote from a 1977 interview: “When I was studying during the early 1950s, one of the great problems that arose was that of the political status of science and the ideological functions which it could serve.”*

        This is the older generation that Foucault sees as a student. He decides to take a different path. On p.110 he emphasizes that French marxists looked into the ‘pure’ sciences like physics and mathematics, but Foucault decided to look at something else: the ‘black sheep’ sciences, the ‘dubious’ ones (at the time!!). Why did he do this? To critique? No! He did it to be able to see something easier there:

        “Couldn’t the interweaving of effects of power and knowledge be grasped with greater certainty in the case of a science as ‘dubious’ as psychiatry? It was this same question which I wanted to pose concerning medicine in The Birth of the Clinic: medicine certainly has a much more solid scientific armature than psychiatry**, but it too is profoundly enmeshed in social structures.”

        The point is for Foucault that some of the sciences (science means something a bit different than what we would usually take it to mean!): sociology, psychiatry, psychology, medicine, are much more ‘enmeshed’ in social structures than say physics or chemistry. Even then, this doesn’t mean they do not produce knowledge! It’s just that when you talk about, say, psychology, you also end up getting questions and matters of criminality and morality. This isn’t the same as saying that they ARE social structures and social constructs. Notice again how he talks about power AND knowledge. They are not interchangeable, despite having a relationship.

        Also, just to conclude, here’s Foucault on possible strategies one could take when faced with the reality of the Gulag and his response to two common ways of dealing with the Gulag:

        “[One option is] [r]efusing to question the Gulag on the basis of the texts of Marx or Lenin or to ask oneself how, through what error, deviation, misunderstanding or distortion of speculation or practice, their theory could have been betrayed to such a degree. On the contrary, it means questioning all these theoretical texts, however old, from the standpoint of the reality of the Gulag. Rather than of searching in those texts for condemnation in advance of the Gulag, it is a matter of asking what in those texts could have made the Gulag possible, what might even now continue to justify it, and what makes it intolerable truth still accepted today.”

        and:

        “[Another option is] [r]efusing to adopt for the critique of the Gulag a law or principle of selection internal to our own discourse or dream. By this I mean giving up the politics of inverted commas, not attempting to evade the problem by putting inverted commas, whether damning or ironic, round Soviet socialism in order to protect the good, true socialism – with no inverted commas- which alone can provide a legitimate standpoint for a politically valid critique of the Gulag. Actually the only socialism which deserves these scornful scare-quotes is the one which leads the dreamy life of ideality in our heads.”

        Sounds like something that would fit in quite well!

        [Sounds familiar??? talking about ideology has been popular for a while! This is what Foucault is reacting to throughout his career.]

        **[Recall that Foucault’s father was a heart surgeon – it’s not all sociall constructed!]

        • Colin says

          Sorry forgot to mention that I am quoting from “Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977”

          • I think Foucault, like most postmodern interpreters of Nietzsche and unlike Nietzsche,himself, confuses skepticism with knowldege, A hyperawareness of the problematic relationship of knowledge and power is more symptom than cure.

  31. Charly says

    Who best has withstood the test of time so far? Camus or Sartre+de Beauvoir?

    • Aspects of Camus’ thinking can be found in Heraclitus, Lao Tzu, Upanishads, Aristotle, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Emerson, Nietzsche etc etc. Sartre/ deBeauvior can be compared to . . .?

      • dirk says

        Kierkegaard, I think mostly. Not so much -compared to- maybe, but influenced by. Man is not part of society or belief, but just only himself, a poor individual, doomed to row his own little boat, to make his own choices, he is not even his genes,but his own plan. L’enfer, cést l,autre…….. the opposite what religion and the institutions had to say. In my youth, it was all Sartre (de Beauvoir for the girls maybe, in the girls school? I wonder, women never were so much intererested in abstract ideas and philosophy). And the nice thing was, if you traveled to Paris, there was even a chance to catch a glimp of him on Montmartre. Society and the economy was booming, every year a better life. But that dark cloud of doom and pessimism hang above us, nevertheless, and still does so, I fear.

        • dirk says

          The typical Dutch expression here is: to row your boat with the oars you’ve got (and not catch a crab of course).

  32. gerald says

    A very rare thing for me… made it through all of the comments! Also, an essay that I copied for my files. Thank you. I don’t do twitter, but I shall search your work.

  33. James Huddleston says

    A well thought out essay so pertinent in today’s cultural and political climate. I enjoyed reading Camus post-college and now I know why. It was a rejection of the collectivism and utopianism shoved down my throat at school. This essay is better than anything I’ve read recently in the London Review of Books, Lapham’s, or similar publication. I’m so thankful I came across Quillette this month. Keep up the great work!

  34. D Ralph says

    Thank you for a fascinating and intelligent essay! It really helped put Camus and Sartre in perspective for me (and I’m definitely going to read Tony Judt’s essay as well).

    I would, however, plead for a closer and more complex reading of Michel Foucault. Such a reading is difficult because Foucault is a moving target, constantly devising models and then discarding them in favor of another project and a different philosophical point of entry. Nevertheless, his ideas about knowledge and power should not be so easily dismissed. Here is my very pared-down reading: Foucault was not making broad ontological claims. He did not believe, simplistically, that all knowledge is derived from class interests or brute power politics. He was studying instead the kind of knowledge that emerges in specific institutions: famously, the hospital, prison, and asylum. Knowledge about the people who come under institutional control (are they law-abiding or criminal?Rational or insane?) is essentially contested. At a certain point, debates about someone’s criminality or psychopathology cannot be settled simply by adducing more evidence. The ways that professionals generate knowledge about these inner (and invisible) qualities has a huge role in how the “inmates” are governed. After all, we have no gold standard technique to measure criminality or disordered thinking. The expert knowledge generated by a parole board or an in-patient psychiatrist thus inevitably legitimates state power to confine prisoners or rehabilitate them, to confine patients and impose treatments upon them, etc.

    These ideas entered into the anti-institutional fervor of the 1960s. They later entered and justified broadside leftist attacks on scientific research (which are weirdly complementary to the rightist attacks on science). Those radical social movements caused (and continue to cause) a lot of damage. But at the same time, Foucault’s ideas have at least a prima facie validity. The last 150 years saw the criminalization, and then decriminalization of homosexual acts, and the pathologization, and then de-pathologization of same-sex desire. The oft-cited “knowledge-power nexus” from Foucault helps explain such processes.

  35. Bruce Williams says

    Rather a man than a philosopher then.

  36. Philip Nast says

    Don’t you think it unjust to offer printing and then obscure text with blocks of unrelated text?

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